Marty Clarke has opened up on the big regret that he feels may have cost Down a sixth All-Ireland football title in 2010.
Somewhat of a ‘prodigal son’ in the Mourne County, Clarke left the GAA behind following a glittering underage and schools career to try his hand at AFL with Collingwood Football Club.
Clarke adapted quickly to the oval-ball game making his senior debut less than a year after joining the club. However, Clarke took a two-year sabbatical from the AFL to return to Ireland citing that he missed playing Gaelic games.
The An Riocht man’s return sparked a revival in Down who went on the gain promotion to Division 1 before reaching the 2010 All-Ireland final where they fell to a heartbreaking one-point defeat to a Cork side desperate to get over the line.
The build-up to Down’s first All-Ireland final in 16 years centred on the cruciate knee ligament injury sustained by county captain Ambrose Rodgers while on club duty before their All-Ireland semi-final win over Kildare.
The in-form skipper would ultimately miss the All-Ireland final loss to Cork.
Speaking to Down GAA-based podcast “Load of Balls“, Clarke cited the decision to stage club games before the county’s biggest game in 16 years as a mistake that could have cost the county an All-Ireland.
“I remember personally being furious because I just didn’t see the need to do that,” said Clarke of scheduling club games.
“There’s no fingers being pointed here. But it was the first time Down had been in a semi-final in 16 years or whatever it was. I just felt that we had such good momentum, let’s just keep going here.
“So they played a club championship game and Ambrose did his cruciate in a game for Longstone.
“I just feel if we had Ambrose and we hadn’t played that round of championship games…because we haven’t been there since. Why did we need to play a round of club championship games, which were extremely important in their own right, but this was a year where Down had come from nowhere. We haven’t been anywhere near it since, I just didn’t get that decision at the time.
“I remember speaking to a few guys in the management team about it, saying ’I don’t agree with this’. And eventually I think that cost us. Because Ambrose’s form that year…he was the captain, you couldn’t have had a bigger blow and I just think…that’s a regret I had.
“Of course I’m not pointing fingers, I didn’t have a great final myself, but I just feel that that decision could have cost us an All-Ireland.”
With reference to not having a great final himself, Clarke puts this down to the stellar job done on him by Cork wing-back Noel O’Leary, a surprise match-up that Clarke admitted caught Down off guard.
“As a coach, but in any sport, there’s the hunter and the hunted,’ Clarke said.
“Are you going to be the hunter or are you going to be the hunted? I did feel from an early stage in that game, from a personal viewpoint, that Noel O’Leary, who matched up with me…who we didn’t predict, we did not think O’Leary would have come to me because he was doing a lot of rampaging forward that year. So it was a shock when he came to me.
“He just didn’t let up the whole game, he was hands-on, serious strong man, didn’t go forward at all so I couldn’t slip out the back on him.”