Clarke ready to fill big shoes
Kerry v Tyrone
Saturday, Killarney. 5pm
THE LAST time Tyrone and Kerry locked horns in the Championship, Conor Clarke was a fresh-faced teenager cheering on the Red Hands amongst the masses on Hill 16.
He could only watch as his fellow clubmen Justin and Joe McMahon were tasked with curtailing the dangerous Kerry full-forward line as the Red Hands powered to the 2008 All-Ireland crown.
This Saturday, it is Clarke’s turn to try and put the shackles on Donaghy, Cooper and O’Sullivan as he squares up to the biggest test of his inter-county career to date.
It’s been a meteoric rise to prominence for the 20 year-old defender. He started just two games in the McKenna Cup and started the opening three games of the National League in the Tyrone full-back line against Kildare, Derry and Louth, but that Drogheda outing was to be his last of the campaign.
He also had to kick his heels on the bench for the Ulster Championship opener against Armagh, but when presented with his opportunity against Donegal, he seized it with both hands.
As is so often the case at this level, it was the misfortune of another which gave Clarke his chance. Justin McMahon’s hamstring problem freed up a slot in the Tyrone rearguard, and Clarke has filled the number three shirt with distinction in his outings against Donegal in Ulster and again last weekend away to Roscommon. It has been a baptism of fire for Clarke, but the fledgling full-back is certainly not short of people to turn to when seeking advice.
“Back then, of course you hoped that you would get to this level, but you never believed that the opportunity would come this soon. Last year was only my first year with the u-21’s, so although I hoped that I would end up in this position, I never expected to get the call this soon.
“You go on the bus to a game and they’re always there to talk to. There’s joking around at times of course, but if you’ve got a serious question then they’re there for you. It’s the same in the changing rooms, or out on the pitch. They’ve been there and done that, so they know what to say.
The full story is in the current issue of Gaelic Life, published on Thursday July 19. Buy your copy now in your local newsagent, or you can purchase the online version – for only 90p – by clicking here