Clarke enjoying LIFE being ‘exiled’

By Ryan Ferry

IT was in and around 11.30pm two Sundays Ago when Daniel Clarke returned to his base at Finchley in North London.

There was no bank holiday in the UK on Monday so unlike most GAA stars, it was straight off to bed to gear up for work the next day.

The Newtowncunningham man works in recruitment for 3D Personnel and balances that with representing the London senior football team.

This is his second year on the panel and he has adapted to the rigours of senior intercounty football.

This time of the year means plenty of trips back over to Ireland and Clarke enjoys the buzz even if the results in Division Four haven’t been ideal so far.

Wexford defeated London by four points in round one, while a fortnight ago they travelled to Carrick-on-Shannon and the Exiles lost to Leitrim, 1-8 to 0-6.

That means that any tilt at promotion is unlikely but Clarke and his teammates will keep tipping away.

There is quite a strong Donegal cohort involved this year with Michael Boyle (Termon) coaching the team, while Paddy Dolan (Convoy), Nathan McElwaine (Termon), Ciaran Diver (Moville), Joe McGill (Convoy), Sean McMonagle (Na Rossa), and Michael Miller (St Eunan’s) are all part of the panel.

Former Donegal goalkeeper Michael Lynch, who starred with Clarke for Naomh Colmcille before moving to Gaoth Dobhair, is also part of the set-up in the English capital.

Clarke explained how his move across the Irish Sea arose.

“I was planning on going to America to be honest.

“I was in the mindset that I wanted to try something new, but it didn’t work out and I didn’t get away.

“One of the Newtown boys, Oran Hilley, was over in London and he said to me if I still had that mindset why didn’t I try it there.

“I said I’d give it a go, and I think the mother was happy to get me out of the house for a bit.

“Michael Boyle and Ciaran Greene helped me get set up with work and I moved into a house, and I’ve been enjoying it since.

“My time with Donegal was short-lived and I didn’t get a proper go at it, and I wanted to see how I’d get on.

“It’s been great and the weeks fly in at this time of the year. You’re at work Monday to Friday and then it’s off to training and you have a match at the weekend.

“All the hard work is done and it’s games every week which is hard to beat.”

Clarke won a MacLarnon Cup medal with St Eunan’s College and was part of the Donegal u-21 and senior panel for a spell.

He was also a key part of the Naomh Colmcille panel who reached the Donegal Intermediate final in 2015, and who claimed Ulster Junior glory in 2017.

However, the Newtown men have seen their stock take a drastic fall in recent years.

“We had got things to a high level and the expectation was that you’d keep things going.

“Myself and Michael (Lynch) went to America, and things fell away a bit.

“We tried to get it going again, but some boys had retired and others had emigrated and were trying new things.

“A lot of my 1996 age group were still about but we didn’t have the young players coming through. We lost our reserve team as well which was a blow.

“Emigration is tough on all clubs but the smaller ones like ours really struggle.”

Clarke has now transferred to North London Shamrocks, and he has been impressed with the standard at club level and the intercounty team.

“I was shocked at the standard when I first came over.

“There are some brilliant players over here and the standard is good.

“You have the likes of Matty Walsh who won an u-21 All-Ireland with Tyrone.

“Then you have the likes of Liam Gallagher and Liam Gavaghan who are from over here but are very good players.

“I found it very physical at first but you start to get to grips with it then.”

London drew with Wexford in the league last season and they were reasonably competitive in Division Four.

However, the pace and intensity of the action was vastly different when the Connacht Championship came around in April and they lost to Sligo by 2-20 to 0-12 on home turf.

“It was a massive step up in the championship.

“We had played Sligo in the league but it was far quicker and more physical in the championship. We were well beaten.

“We played Offaly, Cavan, and Laois in the Tailteann Cup then after that.

“We took Laois to the last kick, and had we won that, we would have been through to the next round, and they would have been out.

“It’s good to test yourself at that level. There are no handy games. Everyone has a good set-up and you have to get ready for that.”

As always with London there have been some changes to playing personnel over the close season.

The team in some ways are still finding their feet but Clarke feels they are well placed to push on.

The 27-year-old bagged a goal against Wexford the first day out and has been lining out in the half-forward line.

“I got a goal in the first game against Wexford alright.

“It was disappointing to lose it. We should have beaten them on the day.

“The results haven’t gone that well so far but I think we have improved from last year.

“I think our fitness levels and our strength and conditioning has all improved.

“I feel we are in a better place this season, and it’s just about focusing on the next match now.”

Next up for London is Tipperary on Sunday at McGovern Park Ruislip.

They will also play Longford and Laois away before hosting Waterford, and a trip to Carlow will conclude the NFL campaign.

Clarke says they are not targeting any particular matches and are taking it one at a time.

“To be honest, every game we play, we are going there to win. We’re not looking at any game more than any other.

“That’s the message every time we meet up. It’s all about having the right attitude and winning your own battle.”

When the league finishes, London will have two weeks to get ready for the start of the Connacht Championship.

They will have to reach the provincial final to earn the right to compete for the Sam Maguire Cup.

However, that won’t be an easy task considering they have a daunting clash in the quarter-final at home to reigning champions, Galway.

“We’re playing Galway on April 6 so that will be a massive day for us.

“There was a big crowd at Ruislip when we played Sligo in the Championship last season. A lot of the families of the players come over for it.

“It’s a big task. You’re going up against one of the top four teams in the country, and I suppose you’ll see where you are at then.

“But we will go at them and see how it goes.”

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