‘Our games’ with former Down footballer John Clarke


John Clarke

Teams played for:

Down (seniors, minors, u-21s), Queen’s, St Louis Kilkeel, An Riocht, St John’s, Drumnaquoile, Ulster Club San Francisco

Current involvement:

Managing Dundrum senior men’s in Down Division Four.

Which club game, that you played in, will you never forget and why?

The 2007 Down Division One final, An Riocht v Kilcoo. It was the first ever game under lights at Páirc Esler and we were big underdogs going in. Pete McGrath was over us. I had been in great form in the final few league games and the semi-final win over Mayobridge. I had a good first half scoring three points from play but on the stroke of half time I got a soft red card and was sent off. We were two points down and I thought the game was up, but the lads rallied – inspired by Marty’s two second-half goals – and we won the game and the club’s first and only Division One league title. A real rollercoaster of emotions.

Which club game, that you watched, will you never forget and why?

I always loved St Patrick’s Park in Newcastle and I think the Down county final should still be here. It always held a unique atmosphere on county final day. The 2003 final between Mayobridge and Bryansford was a real classic where the underdog, the ’Ford, beat a star-studded and strong ‘Bridge team who were going for their third or fourth title in-a-row.

Which county game, that you played in, will you never forget and why?

The All-Ireland final of 2010 was definitely a memorable one, but for pure drama and excitement it’s hard to look past the 2003 Ulster final first game against Tyrone. The game had everything, a packed out Clones on a baking hot day and two young teams going at it. We were nine points up well into the second half, a soft penalty gave Tyrone new life and they reeled us in. It still hurts to this day how we let that lead slip and let’s not get started on the Gregory sending off! A game that had everything.

Which county game, that you watched, will you never forget and why?

The Down v Derry 1994 classic. As a 12-year-old this game gave me the ambition to play for Down. High drama, top class players on both sides and a big physical Down team who could play football against, and beat, the best. Ciaran McCabe’s late goal was the highlight.

What was the funniest thing you ever saw in a game?

Down were playing a National League game in Newry back in the early noughties. ‘Rony’ Murtagh had a ball out near the sideline and Gregory McCartan was inside for the pass, Murtagh shot and missed and Gregory shouted at him ‘Go on you eejit you, Murtagh.’

What was the strangest thing you ever saw in a game?

Owen Mulligan carrying a dog off the field during a big game in Croke Park, only ‘Mugsy’ could pull that off.

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you watched?

I suppose it has to be Mickey Linden’s performance in that Down v Derry 94 classic. He was unplayable that day.

What was the most memorable performance from a player in a game that you played?

There were a few, especially during the 2010 run, but the one that stands out is Benny Coulter’s performance in the first round win against Donegal in Ballybofey. He was brilliant from start to finish and he was at his brilliant best that day.

What did you love about the games you played in?

The competitiveness of both teams to win every game, but nothing beats the buzz of winning a club game on a Friday night with your club mates or a big championship win with Down on a Sunday and then heading out together for a few pints to celebrate.

What did you hate about the games you played in?

Sometimes referees being the centre of attention and ruining a good game.

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