Clarke embodies Mourne spirit

A COLLEAGUE who sat in on the 1991 All-Star selection meeting was amused by the Northern lobby’s capacity to find ever more important bodily parts, organs, and constituents to equate with members of the Down team, which had just won the All-Ireland.

Greg Blaney was, of course, the brains of the team.

But DJ Kane was its beating heart.

Paddy O’Rourke was its backbone.

Mickey Linden was its lifeblood.

And Wee Jamesy was its guts.

(Repeat, ad nauseum, to fade).

It got so bad that one selector wondered beneath his breath if even the team’s Achilles heel might be put forward for inclusion, while another prefaced his entreaties on behalf of a non-Down wing-forward by expressing the hope that “all bodily metaphors might finally have been exhausted” – before adding, drolly, “I’d like to propose (AN Other) simply because he played well all year.” *

It is now time to pay appropriate tribute to this latest Down team, and the many superb players therein.

Martin Clarke is, of course, the brains of the team.

But Mark Poland is its beating heart.

Kevin McKernan is its backbone.

Benny Coulter is its lifeblood.

And Danny Hughes is its guts.

(Repeat, ad nauseum, to fade).

But back to Clarke. His contribution to this utterly unexpected march cannot be overstated, though you can brace yourself for what might end up being a reasonable effort at so doing here.

Clarke transmits security to those around him. Genuinely: not just per cliché. Mickey Harte observed of the late Cormac McAnallen that the group was all the better for Cormac just being there, even if he never uttered a word: his presence alone lent a sense of dignity and occasion to every gathering.

Clarke brings something similar to Down. The ease with which he can retain possession, while being assailed by an array of tackles, is quite astonishing: and then, as if unburdened by any opposition pressure, he can pick out a crossfield pass that is not just perceptive, but the very right pass at that time.

Yesterday, in the tumult of a cracking All-Ireland semi-final, he played at his own pace and on his own terms. He didn’t so much play that match, as tame it. His team-mates clearly draw solace from his example.

When a Down player wiped the sweat from his brow yesterday, and took a second to contemplate the state of play with, say, 10 minutes to go, he surely drew comfort from the fact that “we have a Marty, and they don’t”.

Neither do Cork, but that’s a story for another day.

Ultimately, it remained a compelling battle to the very end because of Kildare’s insistence on battling both their own inadequacies and the cruel blows which fell their way in the shape of the wrongly-allowed Down goal, the pre-match loss of Dermot Earley, and the in-running departure of Daryl Flynn.

Down had a better supply of good footballers, yet Kildare refused to treat defeat as an inevitability. When Hugh Lynch did a Seán Fada O Domhnaill on it with those two second-half points, there emerged the prospect Kildare might just bolt for home.

A degree of desperation entered their play as they chased the goal, but, equally, they still managed to conjure up a number of half-chances, not least of which resulted in Robbie Kelly proving beyond all doubt that Croke Park crossbars would withstand a direct rocket attack.

Down now carry huge momentum into the final, and no-one should be surprised if strong cases are being made for bodily parts, organs and constituents when the days get shorter, and wise men and women sit down to pass judgment on it all.

* As it happens, the selection committee proved remarkably resistant to the novel form of advocacy. Only Conor Deegan, Barry Breen, Ross Carr, and Blaney made the l team. But we presume that as members of that team die off, they will be embalmed and preserved before being handed over, en bloc, to GAA medical science upon the demise of the final player.

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