Clarke masterminds Mayo’s resurgence

TESCO HOMEGROWN LADIES' NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE FINAL:

Clarke masterminds  Mayo’s   resurgence

After collecting his manager of the month award at the Croke Park hotel this week, Clarke sat down to address a variety of topics.

Nothing was off limits, not even his controversial exit from the Dublin job last year. The seismic knock-on effect saw the Dublin ladies board executive committee resign en bloc last December.

Having taken over the Sky Blue post from Tommy Brown, Clarke dropped a couple of early-season bombshells by deeming former All Stars Denise Masterson and Siobhán McGrath surplus to requirements.

McGrath was renowned as one of the best attacking half-backs in the game, while Masterson captained Dublin to their maiden All-Ireland senior title success in 2010.

A stormy county board meeting in October voted Clarke out, with chairperson Maureen King left considering her position having backed the former Monaghan selector to the hilt. There was more drama when King orchestrated a move to have Clarke reinstated before Christmas. When that failed, she resigned along with the rest of the top table.

Clarke picked himself up, dusted himself down and agreed to become Mayo’s new manager. And what he’s achieved in the West this year is one of the stories of the season. Mayo were Division 2 champions last year and the general consensus was that consolidation on their return to the top flight would do just fine. But this afternoon at Parnell Park, they could be crowned Division 1 champions for the first time since 2004.

Mayo have moved forward – and Clarke has moved on, with not a trace of bitterness.

“Absolutely none,” he insists. “Football is football and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a football person. It’s about moving on and working with this squad of players.

“We all have lots of regrets over things that happen in life, but you move on to different challenges. There’s no point in bearing any grudges against Dublin. Dublin are in a good place and Mayo are in a good place as well.”

Clarke, a former O’Connor Cup winner with Dublin City University, is a hugely-respected figure within the ladies football fraternity.

He’s coached some of the game’s best players but coming to Mayo has presented him with the opportunity to work with arguably the best – Cora Staunton.

Clarke smiles: “The perception of Cora outside the county… there is a perception that she’s this or she’s that. She comes to training, she trains harder than anyone and I was pleasantly taken back by her work-ethic and commitment.

“I don’t think people know her. People might think there’s a bit of aloofness there, but when she comes to train she comes to train. She’s definitely one of the top players I have had the pleasure of managing.”

And Clarke is certainly clocking up the miles as he drives from his home in Malahide to training at the Ballyhaunis rugby club three times a week.

“Two hours and ten minutes without breaking any speed limits!” Clarke laughs.

“I was often later coming home from Monaghan because they used to keep me drinking cups of tea!”

Perhaps it was insider knowledge from his stint there but Mayo had their homework done on Monaghan when the sides met at the semi-final stage.

But Cork, chasing a seventh league title in nine seasons, represents another major challenge for an emerging Mayo.

“It’s like they know where to be at every part of the season,” he explains. “I remember at Monaghan – we played them in the league in Emyvale [in 2011] and we beat them by four points. We came to the All-Ireland final and got stuffed. They are the pinnacle.

“Envious? Yes. But it’s driven by the players themselves.

“You can see the way they hold themselves, play themselves and the way they perform on the park. And they know when to peak. To have matches like we have at the weekend is marvellous preparation.”

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