He was on his way home from Dublin to training, sitting in traffic with his headphones in, when the call came.
The county’s new senior football manager, Mattie McGleenan, was ringing with an offer that amazed and humbled in equal measure.
Killian Clarke, aged 23, was to be the new Cavan captain.
“It was a very proud day when Mattie rang me that day.
“He told me the news and I was trying to be cool saying “thank’s Mattie “ and just the usual stuff and hung up the phone. I let this big roar out of me in the middle of the traffic and everyone was looking around wondering ‘who is this lunatic here with the headphones on him?’”
The first person Clarke wanted to ring was his father, Sean, a fanatical supporter of all things Cavan football-related.
“When I told him, he nearly started crying down the phone. I never heard my father cry before so that just shows the magnitude of what it meant to him as well as what it meant to me. My father has been following me for this past five or six years and I don’t think he has missed a single game, be it college football, challenge games, he is always stuck in a ditch somewhere with his binoculars out...
“It was a very proud day for me, probably one of the proudest days of my career.
“I know we have some excellent footballers on the team at the moment, men with serious heart and it is a great honour to be leading those boys out.”
A winner of three Ulster U21 titles in a row, Kingscourt’s finest was entitled to feel success at senior level would be a cast-iron certainty. So far it hasn’t happened. The surest proof things were starting to move in that direction was promotion from Division Two last year under Terry Hyland, but their stay in the top flight this spring was fleeting.
“There is transition there and maybe the step up is bigger than a lot of people thought,” Clarke admits.
“The likes of Seanie (Johnston) and (Cian) Mackey are in their 30s but for the majority of us are younger.
“I probably thought in my own head it would be like that all the time when we started winning at underage level but I think the big thing we have to learn is how to take games by the scruff of the neck. We have to be able to take our chances and take control of games. There is a reason why Monaghan have won two Ulster (senior) championships and that’s because they can beat big teams on big days when they have to, and we should know, we’ve been on the wrong end of it once or twice.
“That is something we need to get over. Monaghan have had the better of us in the big games.”
The teams meet in the last of the Ulster SFC first round games tomorrow at Kingspan Breffni, with Monaghan having edged their last two championship encounters in 2013 and 2015 by a point.
In the 2013 Ulster semi-final, Clarke was a cheeky teenager in his second year in the senior set-up. He recalled: “I ended up marking Stephen Gallogly, who had taught me at Patrican High School in Carrickmacross. It was quite funny. I was giving Gavin Doogan a hard time and he (Gallogly) wasn’t too happy about it!”
Despite playing in Division One this season alongside Monaghan, Donegal and Tyrone, there remains a ‘big three’ in Ulster and Cavan aren’t at the party. Full-back Clarke, who’ll have his hands full tomorrow against Monaghan’s potent full- forward line of Conor McManus, Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy, pulls no punches.
“We are getting what we deserve. We didn’t do ourselves justice at times in Division One and in the last few years, we probably have not stepped up on the big day, when we needed to grit the teeth and get the win. You are not given anything in Gaelic football, you have to earn it.
“It is all a learning curve but we need to get back up to Division One next year because if we can keep matching ourselves against the best in the country that is the only way to improve.”
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