HE was Down’s star player when they overpowered Mayo in the All-Ireland minor final five years ago, and had a host of AFL clubs scrambling for his services; but his name isn’t Marty Clarke — meet Paul McComiskey.
Like Clarke, the Dundrum forward was one of those kids who everyone knew was destined for great things on the football field. Things happened quickly. He was 14 when he made his senior debut for his club.
Such a precocious rise carries echoes of Benny Coulter’s career with Mayobridge and comparisons with Down manager James McCartan have also been made given the pair’s similar stature and admirable close control.
Fittingly enough, it was while under McCartan’s wing at Queen’s University three years ago that McComiskey first popped up on the Australians’ radar.
Ricky Nixon pencilled him in for one of his trial camps here in Ireland while the Brisbane Lions were prepared to stump up for a long distance ticket to the Gold Coast in order to get a closer look.
How he would have fared in the AFL will never be known, as his progress was checked abruptly early in 2008 when he was diagnosed with a collapsed disc in his lower spine.
The long road back involved three months on a traction machine and a monotonously frequent slog to the physiotherapist but being told by one specialist that he might never play again was the nadir.
At the time, it was some change to his usual routine. A player that good was always going to experience a clamour for his services and McComiskey sought to satisfy every demand and whim.
Club, college, county, minor, U21 or senior — he admits that the enjoyment levels disappeared for a spell and that he harboured thoughts of walking away but he is 22 and the number of masters has tailed off.
“Relief would be the word to a certain extent. I look back at my underage career with fond memories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it.
“But it is just that when you are young, you are eager to play. You want to play to the best of your ability and at the highest level possible and it is hard for young people to say ‘no, listen, I am not doing that’.”
So far this summer he hasn’t lacked for game time having started five of Down’s seven games — including the last four — and come on as a sub in another, but the senior scene has yet to see the best of him.
A strong start to the league campaign in which he was marksman-in-chief has dissipated to the extent that he has only managed more than one point on one occasion, against Kerry, this summer. Clarke, Coulter and Danny Hughes have garnered most of the attention while Mark Poland and John Clarke have raised far more flags but McComiskey isn’t the first young star to struggle with the transition to senior football.
In that regard, his own synopsis of the differences between the preparatory school that is the underage grades and the real world of top-class inter-county football is revealing.
“When you are younger I would not say that you are naïve, but when I was younger it was all very, very fast. Football was just so quick. There was not that much strength involved and there were very little tactics.
“As you move up to U21s and seniors strength plays a part, tactics, regaining possession. The game evolves to the point that it is a different game. Everyone has to adjust to be as best they can at the level they are playing at.”
Few have adapted with the alacrity and consummate ease of Clarke, who is playing senior football this year for the first time since his successful sojourn with Collingwood in Melbourne.
McComiskey spoke about how the An Riocht man’s decision to turn his back on a professional career in Australia had spurred everyone else on the panel to “get the most out of themselves”.
Down will be hoping both teenage prodigies do just that tomorrow.
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