Wherever Killian Clarke would be in November 2020, didn’t he think he was ??? I would be here. A year ago, more or less to the day, he told Cavan manager Mickey Graham that he had had enough. He had been out for nine years and it was time to stop and look around. Not forever, not definitely. But for now.
There was no bankruptcy. Nothing bizarre bounced around the rumor mill to find out. He spoke to Graham and a few days later he spoke to the Anglo Celt newspaper and laid it all out. He was 26, and since leaving school – and maybe even a while before – football had been eating his whole life.
And what for? Cavan had reached an Ulster final, the first in 18 years. But by the time Donegal had flushed them with a (very flattering) five point in Clones and Tyrone with 16 points in qualifying, much of the good had been sucked out of the experience. It was their best season in years and he felt empty.
« I fell a bit in love with the game to be honest, » he told the Celt. I didn’t enjoy it. I fought my way through the club championship and then I went on vacation and had a long time to think about it. I just want time to focus on myself and mind number one for a change instead of putting football first like I’ve done for the past eight or nine years. â ????
So he went. Became a civilian for the first time in his adult life. Ate what he wanted, socialized, stayed for another round if he felt like it. He showed up at family gatherings and didn’t have to look at his watch to find a time between rudeness and necessity.
« Just little things » he says. To be able to go to a wedding or just meet people on the weekend. I was able to give time for things that I couldn’t before. I could stay up late on a Saturday night.
« I don’t mean lying at home looking at the four walls until three in the morning, but when I was at an event or a family affair, I didn’t have one. « Get out of there at 10 o’clock to go home and go to bed. Or even having something like a vacation that you can plan a month or two in advance. That opportunity made a huge difference to me for a while. â ????
The year turned, the world turned. Cavan scratched through the early stages of the league and, frankly, Clarke barely glanced back at them. He works for the stockbroking firm Cantor Fitzgerald, and breaking away from the rigors of intercounty football has given him more wiggle room on this side of his life. He was named captain of his club, Shercock, and valued the time he was stuck there too.
And then he had to press the pause button overnight like everyone else. Life came to a standstill in mid-March and he struggled to find a way to live in it. The car stayed in the driveway and he set up an office with three screens and a phone. The club captain turned into a logistics company – the 5K runs, the Zoom quizzes, the PlayStation tournaments, all that jazz.
As for the lack of intercounty football, it helped that none of it was overlooked. The beginning of spring, the good weather, the entry into the championship – it could have been difficult for him to deal with. But you can’t miss what doesn’t happen. Are you a non-playing Cavan footballer? You and everyone else, champion.
â ???? I had a couple of issues and issues early in the year, but those issues were resolved during the break. And I’ve played a fair amount of golf too, which probably helped me. Between those two it meant the body was given a break, but I was also kept active.
â ???? I’ve never had anything bad, but I had some weakness in my left quad and I think I’ll play a little golf, walk a little, and run a little through the first barrier. it helps me get it right. Basically, it just took a break and got better. â ????
All of this meant he was in a different location when summer came and the club scene got going again. Shercock didn’t have any major shocks or scare horses in the Cavan Championship this year, but Clarke still got a stir. Workouts, games, slag, test yourself, push yourself. Civil life only has so much to do with it.
And when you’re out, you’re out. Several members of the Cavan Board have been friends with him since his youth. He played on the first Cavan minor team to win an Ulster title for 37 years in 2011. He was on three of the four consecutive Ulster U21 championship teams. They reached the senior quarter-finals across Ireland in 2013, the furthest any Cavan team has had since 1997. For a decade they shared everything, good and bad. When you leave, it’s not just the soccer ball that you leave behind.
« Oh, I definitely missed it, yeah, » he says. â € œYou hang out with guys five days a week for seven or eight years so as not to see them at all. Not getting any contact from there is difficult. You could do the odd text or the odd phone call, but it’s not the same thing. That was definitely a factor in the decision to return. â ????
In the end, there wasn’t a big decision to stress yourself out. As he was enjoying the game again, the thoughts of Cavan’s return came naturally. He got the idea from some of the roster and when he felt it wasn’t going to cause friction, he got in touch with Graham. The manager made it clear that he had not been sitting exactly on the phone and was waiting for him to call.
â ???? I contacted Mickey two weeks before the club championship was over to express my interest and see what he thought of it. He told me I was probably a little lost just because I watched the club championship. And that I had a few things to take care of, especially fitness and some strength work.
â ???? I was probably gaining weight. I would have always been pretty aerobic, but I would have been a bit out in the field in the runs when I got back so that had to be worked on as well. â ????
Clarke was one of eight players to leave the Cavan panel last winter. These weren’t fringe players either. Of the eight, seven had played in that final Ulster loss to Donegal. Three of them were current or former All Star nominees – Clarke, Cian Mackey and Conor Moynagh. Dara McVeety was her best striker, Conor Rehill her best newcomer. Graham had soaked it up and went on, bringing his panel close to where he wanted it.
Clarke was the only one of the eight who came back and knocked on the door, and was encouraged by the fact that there was no fattened calf ready for him. He is far from being the first player to return to the Cavan panel after a brief hiatus. In fact, he has often sat in the locker room and watched the door turn a little too easily for his taste. Graham needed him to impress. Well.
« I think it’s a positive culture change with Cavan, » says Clarke. â € œIt wasnâ € ™ t about just going back in like a couple of players would have done over the years. I wouldn’t have been happy if I had been told that I could come back in right away. It’s good to jump through a few hoops and prove that you’re worth a spot on the panel. Whether in the gym or on the pitch or on the runs, I think it’s great to see this take on Mickey. â ????
Prove he did it. The rest of them too. Cavan has not been in the direct Ulster final since the late 1960s. Clarke won as many Ulster championship games in the past month as he did in his first seven seasons as a senior. Was it worth coming back? What do you think?
â ???? My family could probably answer this question better than I could. They’ve probably seen me happier in the past few weeks than the months I’ve been away. It’s probably really bred in mine. As much as I would like to say: « Oh, I’ll take it easy or I’ll take a break ». I don’t think it will go on like this.
â ???? I needed a break from football at the end of last year. I know that. But I’ve probably changed my point of view a little. The break has shown a lot in the right light. I reassessed my values and saw what is important to me. It’s the friendships, the teammates, the respect and the connectedness that you have with them. â ????
In an Ulster championship where Cavan was kept alive by unlikely comebacks, Clarkes is perhaps the best of them all. But here it is, back in an Ulster final, still unimaginable. Donegal is Sunday 1/14, the price a cavan sensitive soul could offend. But he will keep doing it. Nobody expects anything, so there is no point giving them a reason to expect a surprise.
â ???? The thing about Donegal last year is that they were probably a couple of years ahead of where we were and where we wanted to be. Of course we would have checked what happened there, and we’ll be watching their games again this year to see if we can get a few holes in them. But it’s up to us to learn from last year. â ????
Ulster, Ulster Senior Football Championship, Donegal GAA, Cavan GAA, County Donegal
World News – UK – Lockdown is reviving Killian Clarke’s love for football and he’s glad to be back
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