September 15, 1995
Willing to traverse the pain barrier for Dublin
Tommy Drumm was the most recent person to lead Dublin to a Senior football All-Ireland victory. That, as everybody knows was in 1983. The following year saw an All-Ireland title going to the capital for the last time. That was when Minors defeated surprise packages Tipperary, 1-9 to 0-4. The captain of this outfit was a clubmate of Drumm's at Whitehall/Colmcille. His name? Paul Clarke.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Games have been lost and games have been won. Players have come and players have gone. And Clarkie has played just about everywhere for the Dubs. He remains however, the last man to captain the Metropolitans to ultimate Championship glory.
Proud of this he may be, but it is a distinction the versatile 29year old does not want to have come five o'clock Sunday evening! Like so many before him and since, representing the Dubs in gaelic football was the firthest thing from Paul's mind when he was a chisler. His fame, prestige and illustriousness was going to be achieved playing cross-channel soccer.
He was fantatical about the game and played constantly from Under 10 up to Under 14. Though merely a youngster, his skills shone out like bacon.
Then along came Brother Coffey from St. Aidan's CBS, where our hero whiled away the best part of his teenage years. Brother Coffey, nothing young Clarke's exceptional all-playing ability and athlecticm, regarded him as ideal for gaelic football. Fortunately for the denizens who will find Hill 16 next Sunday, he succeeded in persuading the budding Cruyff (or was it Hunter or Yashin - given his subsequent dexterity in a number of positions for Dublin, it's difficult to know) to go for the GAH.
"Brother Coffey was the man who got me into gaelic initially. Obviously, he had a huge influence on my career. If it wasn't for him, I might never have played the game. A lot of credit must also be given to Johnny Hanlon and Ben Sullivan at Whitehall. They were also a great help to me."
Three months after registering with Whitehall/Colmcille GFC, Paul was experiencing the sweet smell of success. Such was the impact he made for the club, that he was chosen to line out for the inter-county Under 14 side. The year was 1980.
"I was delighted, considering I hadn't been playing the game long. We went on to win the Leinster title in Croke Park and that sold me on football. There was never any doubt after that where my allegations lay."
A peripheral member of the Minor panel in 1983, Paul watched, as his colleagues were submerged in Drogheda by the energy, superior skill and vocal support of the home team in the first round.
It was a completely different matter 12months later however. "It was a great experience to captain Dublin to an All-Ireland victory, one I will never forget. Tommy Drumm was captain of the Seniors again that day which I think was fairly unique for a club. Unfortunately it wasn't to be for them." And it hasn't been since .
Around this time, Clarke's future in the sky blue jersey was being threatened, once again by a forigen sport on this occasion it was Australian Rules Football.
"I went on to Australia with a colleges team in '82 or '83 and there was talk that some lads might get an offer from a team. Niall Quinn was there as well and he actually got an offer but he was holding out for a soccer move and, of course he went to Arsenal.
"Then the year we won the Minor, there were trials and Jim Stynes and James Fahy got the call. Again there was some talk that if anyone dropped out I'd receive an offer but nothing came of it. I love the game and would have jumped at the opportunity to play it, but unfortunately, it wasn't to be."
Clarkes disappointment was short-lived however, as he received a call from Kevin Heffernan and co to join the Senior panel in October 1985. His debut came in a win over Donegal in the National League.
Since then, the Whitehall/Colmcille man has been Dublin's favourite footballing nomad. Corner-back, wing-back, midfield, wing-forward, centre-forward, corner-forward, he's seen them all. Been there, seen that and bought the t-shirt.
"Midfield is my favourite position but I will play where I am picked. You have to be happy to be on the starting 15. I have been playing the forwards since the start of the Championship and am beginning to think like a forward now. I have scored in every game so obviously things are going alright and I'm happy enough, but I've also been lucky to be in the right place at the right time."
Methinks this is a case of modesty forbidding. Clarke has registered a total of 1-8 Championship outing, 0-3 against Louth, 0-2 versus Laois, 1-2 in the Leinster final where Meath provided the opposition and 0-1 against Cork.
More significantly, he has tended to produce when the need is greatest, particularly against Laois and Meath. Of course the fact that, by his own admission, he has never been afraid to have a go also helps. Confidence is a vital component of any forward's make-up.
Dublin have suffered, many debilitating losses in Paul's 10 years of service. And they hurt.
"Losing to Donegal in '92 was the worst because it was my first All-Ireland and we were favourites. Having said that, last year was the worst because it is the most recent one.
"Any loss is disappointing when you know you have a good enough team, when all the ingerdents are there, and whether it be the opposition playing out of their skin, or we don't perform to the best of our abilites, a hop of a ball or a referee's whistle, no matter what causes us to lose, it hurts."
Celitc crosses aren't handed out for hard luck stories however and Dublin and Clarke are well aware of that. All the heartbreak has made them stronger and they are firmly focused on annexing Sam next Sunday.
"This is all we have been thinking of since we started training at the start of the year. We have worked really hard, knowing that that was what was needed to get us to this stage."
And boy are they fitter than last year?
"Fran (Ryder) says fitness is a state of mind. You have to want to hurt to be wiling to hurt. Over training programme has worked better for us this year because it was all about that willingness to hurt."
The first test was supplied by Louth, although test is not perhaps an apt description.
"Yeah, we were always in control against Louth. We didn't know what to expect beforehand. It was out first Championship game since the All-Ireland and we just wanted to get over it. We knew they had key players who needed to be watched but we kept the lead and kept plugging away."
Laois were expected to provide a much greater challenge.
"They had had a good League and fancied their chances, especially in Navan. We were brilliant defensively on the day and Emerson. Turley and Delaney were kept out of it. Bealo (Paul Bealin) had a mighty game as well. I was happy with the way I played myself and I think the two points I got just after half-time had a great settling effect on the team. In the end we won fairly comfortably."
Ah, but Meath were waiting in the Leinster final. Nothing is ever easy against Meath. Barring this year that is.
"The 10 point margin flattered us," Clarke declares. "When we started kicking points their heads dropped. As for the goal, I caught it really well .. I couldn't have caught it better."
Pat O'Neill's men had shown their hand and Munster Champions, Cork, knew exactly what to expect in the All-Ireland semi-final.
"We knew it was going to be our toughest game to date. You don't get to Croke Park unless you have the bottle. We studied their games and fixed a few things of our own because we weren't perfect against Meath.
"We were fairly well in control of the game in the end even though there was only the kick of a ball in it. We could have kicked three or four points. Instead we lost possession and allowed them to score two points to leave just the goal between us. We didn't put them away."
Clarke opines that Dublin '95 is a better outfit than the previous vintages he has played on.
"We are better because we have learned from our mistakes and have become more of a unit. Also the additions to the panel have strengthened us and everyone is pushing for a place on the team."
Two of the new were stuck for a corner back in the All-Ireland final when Wally (Ciaran Walsh) got injured and myself and Curraner (Paul Curren) ended up playing there. Wally got injured again this year and Keith. Galvin came in. He has done well all year and will be fighting hard for his place on the team in the All-Ireland."
Jason Sherlock will definitely start. His impact has been considerable.
"Jason is Jason. He has a great eye for goal and has scored two crucial ones for us. But he's just a member of the panel like anyone else. He has a great head on his shoulders and won't be affected by all the media attention".
The day of reckoning is getting closer, and Clarke and friends just want to get on with it. They need to win an All-Ireland, desperately. "This is our third All-Ireland in four years. Tyrone are a very good side, different to anything we've played before. They're fit physical but we have to stick to how we play.
"It could be the last chance for a lot of us and we don't want to go into the history books for the wrong reason. Lads must want to go through the pain barrier to win this one.
"We are confident. This is a panel who are fit and who know what has to be done. The thing is to product it on the day. It won't be easy but at the end of the day it's going to be about commitment, determinations and a will to win".
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine
15th September, 1995
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