By Jackie Cahill
Galway's 2004 senior All-Ireland winning captain Annette Clarke has admitted that her decision to retire from intercounty football was a difficult one.
The Kilkerrin/Clonberne star has hung up her boots with the Tribeswomen - but will continue to line out for her club as they chase All-Ireland glory.
In recent years, Kilkerrin/Clonberne have won three Galway titles and two provincial crowns and Clarke's dream before she hangs up her boots at club level is to taste national success.
In 2004, she lifted the Brendan Martin Cup for Galway and while the county team has been knocking on the door in recent seasons in the quest for another All-Ireland title, Clarke believes the time is right to go.
She explained: "It was a difficult one to call, really.
"Over the winter, I was thinking about it. Our club season went on until the end of November, which was great, but it was too quick a turnaround to go straight back into the county set-up.
"It was very hard to make a call on it, and hard to know whether you've made the right decision or not at the time.
"I'm that bit older and realise what my body is capable of.
"I do keep myself in good shape over the winter and I'm training away in the gym but you do have to look further down the line.
"We've got to the latter stages at club level for the last three years in a row and I'm trying to keep fresh for September, October and November.
"That might sound selfish to some people but for me, it's very hard to keep fresh the whole year round and then go back into the county set-up.
"That was part of my decision really. I want to give as much as I can to the club, it's a huge part of my life, where my heart and soul is.
"I remember so many players before me guiding me through and helping me out.
"I started off at club level and I want to finish there. County has been great to me over the years but if I can give something back to the club, I will."
In that regard, Clarke has already begun helping out at underage level with the club but the 2004 All-Ireland success with Galway is the undoubted highlight of her career.
She confirmed: "Playing in Croke Park is every player's dream when you're young.
"To go there and win an All-Ireland, and lift the Brendan Martin Cup, it's the ultimate really.
"Maybe, at the time, you don't appreciate it as much because you're a bit younger and every year, it's harder and harder to get back to a final.
"It was a huge achievement and I'm optimistic for Galway and the younger girls coming through that they can get back to that stage very soon."
Galway contested last year's Lidl National League Division 1 final, losing to Cork after a replay and the Westerners lost three successive All-Ireland semi-finals from 2012-2014.
Last August, they were beaten by Cork at the quarter-final stage but Clarke, who played for the county since 1997, insists that Galway can make a major breakthrough again soon.
The 34-year-old added: "Galway, along with four or five other teams, are really strong.
"Huge respect is due to Cork but every year, Galway and other teams are trying to match them and be right up there with them.
"Eamonn Ryan gone from Cork is a huge thing but for me, it's a personal decision with Galway and trying to keep my body fresh."
The Salthill-based Garda continued: "I'm very optimistic for Galway.
"We have some brilliant underage players and I see them coming through with the clubs and schools into the county set-up. There's no reason why they can't compete at the highest level."