Unconventional year takes Clarke and Cavan to the promised land 10 months ago

Unconventional year takes Clarke and Cavan to the promised land

Every cloud and all that.

Only for 2020 being so deranged, Killian Clarke may not have even spent the year in Cavan, never mind helping the county to their first Ulster Championship in 23 years. Go back to January of this year and holidays were in the works, plans were in the making as for the first time in eight years, he was free from the commitments required to be an inter-county player.

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Or so he was supposed to be.

Last winter, niggly injuries and the hurt of an Ulster final loss to Donegal convinced him to leave it be. The appetite had weaned and he was looking forward to a few trips, to getting stuck in with his club Shercock and in general, just a bit more freedom as he let Mickey Graham know that he was going to take a year out. He was a long way from Anglo Celt Cups at that stage.

Little did he know that come March, the spanner of all spanners would enter the works as holidays became a no-go, plans became an afterthought. Time was no longer money and as the lock-down took hold, he began to miss it.

Clarke told Colm Parkinson about the year of all years on last Thursday's GAA Hour Show.

"I was back with the club. Captained my club team. I'd picked up a knock and there were a few bits and pieces I wanted to get sorted out earlier in the year, so I decided to step away, relax a wee bit.

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"Played a bit of club championship. But there wasn't much happening with Covid, no holidays, no going anywhere, nothing like that. I probably didn't have the best club championship I've ever had, and Mickey highlighted that on the original phone-call."

Not long after the club championship, Clarke got onto the Cavan manager to ask if he'd take him back. He wasn't welcomed back like the Prodigal Son but Graham's hard-line stance was music to Clarke's ears. He embraced the challenge.

"He made me aware that there would be a lot of work to do to get myself back into a bit of shape.

"Thankfully, I was able to get myself into a bit of shape and to put myself into a bit of contention. It was a good decision after the club championship to put my name forward and to get in touch with Mickey. Lucky enough I got the green light from him..."

Mad to think that Clarke's comeback start was just over a month ago, when Cavan were relegated to Division three football by Roscommon.

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"Maybe some of the Cavan faithful would have stuck with you, but a lot of people would have been saying that you would have struggled throughout the Ulster Championship. It was a bit doom and gloom..."

Coupled with the fact that key players like Conor Moynagh, Dara McVeety, Conor Rehill, Cian Mackey and so on were no longer available, 2020 didn't look so bright for the Breffni. But this is a team backboned by a core of players who have won four Ulster under-21 championships, a team who won an Ulster minor, a team with plenty of talent and an inner-belief.

"I think as a football team, we've been doing a lot of teams right over the last number of years. We've ticked a lot of boxes but we probably just haven't put it up on the scoreboard, those goalscoring opportunities, shots from the right positions. That's definitely something we've worked on."

"The players that we have, have given it their all. We've worked hard throughout the year and we're probably reaping the rewards of it now. From a fitness perspective, a lot of teams are probably looking at us like, if we're that good in the second half, is there that element that we're fitter than most..."

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Whatever it is, it's taken them to the promised land. They'll need to be good in both halves to beat the Dubs but this is 2020 after all, and stranger things have happened.

You can listen to the Killian Clarke interview from 40.00 here.