For 27 minutes or so, it looked like Saturday night was going to be retribution night for Darren Clarke. Left out of the Louth team for much of the year in 2010 and this present season, Clarke has endured a wretched time, agonising on the sidelines.
Perhaps others would have quit the panel due to the lack of game time, but Clarke kept pushing, kept training hard and through his astonishing club form with St Sylvester’s this year, he made it difficult to leave him out for this game.
Clarke certainly made an impression and was Louth’s best player on the day, but his contributions were not enough to dig Louth out of the large hole they found themselves in.
On 27 minutes, Clarke netted the goal that took Louth into the lead for the second time in the game. But three minutes later, Cian Ward’s second goal propelled Meath to a thumping win, rendering Clarke’s superb tally of 1-8 insignificant.
After the game, a despondent Clarke summed up the mood of the squad, saying they were “very disappointed.”
He said: “We felt coming into the game that we were going to put it up to Meath and give a great performance but it did not turn out like that. Goals win games and that’s what happened in the end.”
Clarke knew himself on Thursday night that he was set to be involved, through the original team listed in the programme indicated otherwise.
“Thursday night the team was picked and the lads knew themselves. We tried to keep it between ourselves though, but that’s when we knew.”
As aforementioned, Clarke has endured a torrid time as a Louth player this year. He has been limited to just 35 minutes in the Allianz League Division Three title winning campaign, starting against Waterford before being taken off at half time. In the final against Westmeath, Clarke observed as an unused sub, despite the fact that he, along with others in the squad, were itching for a run out in Croke Park.
Against Meath, he felt he had a point to prove to a lot of people and he proved his point, scoring a goal and eight points.
“Yeah I had a bit of a point to prove today. I thought I did not get a fair crack of the whip this year. I didn’t really get into any league games and did not get on in the Carlow game, so I had a point to prove. I got a few scores, but we did not get the win.”
“Yeah, I felt if we had of started strong, tagged on a couple of points, we would of put it back up to Meath and it could have put a little bit of doubt in their heads. They are a confidence team and they got another goal and it pushed them on.
“That’s really where they are, a confidence team and as I said, goals win games.”
When Meath got going, there was no stopping them, something Clarke paid tribute to.
“When they get going they are hard to stop. They are a good team. They are strong around the middle and won a lot of breaking ball in the middle of the park.
“We had no answer to it in the second half and the heads kind of went down and we found it hard to pick ourselves back up.”
Looking at Cian Ward, the Louth hitman admired the accuracy of the Meath sharpshooter as he scored four goals to gun down Louth.
“Cian scored four goals. It’s amazing to score four goals in a Championship match, but it shows you how good he is.
“Every time he got inside, he took his man on and went for the jugular and at the end of the day, they probably deserved their win.”
After losing to Carlow, Clarke thinks the shock of a sudden Championship departure was hanging over the heads of the players coming into the game.
“We were disappointed after the Carlow match and I think we found it very hard to lift it after a defeat like that and I think it showed there.
“When they got going, we found it very hard to lift it. The result against Carlow probably kicked in towards the end but look, we will regroup and see where it takes us.
“You train all year, you put in the hard work on the field and in the gym and it comes to this. It’s very unfortunate to be out of the Championship come the end of June, but that’s what the draw threw up this year.
“We felt we could get back to a Leinster Final, that was the aim but it probably shows that we overlooked it and we fell at the first hurdle. It’s very disappointing for everyone in Louth.
Although it was too soon to think about it, Clarke thinks that Louth have what it takes to bounce back in 2012, but for now, they need time to think about what happened.
“You never say never. It’s probably not the time to talk about it now, we have a great bunch of lads, a great spirit and squad. The lads are great footballers too, we will regroup and come back.”