Louth GAA is the poorer for the announcement over the past few days that Paddy Clarke is quitting the coaching game and Shane Lennon is retiring from inter-county football. One has cited age, sort of, as his reason for going, the other, failure to win a long-standing battle with injury.
Someone once said of Clarke, his words dripping with derision, that he had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus. Maybe, but what set the Drogheda man apart as one of the finest coaches the county has produced was that he met with success, significant success, with nearly all of them – and was also a winner on the county scene as well as scoring at the game that was first to benefit from his expertise along the line and on the training ground, soccer.
He guided Drogheda to two wins in the FAI Youths Cup, and as a coach to the Ireland U17 and senior Compromise Rules teams, you could say he made it on the international scene as well.
Inside Track touched on Clarke’s record before, and may do so again, perhaps in greater detail. Suffice for now to say he presided over Senior Championship wins in five different counties and Intermediate in two, and had inter-county success in underage and senior, his stint in this county, when the All-Ireland ‘B’ Championship and National League were won, lasting from 1997 to 2001. One of his Senior Championship wins was a forerunner to provincial success, with Dublin team, St Brigid’s.
He began taking charge of club teams in 1974, when he linked with Mattock Rangers. It’s appropriate in ways that 40-years later, the Collon seniors were the last he handed out instructions to before bringing his career to an end.
Aside from his involvement with club and county teams, Clarke was a Leinster coaching officer for 14 years, a post that would have taken him to each of the province’s 12 counties, allowing him to see how they went about their business, and the importance with which they attached to a very vital aspect of teams’ preparations.
It was always this column’s opinion that Clarke had a vital part to play in this county at underage, the ideal person to, perhaps act as an overseer.
Word is that the committee set up by the County Board a number of months back, under the chairmanship of former St Kevin’s footballer, David Rogers, to look into all aspects of underage football, has got through an impressive amount of work, taking the views of among others, footballers and managers, not all of the latter based in this county.
Clarke, Fergal Reel and John Evans - the Kerryman who had charge of the Tipperary senior footballers before moving to Roscommon – are among those who were spoken to, and no doubt what they had to say will have an influence on the recommendations Rogers and his colleagues will be making in due course.
If there’s to be a coordinator, we’d hope Clarke would be the one; but if that’s not the be case, the fervent wish is, it’s someone who is, or has recently been, actively involved in coaching, and who views as absolutely necessary the need for schools to be part of the picture.