Exclusive interview with St.Pat's recruit Dean Clarke
Dean Clarke Interview
In an exclusive interview with Andrew Dempsey of Between the Stripes, new St Patrick’s Athletic Signing Dean Clarke has spoken about his time in the League of Ireland to date, his time at his former clubs while also looking ahead to the upcoming 2018 season for his new employers at Richmond Park.
Making his debut in a 3-0 victory over an unrecognisable Dundalk FC side that were fighting for their lives at the tail-end of the 2011 season, Clarke spoke about how much of a big deal it was for him to make his League of Ireland debut with the former Oatlands College man growing up as a fan of the league.
“To be honest it was all a bit mad at the time as I grew up as a League of Ireland fan and it was quite a big deal for me at the time. I kind of broke into the UCD first team relatively early, I was only signed for the 19s about 3 or 4 months and then I was called into the actual squad 18 on the night as someone got injured and even at that I was happy to be on the bench.”
Making an impact, which was far beyond his realms of possibilities, the now 24-year-old forward knew from that moment on, he was more than capable of being able to make an impact on what is the highest level of Irish Domestic football.
“When you’re that young you’ll be happy to make one or two appearances and because I got it so early, I was thinking I’d love to get a start so when he did throw me on (Martin Russell), it was 3 nil, I still did manage to make an instant impact. I didn’t manage to get an assist, but I knew that I could actually play at this level and that kind of all set the world in motion for me.”
Having made 59 appearances while at UCD despite missing a large chunk of his final season with “The Students” through injury, Clarke does look back at his time at Belfield with fond memories while saying that he felt it was the making of himself as a professional footballer.
“I’d say it was relatively successful, obviously the final year I was there we ended up getting relegated, but I didn’t actually play a lot because that was the year I had a serious back injury. I learned a lot while I was there, made a lot of appearances for UCD and it was where I kind of learned how to look after yourself and how to be a professional player in the league.”
Clarke follows the likes of Dave McMillan, Robbie Benson and Dinny Corcoran who have all passed through the ranks at Belfield and have gone on to have very respectable League of Ireland careers.
“I think there’s been so many players that have passed through there that have had a lot more experience than what I’ve had in the likes of Ian Ryan, Dave McMillan and even Dinny Corcoran and Robbie Benson. I learned a lot from playing with UCD because there was a lot of top quality players there while I was there.”
Obviously having struggled with what was a potentially career-ending back injury in 2014, Clarke was given a lifeline by the man who gave him his League of Ireland debut back in 2011, Martin Russell at Limerick FC, the then 21-year-old said that he jumped at the opportunity even though it was a good 2 hours away from home.
“It was huge for me because it was after the season that I hadn’t played since almost the 7th game of the season. Moving to Limerick and living by myself for the first time, and with it even being a full-time club, I jumped at the opportunity once I got a call from Martin Russell. I tried to just do my best as it was a strange enough season as we just couldn’t win a game for the opening 20 games which was a record nearly and we ended up going on a great little run at the end of the season where we nearly ended up staying up at the end of it all.”
Looking back at what was a quite incredible season at first Jackman Park then the Markets Field, Clarke has said that that experience was an incredibly valuable learning curve in the context of his football career to date.
“It was a weird one because we really lacked a good squad at the start and then we had a really good team at the end of it all which we ended up giving ourselves a fighting chance which didn’t pay off in the end, but it was another year where I learned a hell of a lot as well, so I can’t really have any regrets about that at Limerick.”
From Shannonside, Clarke made the switch to Tallaght Stadium despite the fact that the former UCD man said that he had his heart set on a move to Turners Cross initially.
“It was a funny one at the time as I had my heart set on going to Cork City that season and then once Pat Fenlon rang me about going to Rovers I quickly changed my mind because it was a club I always saw myself playing for at some stage. I just couldn’t turn down that opportunity to be back in Dublin and then playing for Rovers itself, I was delighted with it!”
Looking back at his time at Shamrock Rovers, Clarke acknowledges that, despite playing 31 times for the Hoops, he done himself no favours by consistently playing through injuries under Pat Fenlon at Tallaght Stadium, saying that it was another part of his learning curve as a footballer.
“I kind of went through a phase at Rovers where I was carrying an injury and I was playing through injuries because I knew how big the opportunity was and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity through missing any games. Obviously in doing that I was doing myself no favours playing through injuries, but these are things you learn from.”
From there, Clarke made what he saw as an easy decision at the time to return to Martin Russell at the Markets Field despite better offers that were on the table to the Dubliner.
“I loved playing football for them, that’s why I actually went back. I turned down a few clubs that I could have easily signed for on better deals, but I decided to go back because I wanted to play for Limerick and obviously I wanted to play for Martin Russell, because I know him so well and the way he likes to play.”
However, after an indifferent start to the season which saw Martin Russell leave his post, signalling an unstable time on Shannonside with Willie Boland taking charge as interim before Neil McDonald oversaw the rest of the rest of season, Clarke admits that the drastic change in styles of play had an impact on the players at the “Blues”.
“Obviously Martin left his job early in the season and we went through a period where we had Willie Boland and then obviously we had Neil McDonald eventually for the rest of the season. It was a crazy season down there. I think what happened was that we went from playing drastically different styles of football from the start to the end of the season. As I’ve said always, it’s something that I can say that I have learned from.”
Clarke, while still saying that he enjoyed his time at Limerick, did say that the decision-making process at Limerick could have been managed much better but still did pay tribute to the efforts being put in by all at the club. However, the dynamic attacking player said that he is unsure on how the player recruitment process is going during this off-season.
“We went through completely different styles of management, and the way they managed the whole situation wasn’t great in my opinion but look they’re trying to do their best for the city and the league and they brought in Neil McDonald who I think could do a good job but I’m not 100% sure in how he’s getting on in trying to recruit players for next season because as far as I know players are hesitant to sign back. I loved playing for them down there and the fans are very good as you get to know the fans very personally. Its not a huge city so you do see people quite often around the city.”
Clarke has decided he will play at Richmond Park with Liam Buckley and his “Super Saints” and spoke about how his move back to the Capital came about.
“I met up with Liam and was very impressed with what I was sold by the club. He showed the way he likes to play and straight away I was very impressed. Obviously, I’m back in Dublin now as well and its good for me as well as I’m back studying now on the side and my girlfriend is with me so it’s a good situation for me.”
Also, the 24-year-old forward has said that he is looking forward to playing under Buckley’s attractive footballing philosophy in Inchicore as he has previously found playing against St Patricks Athletic to be a “nightmare” while hoping that he can set the wheels in motion with a quick start for the Saints.
“Playing Pats in the last 4 or 5 games, they haven’t really changed and every time I’ve played them it’s a nightmare as you know that you’re always going to be run ragged and I’ve always thought I’d love to be on the other end of this and this will obviously be my chance to do that. I think it’s a place that if I hit the ground running I think I’ll do really well and that’s more or less what my decision was based on just thinking this is where I think I can do really well.”
Finally, while being asked on who has been his biggest influence in football to date, Clarke emphatically said his former manager at UCD and Limerick Martin Russell has been “100%” his biggest influence. The Dubliner thanked his former boss for taking a chance on him after what looked like a career-ending back injury.
“It has to be Martin Russell, 100%. Obviously, Martin gave me my debut when I was 17/18 and then he brought me to full time football at Limerick when I was 21 after what I thought was a career-ending injury and he obviously took a chance on me and its paid off. So, look, 100% I’d have to say Martin Russell.”