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Brought up in a St Patrick’s Athletic supporting family, Brendan Clarke proceeded to be on the Inchicore club’s books as a goalkeeper for over a decade across two spells. Presently, Brendan’s experiencing his maiden season at Limerick and he took some time out to share with extratime.ie his recollections of a commendable career to date.
In Clarke’s eagerness to sign for his local heroes, the young net-minder declined opportunities of footballing scholarships in the US and with UCD.
“I was blinded by that I grew up as a Pat’s fan," said the 31-year-old Clarke "If I could go back, I’d go to the States, do a college degree and still be able to play football.”
The year that Brendan joined the Saints, they captured the 2003 League of Ireland Cup, but the teenager didn’t make his presence felt until a decent run between the sticks towards the end of the following season.
“It was difficult back then for a young lad to be involved. I was delighted to get in the team, sample men’s football for the first time and savour a Friday night match.”
After Clarke gained more invaluable League of Ireland experience at Sporting Fingal on loan, Jeff Kenna arrived from Galway United as the St Pat’s new manager for the 2009 campaign.
“From the off, Jeff and I never saw eye to eye. You click with some people, others you don’t. I’d been on loan in 2008 with Fingal – Johnny McDonnell sent me there. At the end of that year I had a meeting with Johnny. He told me I was ready to play.
"I would have went into 2009 as his number one, but then Johnny left. Jeff came in, let Barry Ryan go to Galway and took in Gary Rogers from there. The writing was on the wall, but you still have to be professional and train well.”
2010 saw Brendan pen a two-year permanent deal with Sporting Fingal, but on the eve of his second season, all the players’ contracts were cancelled.
“We were told on a Wednesday that the club was gone and we were all free agents. I was lucky that I got a phone call the same day from Paul Cook. I played with Alan Kirby at Sporting Fingal previously and he joined Sligo.
"Paul got wind of what happened and they needed a goalkeeper. Fortunately, Kirbs spoke highly of me and a few days later I signed a contract.”
While at Sligo, the Dubliner set a League of Ireland record of nine consecutive clean sheets, which still stands.
“It was held by Michael Devine of Cork, with eight. We weren’t aware of it, until a reporter told us we were close. It’s a magnificent achievement and one I’m proud of. Disappointed we couldn’t make it more because we conceded a 93rd minute penalty in the tenth game, away to Dundalk. It’s nice to have your name in the history books, but the whole team did it.”
The same season, the westerners won the FAI Cup final against Shelbourne, but only after Paul Cook replaced Clarke with Ciarán Kelly just prior to the triumphant penalty shoot-out.
“It was embarrassing. There was anger, hatred, every emotion, really. The decision was Paul’s on the day and luckily for him, it paid off. Sligo won the cup and he was lauded as a hero around town.
"It happened in the World Cup, with Louis van Gaal taking off Cillessen for Krul, but judging from the reaction, they knew what was happening. It was one of those things and something I had to move on from.”
Despite Brendan’s affinity with St Pat’s, was it difficult to swap Sligo for an Inchicore return, after a successful solitary year with the Bit o’ Red?
“I was all for staying at Sligo. I’d gone away after the season had ended, to Orlando. I got calls from the board, saying they wanted a deal done and I told them to wait until I came back, but the phone never rang then.
"Liam Buckley, who was my manager at Fingal, got the Pat’s job and was straight on to me. It was a no-brainer. Having said that, I couldn’t speak highly enough of the people at Sligo and wanted a longer term, but that’s the way it goes.”
Clarke insists that his costly blunder for the Saints during the 2012 FAI Cup final loss to Derry City didn’t weigh as heavy as it would have previously.
“My son was born in April that year. Beforehand, if I made an error, you’d dwell on it and wouldn’t talk to people for days. When the little man was born, you can’t be in bad moods. You need to be there for him. I’d like to think that I never made that same mistake since. That misjudgement made me grow up and a better goalkeeper.”
Brendan and St Pat’s won the following season’s Premier Division and then 2014’s President’s Cup, but vanquishing the club’s 53-year wait for their third FAI Cup, clinching the same year’s blue riband event in a 2-0 win over Derry City, mattered most.
“It meant way more to me than the Sligo cup win. You had a core group of local lads, who grew up as Pat’s fans. After winning the league in 2013, supporters wanted an end to that run without a cup win.”
Back-to-back League Cups in 2015 and 2016 ensued before Clarke ended his second Inchicore stint by signing for Limerick FC towards the end of the latter year.
“I wasn’t given a fair crack of the whip this pre-season. Martin Russell started Freddy (Hall) at the start, which was fine. As a goalkeeper, you have to bide your time and take your chance when it comes.
"We’d be disappointed where we are and feel we have enough to be higher up the table. We’ve been through a lot this year and are technically, on our third manager, but we can’t make excuses.”