A seasoned goalkeeper in between the sticks, Brendan Clarke’s gloves have grabbed many football trophies including winning one league title, two FAI Cups two EA Sport Cups and a Collingwood Cup as a manager.
Clarke is entrenched in the League of Ireland following successful spells at Sligo Rovers, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Limerick FC. Coming with 15 years experience, Clarke has played in front of the league’s terraces, in between the sticks across the league grounds and he has even been in the dugout when the Inchicore native guided Maynooth University to their first ever Collingwood Cup title back in 2014.
Reflecting recently on that win and on the competition in general, the 35-year-old ‘keeper gave praise to the tournament and the tactical awareness in Irish Universities premier footballing tournament.
“It was the first time Maynooth had won the Collingwood, and in the one hundredth year of the competition as well!” recalled Clarke who had then Saint’s teammate Ger O’Brien with him in the dugout, while his side was captained by future St. Patrick Athletic midfielder now Lilywhite Sean Hoare.
“It was something me and Ger thought we could go in and win given the squad we had assembled. We felt that if we put the right plans in place for different teams and execute game plans we could advance and do well, and we eventually got to the final.”
His side’s run with Maynooth University was helped by the partnership with St. Patrick’s Athletic. A university/club partnership deal has been prevalent in Irish football in recent years with similar deals between Cork City and UCC and Dundalk and DKIT.
This model, featuring scholarship programs and training opportunities to League of Ireland clubs, was a system that Clarke heaps praise on.
“It is a good link for League of Ireland clubs to have these links with universities,” said the goalkeeper who has been plying his trade most recently with Limerick.
“It is keeping young talent in the country and they are getting a good education. It is better than kids going across the water at fifteen sixteen and coming back with nothing. The amount of players that I have played with over the years who go across the water, come back and they are not even playing football now at any level.
“That is sad because they had all the talent in the world when they were younger. These link ups are important for keeping players in the country; they get their education in case that bad tackle comes, and playing under 19s with League of Ireland clubs hopefully will bring first team football.
"It is going to give them a better understanding of adult first team football before they go across the water.
“I think the mind set of League of Ireland football or even Irish football is that you are better off staying here, getting your education, doing your apprenticeship in the league and then you have a better chance of going across the water.
“Any kind of educational link up between clubs and universities that is the way forward. League of Ireland clubs, bar maybe Cork City and Shamrock Rovers have their own specific training ground. Like Cork using the Mardyke Arena, we at Limerick are based out in UL.
“These college and universities have all the resources and facilities in the world; like astro pitches which are great at this time of year and all the football pitches. It is great for league clubs to try and strike up that relationship with universities to use those facilities.
“I can only speak from my own experience and with the facilities in UL you couldn’t ask for anything better. We have the 4G astro, all the strength and conditioning gear that you would need, grass pitches, the swimming pool, anything you need.
“There’s players as well here in college doing their degrees, and they are getting a great education as well as playing football. I think that this club’s and college’s partnership is a great way forward for clubs to keep players in the country.
“Look at Cork with UCC and Shelbourne now with DCU. There’s plenty of clubs that have link ups with universities. It is a clever and productive link up for League of Ireland clubs.”
Speaking from a managerial perspective, Clarke was enjoyed the Collingwood Cup allowing him to hone managerial skills and to get a taste of working in the dugout for the first time.
A model which has also been adapted between League of Ireland clubs and colleges. John Caulfield guided UCC to Collingwood Cup success in 2013 before signing for Cork City, and in 2016 Neal Horgan took charge of UCC’s Harding Cup side, and Stephen O’Donnell works with the DKIT team.
“We knocked out hosts UCD which was massive. In college football you only associate UCD with it! The time myself and Ger where there (with Maynooth) I don’t think UCD beat us, which was unheard of for UCD not to beat someone over two years.
“You know, we just had to put plans in place, like the minor details to win that game, and again we changed this when we played UCC. They’re a different outfit and we changed this to a different game plan.
“To be fair, the brains behind the operation was Ger, he was the one coming up with all these ideas and plans and introducing these and bouncing ideas with me.
"Thankfully we came up with a winning formula and with the lads we had who weren’t the most technically gifted group but we managed to get them together and make a team out of them.
“We all felt part of this group. They really bought in to what we were trying to do and how we wanted to play.
“It was easy for us to put plans in place, but it is the players who have to go out onto the pitch and preform them. They went out and did it well and it worked for us the whole way through.”
4 years on from helping @gerramia take Maynooth from nowhere to being the best footballing university in the country. An absolute fairytale dream that the players bought in to and believed could and eventually did happen. https://t.co/RdeSwz7jJc— Brendan Clarke (@BrenClarke1) February 5, 2018