David Clarke today became the second Mayo player in as many days to announce his retirement from the inter-county scene. In doing so, the 37 year-old Ballina Stephenites clubman brings down the curtain on an incredible twenty-year stint as an inter-county player.
The news was confirmed by Mayo GAA earlier on today (here). The announcement included a statement from the player himself in the course of which he stated:
I have lived my dream and taken so much from the experience.
David Clarke was only eighteen years of age when he was part of the match-day panel for the National League final against Galway at Croke Park in April 2001, which we won by 0-13 to 0-12. The previous year he’d lined out for the county’s Minors in the All-Ireland final and in 2001 he went on to play in the Championship at Minor and U21 levels, winning Connacht medals in both.
After a few run-outs in the FBD League in January 2002, Clarkie made his first Senior start in that year’s League. That was on 10th March 2002 against Kildare in Newbridge where he kept a clean sheet on a day that Marty McNicholas bagged three goals for us as we won by 4-5 to 0-7. James Horan also lined out for us that day.
Competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey was fierce back then – as it continued to be all during David’s time on the Senior panel – with Peter Burke the first-choice net-minder and Fintan Ruddy also jostling for a starting place. This explains why it wasn’t until 2005 – against Roscommon at Hyde Park on 15th June that year – that he finally made his Senior championship debut. He kept another clean sheet that day.
By then, David had won his first and, sadly, his only All-Ireland medal. That came on St Patrick’s Day 2005 when Ballina Stephenites won the All-Ireland club Championship, though John Healy was between the sticks for that game against Portlaoise, with Clarke an unused substitute.
2006 proved his breakthrough year. Although it was Fintan Ruddy and David’s clubmate John Healy who lined out most in goals for Mayo that year, Clarkie was handed the jersey for the All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Laois and he retained his place from then on, including for the All-Ireland final against Kerry.
In all, he went on to play in five finals – as well as the 2006 decider, he started in 2012, 2017 and 2020 and he also came on as a sub in the second half of the 2016 one.
He’d have played in the 2013 one as well but suffered an extremely bad hamstring injury in the Connacht semi-final that year, which was so serious it kept him out of action until the start of 2015. That was but one of a number of injuries he suffered as a player down the years.
Career-wise, David made 133 appearances for the county at Senior level, 56 of them in the Championship. As well as that All-Ireland club medal he claimed National League honours in 2001 and again in 2019 and won eight Connacht Championship medals, as well as other provincial honours at underage level.
David also won two All-Star awards, in 2016 and 2017, and in the latter year he was also shortlisted for the Footballer of the Year award, which Andy Moran went on to win.
He also faced strenuous competition down the years for the No.1 jersey, most famously, of course, from Robbie Hennelly, but also from Peter Burke, Fintan Ruddy, John Healy and Kenneth O’Malley.
Irrespective of where you stood on the long-running Clarke/Hennelly debate – and most Mayo supporters I know had firm views one way or the other, as I did myself – there are very few who would argue against the proposition that David Clarke was by some distance the finest shot-stopper in the game over the last decade. He saved our bacon countless times in that regard, with his one-on-one stop from Bernard Brogan late in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final a particularly memorable highlight.
Two decades of inter-county service is an incredible achievement and David leaves the field having made an enormous contribution to the county’s football team at a time when, in particular over the last decade, we competed at the very highest level year after year.
David has opted to go out while on top, having put in what was arguably his best ever All-Ireland display in the pre-Christmas decider against Dublin. He’ll be greatly missed and will be an extremely hard act to follow.
Thanks for everything, David, and best wishes for the future.