HILL 16 CAN be noisy and intimidating at the best of times, but when the Dubs are in town on All-Ireland semi-final day, you can expect the roar of the blue sea to be turned up way past 11.
Not that it will bother David Clarke when he lines out on Sunday afternoon. When Mayo met Kerry at the same stage last summer the Ballina Stephenites man was a spectator, ousted from his position between the posts by Rob Hennelly and unable to win it back.
Fast forward 12 months; Clarke has reestablished himself as James Horan’s number one goalkeeper with a bit of good fortune and a lot of hard work. Not only that but in the absence of regular skipper Andy Moran, he has been asked to lead from the back as team captain this weekend.
For a man who loves the sport — who loves playing the sport — being out on that famous turf means everything.
“I was injured in the league and missed out,” Clarke reflects on a tough 2011. “Rob played very well all year and I couldn’t get back in. Things have worked out differently this year. He missed out because of his DCU commitments, I got a run of games and then unfortunately he got injured. I have taken my chance.
As a player you want to play and football isn’t for watching on. It makes you try to work that bit harder. I can’t say I have worked any harder this year than I did last year, but maybe I got that rub of the green and got a few more games.
“It’s tough,” he adds. “There’s the mental part of it then because you just have to keep your head down and work hard, hoping to get your chance. You also get the satisfaction of seeing Robert playing well and the team developing in front of you.
“There was a great buzz about the place last year. We put in some big performances and we were happy with the way things developed. We’re trying to push that on now.”
With Clarke marshalling the rear, Mayo’s has been one of the country’s meanest defences this summer, conceding two goals in three games. Similarly his opposite number on Sunday, Stephen Cluxton, has only picked the ball out of the net twice in his four appearances so far.
It’s no coincidence that the counties who are tight at the back are the ones who have lasted into September, Clarke says.
I think it has been like that for top teams for a long time. Big games might come down to one or two goal chances and if the other team takes them you can lose. All goalkeeping training is about concentration.
I suppose there has been changes because goalkeeping coaches have been brought in. Last year we were lucky enough to work with Eugene Lavin and this year we have Peter Burke in with us. Strength and conditioning are now geared to be more specific, so that has developed in the last few years.
With the noise of Hill 16 in his ear, that concentration will be tested to its limits.
“When it’s full it’s great because there’s a buzz behind you. When you’re playing the game you don’t really hear what they’re saying. If you stood back and listened it mightn’t be too nice, but you have to concentrate on what’s ahead of you.”
If his concentration breaks, even for a split second, it could be the difference between preparing for the county’s first All-Ireland final in six years and practicing his kick-outs back with Ballina Stephenites. For Clarke and his team-mates, there is no option; a win on Sunday is what makes all of the sacrifices worthwhile.
“It is probably the main thing in your life if you are to do it right. Between work, this and that, and your family life, football has to come number one.
I am lucky enough in the job that I am in, the guards, that I have never missed a training session but you are taking bits of annual leave and by the end of the year, you might not have much holidays. Wives, girlfriends don’t have any holidays during the summer but nobody is making you do it. You are here by choice, you want to be here.
The way things are at the moment a lot of us are lucky to be in the country so you make the most of it. Like I say, if you don’t want to do it you don’t have to. I will keep at it for as long as I can because life does not be long moving on.