Limerick FC goalkeeper Brendan Clarke, right, with team mate Chiedozie Ogbene
BRENDAN Clarke was looking for a change of scene at the end of last season when Limerick goalkeeping coach Eddie Hickey came calling.
Clarke had spent a total of 13 seasons with St Patrick’s Athletic in two stints, sandwiched between a stay at Sligo Rovers.
If Limerick FC fans are looking for omens ahead of Friday night’s glamour FAI Cup semi-final clash with Cork City at Turner’s Cross, 7.15pm, Clarke won FAI Cup medals at both St Pat’s (2014 after a 53-year wait) and Sligo Rovers (2011).
Clarke explained: ”I decided that I wanted something new and fresh at the end of last season. It is a short career, so you don’t want to have any regrets, so it was something I wanted to do.
”Eddie Hickey got in touch with me about my plans. I told him I was out of contract and was open to speaking to clubs and from there Eddie really pushed things through with Pat O’Sullivan and Kieran Judge at the club.
”I wanted to make an informed decision of my own. I drove down to Limerick met with Eddie who brought me around UL, sat down, had a good chat with him about how things were.
”Driving back up the M7 that day I decided, ‘yes’, this is something I want to do if we can thrash out a deal which means I can pay the bills I will be happy to come down and commit to the club.
”I went way back with (then Limerick FC manager) Martin Russell. I grew up watching him play with St Pat’s. He was a fantastic player and he came on the coaching staff as I just signed for the club in 2003-2004. Even when he ran his own summer soccer camps in Lucan, I was one of the coaches.
He was assistant manager at St Pat’s in 2014.”
Clarke arrived at Limerick behind first choice keeper Freddy Hall in the pecking order. It took the 32-year-old some time to become the Blues starting ‘keeper this season.
Brendan Clarke said: ”I knew coming in that Freddy was the established first choice goalkeeper here. I never really shied away from a challenge.
”I was happy enough to come in and meet that head on. With Martin (Russell) in pre-season, I didn’t really feel I got a fair crack of the whip in terms of game time, starting games and that.
“I think Martin had his decision made to start Freddy at the start of the season. That’s fine.
”It wouldn’t change me. I was always going to be professional, train well and do everything I can to support Freddy when he is playing.
”Then a decision was made for me to play from the first Bray Wanderers away game. We won 1-0. It is the joys of being a goalkeeper, you have to wait for an opportunity to come around and take it when it comes.”
Limerick FC travel to Cork this Friday on the back of a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Premier Division champions-elect at the Markets Field on Friday night.
Clarke said: “I think it was the performance the boys put in was very pleasing. We were tactically aware, cute when we had to be, clinical in front of goal. They are the things we have been lacking all season.
”Cork are a fantastic side and they showed that on Monday night against Dundalk that they are a top, top side. We rode our luck a little bit on Friday, but that is the rub of the green we have been missing in previous games.
”It is the small minor detail. Things went for us on the night and it was a fantastic result. We were delighted.
”It might have shocked a few people around the league that we can produce something like that and it gives us confidence, so all good.
”We set ourselves a target this year of having a really good Cup run and I think we have done that so far. We want to go one step better by getting to the final and then one step further and win it if we are lucky enough to get there.
”We have had a decent enough run of form, I think in the last eight games we have won five, drawn one and lost two, so it hasn’t been too bad going into the semi-final.”
Clarke explained that he didn’t watch Cork’s top of the table Premier Division clash with Dundalk live on TV on Monday night, opting instead to go to Richmond Park to watch his former club St Pat’s play Shamrock Rovers.
”I recorded the Cork game from TV. We play St Pat’s next in the league at Richmond Park, so it was good to go and watch them and get a feel for them.
“Some people seem to think that if Cork won the league on Monday they would be on it all week, the won’t take the semi-final as serious because they won the league, but listen, what a group of professionals Cork are. They were never going to do that.
”They want to win the league and want to win the cup as much as anyone.
”I never envisaged that if they had won the league on Monday night that they would take their eye off Friday for one minute.”