Aonghus Clarke: 'We're aiming to take a scalp'
By John Harrington
There’s a good chance Westmeath’s Aonghus Clarke holds the dubious record for the shortest ever inter-county senior hurling debut.
It lasted just ten seconds before he and his marker were both red-carded after clashing shortly after the throw-in when Westmeath and Offaly met in the 2012 Walsh Cup.
“I was absolutely raging,” recalls Clarke of the inauspicious start to his inter-county career. “It was my first game! Couldn’t believe it!
“I pulled low, slightly above the ball, and got a whack up here (chest). Two reds! I let fly, he stood over the ball, I caught him down there, the ball went through, I turned around and I went to run after it and got walloped across the chest.
“I think he got longer than I did! I thought mine was harsh, I’m going to say that I suppose!”
His inter-county career didn’t get off to the most successful start, but Clarke has more than made amends since.
Now in his third year as Westmeath captain, the skilful midfielder is one of the Lake County’s most consistent players.
He sets high standards for himself and his team-mates, which was why the team’s record of three wins from five matches in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League this year was such a disappointment.
“The League was fierce disappointing, that we didn’t get up," he says. "It was the first two games we lost, the first game against Carlow we were very disappointed losing that, I felt we dominated that game and the second game against Kildare, they hurled better than us, we were poor.
“We panicked in that game and it was maybe the fact we hadn’t won many games in the year at all, we’d played a few Walsh Cup games and lost them as well. Momentum is a big thing for a perceived weaker team, you need that bit of momentum.
“We’re after winning three games now and we’re back hurling to a similar level compared to this time last year.
“I think we have a few extra players, a stronger panel than last year but probably in around the same, and we’d be hoping to do similar. We’re back at that level.”
On Sunday, Westmeath play Laois in the first of their Leinster SHC Round Robin matches with games against Kerry and Meath to follow.
They’ve qualified from the round-robin phase for the last two years running, and experience has taught Clarke that a good start is half the battle.
“Again, it’s momentum,” he says. “If you can get that first win, you’re away with it. You’re looking forward, hoping to get out of it but if you lose that first game, you’re chasing it. It’s a big game, the first one.”
This Westmeath team has been consistently competitive under manager Michael Ryan for the last three years but Clarke believes the next step they have to take is taking a big scalp in the knock-out stage of the Leinster Championship.
“If you’re not trying to improve…we’re trying to do better than last year and we got out of it (the round-robin) last year, so if we’re to get out of it again, it’s the same as that so we’re aiming to go one better and get out of it get a scalp then”, says Clarke.
“That’s the aim, to get out and do better. The draw is a bit nicer than last year.”