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Down's Clarke recruited by AFL as part of plans to prioritise Ireland in search of players for Aussie Rules

Marty Clarke enjoyed two spells in the AFL with Collingwood.

FORMER DOWN FOOTBALLER Marty Clarke has been recruited in a part-time role by the AFL to mentor young Gaelic footballers that have been identified as Aussie Rules prospects.

Marty Clarke talks to the group Marty Clarke speaking to players at last December's AFL Combine in UCD. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The announcement of the new role comes as the AFL have also announced plans to prioritise Ireland in their search for international talent with their draft combine in the USA put on hold for 2018.

Instead of heading to the States, the AFL plans to increase the focus on Ireland with more scouting and development programmes.

Clarke has been involved in recent Irish Combines in Dublin, including last December’s event at UCD.

Following on from that he travelled with four young Gaelic footballers – Dublin duo Peadar Ó Cofaigh-Byrne (Cuala) and James Madden (Ballyboden St-Enda’s), Derry’s Anton Tohill (Swatragh) and Cork’s Mark Keane (Mitchelstown) – to Florida in January for the AFL Academy camp.

James Madden and Mark Keane Dublin's James Madden and Cork's Mark Keane in action in the 2017 AFL Combine in Dublin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“The position will be an expansion of my role here of developing players who have been identified as potential AFL players,” Clarke told the official AFL website.

“It will be up to me to meet the boys, maintain a relationship with them, conduct a couple of training sessions and watch game footage with them.”

Clarke, who played 73 games for Collingwood during his two spells with the club from 2007-09 and 2012-14, was part of the Down side that contested the 2010 All-Ireland senior final and won an All-Star that year for his performances.

Marty Clarke Marty Clarke helped guide Down to the 2010 All-Ireland senior final. Source: Cathal Noonan

The An Riocht club man has defended the AFL’s recruitment of GAA players amidst hostility from some quarters.

“The statistics are there that the boys that go out to Australia are only a tiny percentage of registered GAA players, and in the last 30 years, there’s only been 50 prospects come over.

“The vast majority of those boys have come back within three years and are bigger and better players for their clubs and counties.

“And AFL clubs know it’s very high risk to take on an Irish boy, but the chance of getting a Zach Tuohy, Tadhg Kennelly, Jim Stynes and Pearce Hanley is a great temptation.”

The quartet that journeyed to Florida in January will continue to be monitored. Ó Cofaigh-Byrne and Madden both won Leinster minor football medals with Dublin last summer, Keane was a key player at midfield for the Cork minor side while Tohill is a son of former Derry great Anthony.

Anton Tohill Derry native Anton Tohill. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Peadar O’Cofaigh Byrne with Conor Gillespie Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne in action for Dublin in the Leinster minor football final against Louth's Conor Gillespie last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ll be catching up with them to take eight to 10 group sessions, but they’ll keeping an eye on the AFL season and keeping themselves up to date with the everything that’s happening,” Clarke said.

“They’ll also be keen to see how the Irish boys are going.

“They had a great experience in America and are keen to get picked up by a club, so hopefully they get drafted in November.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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