Linfield move a dream come true for Crossmaglen’s Clarke
Linfield finished fifth in the Sports Direct Women’s Premiership in 2023 – 18 points behind winners Glentoran. However, Clarke is hoping that she can play her part in getting the south Belfast club back on top.
“I'm buzzing,” she said.
“Opportunities like this don't come around too often. I had a bad year with my injury, and you feel like the whole world is ending. Then this opportunity came along, and how could I say no to it?
“Linfield girls haven't been at the top for the last few years. I know when I played for Newry City, Linfield were the team to beat.
“I want to come in and help them get back to the top, to winning the Premiership, and playing in Europe.”
However, in training with Armagh, she suffered two serious knee injuries in the space of 12 months, with the latter particularly debilitating, and she contemplated her future in sports.
“The first injury was a broken patella on my right knee. It was sort of like having a broken arm, I wore a cast and a brace, but I was back after just four months – I was flying,” she said.
“Then in February - I'll never forget it - there was about two minutes left in training, and I was soloing the ball up the sideline and my left knee just snapped.
“I was gutted and I had no intention of going back to playing football. I didn't want to do the rehab, because I was thinking 'what's the point?'
“I was low, and it was a very tough time.”
But Clarke’s sporting goals were given a shot in the arm when she was contacted by representatives Margaret Byrne and Liam Carroll, who took her on board in August.
Before Clarke burst onto the scene with Armagh, she played for Newry City at the highest level as a teenager, and has continued to hold a passion for soccer.
Margaret and Liam arranged Clarke’s transfer to Linfield, and in doing so, have given her tangible goals to look forward to in the new year.
“Mags [Byrne] and Liam [Carroll] from First For Players contacted me, and my dream to play football again was alive,” said Clarke.
“I have been working with them for a few months to see what the plan was, as obviously I'm coming back from my injury. When they contacted me, that gave me something to work towards.
“When they came to me with an opportunity like this – to play for such a well known team, playing at the top level - I wasn't going to turn it down.”
In taking the next step in her soccer career, Clarke has made the decision to put GAA on hold.
Supporters of the orange and white will miss having the dangerous forward in the team, but Clarke explained why she couldn’t turn down such an exciting opportunity.
“I had made the decision to put it on hold already,” she said.
“I was maybe just going to play club football with Crossmaglen. Things may have changed if Mags and Liam hadn't have given me this opportunity, but the injury happened in February, and I made the decision in April or May that I was going to take a year out. I have so much respect for the Armagh girls and the Cross girls, but hopefully it's on hold for a while, if this works out!
“I've had a tough couple of years, so I owe it to myself to put myself first. When I was growing up, we were playing football morning and night, so this has always been my dream.”