Dean Clarke chats about his time with UCD AFC.
They come from far and wide to play for the Students. From Donegal, to Galway and everywhere in between UCD AFC have been blessed with fine players, willing to make the switch to the Capital to make the breakthrough at the top table of Irish football. Dean Clarke hasn’t had to travel far, geographically, to end up in the esteemed Academy but in football terms he has come a long way in a short space of time. Dean has featured heavily in UCD’s first team this term, either up front or attacking from the left wing and it is clear to see that there is a lot more to come from this Oatlands student.
“The step up from Schoolboy Football has been incredible. The strength and pace of the players around me has been a real wakeup call and it has shown me I have plenty more to do if I want to stay where I am.” Dean has just completed one of the toughest periods of any young lads life, completing the Leaving Certificate with Oatlands College. Clarke has always had his sights set on studying in UCD and living so close to campus has meant he has always been comfortable in the surrounds. Combining the Leaving Certificate with breaking into the UCD AFC first team is no mean feat but this 19 year old takes it all in his stride.
When talking to Dean it is clear that he is incredibly focused and is determined to get what he deserves, in both football and academically. With the hard work done to try and attain a place on UCD’s Economics and Politics course, Dean has now turned his attention solely to football for the Summer. “Everyone wants to play and I am no different. I want to impact this team and make sure that I do everything possible to get a place on the team each week.” When most Leaving Certificate students are looking forward to a summer of finally letting their hair down, Clarke has other things on his mind; it is a sacrifice he is willing to make.
Dean’s journey to UCD took in a number of clubs. Greystones, Park Celtic, St Joseph’s Boys and then Bray Wanderers all had the pleasure of Clarke in their ranks. In fact, things could have been very different had Martin Russell not acted swiftly to secure the services of one of the brightest prospects in the Students ranks. “I was training with Bray Wanderers and Martin called and asked me to come down and have a look. He seemed keen on me and I was impressed with the set up here, so I chose UCD instead. Living nearby and hoping to go to College here definitely helped that decision.”
Another helping hand in that decision was his good friend James Kavanagh. Another Oatlands student, James had already made the move from Bray Wanderers to UCD and made Clarke’s decision easier. The pair played in the successful Oatlands team that dominated the Leinster and All Ireland Schools cups. This success forms a key part of Clarke’s development, “I was lucky enough to be in a school team with some great players so the further we went in competitions the more we learned together.”
Dean’s impressive performances with the UCD under 19 team ensured he played his way into contention for a place with the Senior team. It was with the under 19 squad that Jamie Moore, under 19 assistant coach, got a glimpse of what makes young Clarke tick. “He has a tremendous appetite for the game and will always go above and beyond to make sure he gets every advantage possible.” Be that extra sessions in the gym, getting out on his bike for extra strength work, or going to watch other under 19s teams play. “Dean has an incredible turn of pace, he is one of the quickest players I have ever worked with. The extra work he does off the field means he is always going strong while other begin to tire”, says Moore. Clarke has shown that there are not many stones left unturned when it comes to his footballing development.
With so much achieved in a short space of time, Clarke is not yet satisfied with his lot. “We need to finish as high up the table as possible and I want to be as involved as possible in that.” With a strong work ethic and a desire to learn it is clear Clarke is heading in the right direction. “I need to improve, in all aspects of my game. I am in the best place possible for that to happen and hopefully I can keep improving and taking my chances when they come.”
In a team with an emphasis on attacking with flair and pace, Clarke is perfectly placed to power forward and become a central character in UCD’s story. He may not have had far to come to join the UCD narrative but all signs point to a long and exciting path ahead with the Students.