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Martin Clarke: Conor Laverty says Down 'exploring' keeper option for former All-Star

Down football manager Conor Laverty has confirmed that he is "exploring" the option of using former All-Star and current county coach Martin Clarke as a goalkeeper for the squad.

Laverty said that the 2010 All-Star forward, who is now 36, has played a couple of recent challenge games.

"Marty has been training with us all year and he's been brilliant," Laverty told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.

"His experience and voice is phenomenal back there."

Laverty was at pains to emphasise that John O'Hare has established himself as Down's number one this year following Niall Kane's decision to opt out of the squad and with Charlie Smyth pursuing his American Football ambitions in recent months.

"John has been super throughout the league. We're exploring it [the Clarke goalkeeper option] and that's as far as it goes. John has got the number one spot and he's holding on to it very, very well," said Laverty, speaking after Sunday's 3-15 to 1-10 win over Clare, which clinched the Mourne County's promotion to Division Two of the Allianz Football League.

Addison's disease ended Clarke career

Clarke had a hugely successful Australian Football Rules career in addition to starring for Down but was forced to retire from football in 2017 because of Addison's Disease, a condition which causes extreme fatigue and weight loss.

However, he has been playing in goals for his club An Riocht in recent times and says he is enjoying training alongside O'Hare and Kevin Anderson, under the watchful eye of Down's goalkeeping coach, former Tyrone custodian John Devine.

"Am I training with the group? I am," Clarke told BBC Sport NI.

"I'm doing a bit of coaching in the drills and things like that but I'm very much down the pecking order at the minute in terms of coming into play in that role.

Down goalkeeper John O'Hare
John O'Hare has established himself as Down's goalkeeper this season

"We've an excellent goalkeeper in John O'Hare. He hasn't missed a minute for us all year including the McKenna Cup and he was very solid again for us today and I'm delighted for him because he's a fantastic fellow first and foremost. And he's starting to grow into that role.

"Kevy Anderson is in there as well, and old mate that I played with in 2010, 2011 when I played for Down.

"We know Niall Kane moved on. Charlie Smyth is in America. There are a couple of other goalkeepers who decided not to come on board this year so for me at the minute, it's probably a good bit away in terms of me back playing.

"I'm in as a coach number one. God forbid if anything happened to our current goalkeepers. I'm in behind there.

"I'll just continue to support what's there and keep myself fit and keep working away with John Devine the goalkeeping coach."

'Still a lot of Sam Maguire permutations'

Down's impressive win over Clare sets up a Division Three Final meeting with Westmeath at Croke Park next Saturday, with the likely prize a place in this year's Sam Maguire Cup, as opposed to having their summer in the second-tier Tailteann Cup where the Mournemen lost last year's final against Meath.

"There was a pressure on this game after last weekend but I felt that there was a massive response from our players," said Laverty of Sunday's display.

"There are still a lot of permutations for that Sam Maguire [spot].

"The goal at the start of the year was to get out of Division Two and get to a better standard of football and that's what this Down team want to be playing week in, week out."

Down drew with Westmeath in Mullingar last weekend and while the Lake County lost in Sligo on Sunday, Clarke says the Division Three decider will represent a "massive game" for the Mourne County.

"We spoke to the boys in the changing rooms that the preparation switches to that straight away and the job isn't done because the prize of the league title is big this year in terms of putting yourself on the front foot in terms of the Sam Maguire competition."