Matthew Clarke programme article

Posted : 17th April 2021

Linfield full-back Matthew Clarke is very much in good form as we reach the final stretch of the Danske Bank Premiership season but in this interview with ‘Look at Linfield’ he maintains that although it’s pleasing, his sole focus is trying to win the title for the fourth time in his eight-year Linfield career.

“I have felt good in the last couple of weeks and I am just glad to be back in the team to try and help the rest of the team. It’s not about me personally, it’s about the team, so I don’t really care about how I’m doing personally, as long as our team is winning on the pitch – particularly at this crucial stage of the season. We are coming to the business end of the season now and most of us have been here before. We are just ticking one game off at a time. It’s important to do that because you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourselves.”

With injuries and suspensions hitting Linfield during a hectic March, Niall Quinn moved into central midfield and this presented an opportunity into the team for Clarke who has grasped it with both hands. The 27 year-old believes that the Blues’ reduced number of options has benefited his form because he’s more chance of playing and this helps him prepare mentally.

“It’s possibly been a big help for me going into games knowing that I was going to play, given the situation with injuries and suspensions in recent weeks. That helps you get mentally prepared for matches. For me personally, it’s been beneficial but as I say, all that truly matters is that the team is picking up three points.”

In recent weeks we have seen the Artigarvan native set up two important goals, both scored by Jordan Stewart after Clarke received the ball from Navid Nasseri, in almost identical goals against Dungannon Swifts and Coleraine and Clarke says helping out in the final third is something he wants to do regularly.

“Those assists ironically were nearly carbon copies, and I’m just happy to be helping the team with a contribution, and further up the pitch it’s something that I strive to do, because I think I had 12 or 14 assists or something like that last season. I don’t know if I have anywhere near that amount this season but it is something I like to try and chip in with because we have the players further up the pitch capable of putting the ball in the net.”

Clarke has been in and out of the team at times but when he won his first league title in 2016-17 the left back was a regular in the team and played his part in a memorable run-in, and he says it inspires him to want to play his part again and he believes the squad have the characteristics for a strong end to the season.

“That season was unbelievable for me, probably my best, and the most enjoyable year of my life, both in football and outside of football. The run we went on that year from January to win the treble was superb and I think we have enough lads in our dressing room who know how to get over the line and hopefully, we can keep pushing and get over the line. We battled well for a point in Larne, it’s a really tough place to go, but we’ll want to get back to winning ways against Ballymena United. We lost to them a few weeks ago so we know to expect a tough game.”

Having played in Rangers’ Youth Academy from 2010 – 2013, Clarke can relate to impressive January signing Cameron Palmer, who joined the Club after nine years in the Rangers Academy. We asked Clarke about the transition and the impact Palmer has had and he was very complimentary.

“Coming back from full-time football across the water to play in Northern Ireland is not easy. For me personally, Rangers were my boyhood heroes and to get released was tough to take. It took me a while to get over it and to adjust to the Irish League but Cammy has come in and settled in, seamlessly. He’s done very well for us and as a young player he’ll be a big player for the future. It’s been impressive how he’s adjusted here, because a lot of lads return from England or Scotland and struggle with the pace of the Irish League as you get no time on the ball here.

“The regime at the Club now, in terms of where we’re at, in moving to full-time football is a lot more professional than it was when I joined, and the same applies for the Irish League as a whole, so perhaps coming back to a more professional environment has made things a bit smoother for Cammy than it was for me.”

Well done to Matthew on his strong performances and everyone associated with Linfield will hope it’s not just his beloved Rangers celebrating a 55th league title this season.
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