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6 Gaelic Footballers Who Left Us Wanting More

Few virtues come loaded with fickleness quite as much as potential.

Ireland is freckled with footballers who failed to bring the full breadth of their talent to bear on the country's consciousness, having shown tantalising glimpses of that talent in the early part of their careers. Here are a few footballers who left us all wanting more, not necessarily through any fault of their own.

Ronan Clarke (Armagh)

While Armagh's All-Ireland winners were plagued with the "puke football" moniker, they possessed some otherworldly scoring talents, and of the McDonnell/McConville/Marsden/Clarke quartet that started the '02 All-Ireland final, Clarke was the youngest, and ended the year as Young Player of the Year. In spite of a fine medal haul (a Celtic Cross along with five Ulster titles and two All-Stars), some of the promise and expectation surrounding Clarke's career was compromised by injury.

He missed 2007 with a cruciate knee injury but returned the following year to pick up an Ulster title and an All-Star. The medals dried up from there, however, and in 2010, he was forced out of a league game with an Achilles injury. He never played for Armagh again. He was only 28.

Ultimately, Clarke was forced to retire in August, 2015 after a shocking collision with a goalpost that left him in a coma for five days.

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Clarke remains one of the finest Armagh forwards of the modern era. But for injuries, there may have been no need for the 'Armagh' qualifier.

Marty Clarke (Down)

In decades to come, historians and readers foraging through the GAA history books will find buried deep within an agonisingly brief flash of genius. That Marty Clarke spent just two years playing senior football with Down is astonishing. His underage career melded blatant success (an All-Ireland minor title in 2005) with latent whispers (one claimed he kicked 3-20 in an under-14 club game) and led to his being scouted to play in the AFL.

He spurned another contract with Collingwood to come home to play for Down, and made an instant impact: guiding his county to an All-Ireland final. He then returned to the AFL for another stint before moving home, vowing to work his way back on the Down panel.

That, sadly, didn't work out. Last year, Clarke confirmed his retirement from the game at the age of just 29 having been diagnosed with the extremely rare Addison’s Disease, which affects one in 10,000 people. Clarke's final game was in the unheralded surrounds of a Sigerson Cup game with Queen's.

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Michael Meehan (Galway) 

Last year, Meehan officially called time on an inter-county career bedeviled by injury. His early years are storied, dominating the Hogan Cup with St Jarlath's before forming a remarkable partnership with Sean Armstrong at under-21 level. In 2005, he and Armstrong kicked 6-03 between them in the 2005 All-Ireland under-21 final, a year after Meehan kicked 0-06 for Caltra in a man-of-the-match performance in the All-Ireland club final.

Meehan's senior career never fully matched these expectations. While he won three Connacht medals with Galway, he was plagued by injury. Meehan retired in 2014, but bravely battled back to be involved with Kevin Walsh's panel last year. A chronic ankle injury struck again, however, and was forced to sit out the Connacht final at short notice. He made a brief appearane against Donegal in the qualifiers, but that proved to be it for Meehan at inter-county level.

He enjoyed a fine career, but it ends with that horrible, lingering though. 'What if?'

Tommy Walsh (Kerry)

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Kerry are rarely bereft of talented forwards, but they felt the loss of Walsh to the AFL keenly in 2009, months after he kicked four points in the All-Ireland final against Cork. Having started at St Kilda, Walsh then moved to the Syndey Swans, where he wore the same number as erstwhile Kerry teammate, Tadhg Kennelly. In 2014, he returned home, but has not made the impact on the Kerry senior team that was expected of him.

The main factor for this is a hideous injury suffered in Australia, in which he tore his hamstring off the bone; presaging the injury that would force Paul O'Connell to end his international rugby career on a stretcher. Walsh has since struggled to nail down a berth in the Kerry panel, with selector Mikey Sheehy admitting in 2016 that Walsh struggled to nail down a definitive position in the Kerry forward line. Walsh left the panel in 2016, and ever since has seen the emergence of Sean O'Shea and David Clifford, meaning that he is running out of time and space to leave the mark his talent deserves.

Jack Ferriter (Kerry)

Unlike the next man on this list, Walsh has at least minted one of the Kingdom's currency: a Celtic Cross. Jack Ferriter of Dingle was to the 1994 Al-Ireland minor-winning Kerry team as David Clifford was to last year's squad, captaining his county to a title and earning countless plaudits in the process. He added a couple of under-21 titles in the subsequent years and also won two Sigerson Cup titles with IT Tralee.

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He hardly made a senior championship appearance for Kerry, having been severely hampered by a shoulder injury. He made a few National League appearances between 1996 and 1998. He later transferred to play his football in Cork, with newspaper reports at the time speculating that an intercounty switch to Cork was in the offing.

Brian 'Beano' McDonald (Laois)

McDonald basked in some of Laois' finest success in recent years: All-Ireland minor titles in 1996 and 1997 along with the Leinster senior championship victory under Mick O'Dwyer in 2003. The following year, however, disaster struck: McDonald suffered a horrific double leg break against Tyrone in Croke Park. He made a quick return - he was back by April the following year - but he never recaptured the form of previous year, and was omitted for critical championship games later that year.

He continued to play with Laois, but injury continued to befall him, most farcically in 2007, when he missed an all-Ireland qualifier having been kicked by a horse.

He was an extraordinary talent and can look back on his medal haul with pride, but injuries curtailed what could have been an era-defining career.

See Also: Latest GAA Fixture Dilemma Puts Secondary School Student In Awful Situation

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Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.