The Billy Clarke Story

THE thing about overnight sensations is that they rarely are just that.Billy Clarke's three goals after coming off the bench for Ipswich in the past four games have catapulted him into the limelight while the Blues have snatched nine points from nine.

By Derek Davis

THE BILLY CLARKE STORY

THE thing about overnight sensations is that they rarely are just that.

Billy Clarke's three goals after coming off the bench for Ipswich in the past four games have catapulted him into the limelight while the Blues have snatched nine points from nine.


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But the truth is Clarke has been building to this moment, with an awful lot of bigger and better days to come, for some while.

His potential was first spotted as a seven-year-old, and then as a 12-year-old he went to a club where he consistently won league and cup titles, scoring between 30-40 goals a season.

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My first glimpse of him was at a reserve match up at the training ground three years ago when he was a 15-year-old and Colin Suggett described him as both a Billy Whizz and Billy Elliott, due to his pace and balance and predicted he would go on to great things - and that was before he inevitably scored in the game.

My card was marked that day and I have watched with interest as the feisty lad from Cork has gone on to cut a swathe through youth and reserve-team football, become a regular at each age group up to Under-19s for the Republic of Ireland, made his Football League debut with the Blues at Cardiff, and get substituted in the same game by Joe Royle.

I have seen him make his first league start with Colchester United while on loan last season, notch his first senior goal in the League Cup at Peterborough, after inspiring a comeback that took the game to extra time, then get his first league goal under his belt on Saturday to beat Southampton, and repeat the feat against Coventry City on Tuesday, again after coming off the bench.

But it has not all been the luck of the Irish for the deadly finisher, who has also had to endure two serious injury setbacks since joining Town and chronic homesickness.

The first was when he was forced to miss the FA Youth Cup final, which he had done so much to help Bryan Klug's side reach, when a cruciate ligament problem in the semi-final at Spurs meant months on the sidelines.

Then last season, two weeks after that brief first-team foray, Clarke dislocated an elbow in a reserve match against Portsmouth at Havant in December and spent another three months recovering, when he would have otherwise no doubt gained more senior experience.

A spell on loan at Colchester United helped hone his talent while he helped them to promotion.

Not patient by nature, Clarke has been champing at the bit to prove a lot of people right at Ipswich - not least Klug, who has never had any doubt that Clarke can handle the big stage, but as his Academy director, and now first-team coach, has had to find the balance of giving him his head and at the same time making sure he doesn't lose it.

Nor has their been any doubt in the mind of Malcolm Moore, the Blues recruitment officer who also unearthed Darren Bent among others. Moore first spotted Clarke as a 13-year-old playing for Maymount Celtic in the Cork district league, after he had been recommended by Irish scout Joe Martin.

The Blues had to work hard to secure the diminutive striker who has a larger than life presence in front of goal, but a visit to Portman Road and the training ground, and some words from Matt Holland, helped him decide to sign up as a 15-year-old.

At the same time his stock in Ireland was also continuing to rise and international honours at every age group followed.

His ability and promise was recognised last year when he was among the winners of the prestigious Irish Examiner Young Sports Star award.

It has already been a long, and at times bumpy, road but with a fair wind at his back Clarke promises to be more than an overnight sensation - more an enduring success.

THIS is an extract from Part One of the Billy Clarke story. See today's EADT as his mum Ursula talks about Billy's amazing struggle against the odds

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