Sport

Kyle Clarke’s knee injury won’t stop him

By Alex Mitchell

A small setback for a major comeback — Kyle Clarke’s footballing prospects are far from finished.

The Shepparton United prodigy and Murray Bushrangers leader suffered a severe knee injury in last weekend’s loss to the Calder Cannons, almost certainly a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The 10 to 12-month stretch on the sidelines comes at the worst possible time for Clarke; his stylish play in his draft year has drawn plenty of attention and even an invite to the Rookie Me Combine.

But playing in the AFL is, at least for now, on the backburner, after what Clarke described as the worst pain he had been in.

‘‘It was five minutes into the second quarter; I was just starting to play well and I went up for a mark and then came down awkwardly,’’ Clarke, 18, said.

‘‘I heard it loudly pop and crack and I just screamed out for the trainers. I’m 90 per cent sure it’s an ACL.

‘‘That day, about 20 minutes after I’d done the ACL they told me that (I’d been invited to the combine).

‘‘It was shattering at the time, all the news hit at once. There’s not much you can really do.’’

Before the unfortunately-timed injury, Clarke’s output had been stellar, averaging a crisp 19 disposals and four tackles a game.

A key factor in the Bushrangers’ 9-5 season, he put his campaign down to a blistering pre-season, helping take his game to the next level.

‘‘I had a really big pre-season and put on a few kilos, and got a bit bigger and fitter,’’ he said.

‘‘I was lucky enough from all the boys to get voted as one of the captains, and I’ve just been trying to play good, consistent footy.

‘‘We are going to get in the finals, it’s just the games we have lost we’ve hung in there for three quarters and then lost our legs in the last bit.’’

A Demon since under-14s, he has played five senior Goulburn Valley League games, including their round 12 upset against Euroa.

‘‘It was an awesome win, a great feeling,’’ Clarke said.

‘‘As soon as we ran out it was a great feeling, and it was such a good feeling in the rooms. We were up and about, and just sort of able to run them over from the start.

‘‘I’ve made heaps and heaps of new mates (at United), it’s such a strong family club and I’m proud to be a part of it.’’

United coach Stephen Scott was shattered for the youngster and could not speak highly enough of his passion for his home club.

‘‘Kyle is a very good player, he’s been really good in the games he’s played with us,’’ Scott said.

‘‘But just as a person he’s great, he’s still been at our trainings and at club functions.

‘‘He hasn’t let playing with the Bushies separate him from the club, he’s a really good club person and it’s heartbreaking that he’ll miss 12 months.’’

His draft hopes might have taken a knock, but Clarke remained determined to show his injury would not break him, rather be the basis for his breakthrough.

‘‘It’s kind of hit a brick wall at the moment. I’m not too sure, but I’ve just got to do all the rehab and all the right stuff,’’ he said.

‘‘Hopefully I’ll hit back harder, and give it another crack.’’