Troy Clarke: 15 fantastic footy moments

Troy Clarke’s life was all too short. Tragically so. But in 44 years he left an indelible mark on Queensland football. From his early days as a junior player in Cairns through the AFL playing ranks and more recently as a key figure in the game’s ongoing development state-wide he was a genuine contributor.

Wherever “Clarkey” went good things invariably followed. Indeed, he was vitally involved in most good things along a career potted with fantastic football moments.

Good moments were countless, but following are 15 fantastic footy moments of the man they called “Swooper”.


The Brisbane Bears broke new ground on Sunday 17 January 1991 when they played a practice match against Essendon in Cairns. It was the first senior AFL match of any description in the NQ “capital” and a forerunner to the first AFL premiership match 20 years later. Conditions were oppressive as Troy Clarke, coming off a 1990 knee reconstruction, made his first senior appearance for the club. It couldn’t have been more appropriate for the young man who at age 17 had won the Crathern Medal as the best & fairest player in the Cairns senior league. So hot was it that at halftime players were sitting in eskies and trying to squeeze into a fridge in an effort to cool down. Perhaps the conditions suited the home side better because the Bears won 13-10-88 to 9-13-67 in what was the first “look” new Bears coach Robert Walls had at as many as 10 members of his playing group.

2.     AFL DEBUT

Clarkey made his AFL debut in the Bears first game of 1991 – Round 2 v North Melbourne at Carrara. North won by 46 points in what was also the AFL debut for Bears teammates Richard Champion, David Ogg and Jason Millar, and the North trio of Peter Mann, Damien Murray, and Justin Staritski. Clarkey was the 41st name on a proud list of Queenslanders to play VFL/AFL football that now numbers 148, and one of eight players playing their first game for the Bears, alongside Champion, Ogg, Millar, David Cameron, Peter Curran, Shane Hamilton and Michael McLean. Together this group filled slots 72-79 on the all-time Bears playing list after fellow Queenslanders David Wearne and Ray Windsor had become the club’s 71st and 72nd players late in 1990. It was an especially memorable and forgettable occasion for Caloundra boy Millar, who finished up in Royal Brisbane Hospital nursing a broken jaw, a broken wrist and a badly cut lip after what would be his first and last AFL game. And not because of any footballing mishap. The injuries were self-imposed and occurred as the powerhouse ruckman tried to escape the police. Driving from the Gold Coast to Brisbane in a car owned by the Bears and loaned to him by teammate Peter Worsfold, Millar failed to stop for a random breath test on the south-east freeway at Mt.Gravatt at about 3.15am on the Monday morning, speeding away after initially slowing his vehicle to about 40km/hr. According to the police report, he reached speeds of 160km/hr trying to out-run a pursuing police vehicle before he lost control of his car at the start of Coronation Drive and crashed into a wall. He leapt from the car and jumped over a concrete barrier to escape hotly pursing police but fell 9m onto a bikeway and had to be taken by ambulance to hospital. Millar missed the remainder of the 1991 season due to injuries incurred in the aftermath of the  accident. He played 18 reserves games in ’92 but in ’93 he suffered recurring foot stress fractures that eventually ended his AFL career. He moved to Adelaide to play with Norwood but despite becoming a good SANFL player never threatened to reach the heights expected of him after his AFL debut.

In his second game in Round 3 1991 Clarkey played Carlton at Princes Park. And kicked his first goal. Otherwise, it wasn’t a memorable occasion. The Blues won by 57 points.


Queensland football enjoyed a special moment at the Gabba on Tuesday afternoon 16 July 1991. For the first time they beat the mighty Big V. And convincingly so. It was Queensland 23-14-152 to 15-18-108. And there was plenty of local talent in a side that thrilled a vocal Gabba crowd of about 8000 on what was a school day in Brisbane. It was a match to be played under State of Origin conditions but Queensland, coached by ex-Bears coach Norm Dare, were given special dispensation to include Brisbane Bears players originally from out-of-state who had played three years in Queensland. With Jason Dunstall, Queensland football’s favorite son, unavailable through injury, Roger Merrett, Victorian captain in 1986, became 1991 Queensland captain. Merrett played with eight stitches in his hand after beating Gavin Crosisca and Scott McIvor for the leadership. “Some of the players might not be born and bred Queenslanders but they live here and want to play football here. I’m just delighted to have a State game again,” said coach Dare, who had masterminded Queensland’s interstate success of the early 1980s which eventually led to the formation of the Bears.

The Queensland team was:-

B: Brad Hardie, Rod Lester-Smith, Simon Luhrs

HB: Danny Dickfos, Michael Gibson, Matthew Campbell

C: Troy Clarke, Marcus Ashcroft, David Wearne

HF: Craig Potter, Roger Merrett (c), Gavin Crosisca

F: Andrew Taylor, Cameron O’Brien, Corey Bell

R: Stephen Lawrence, Scott McIvor, Jason Cotter.

INT: Brenton Phillips, Simon Kenny, Dean Bowtell, Anthony Toppenberg.

The Victorians, coached by Rod Austin and skippered by Brett Stephens, a Tasmanian who would later coach world tennis No.1 Peter Sampras, were afforded the luxury of the two cricket dressing rooms, while the home side changed in the unlikely venue of the squash courts under the old Sir Leslie Wilson Stand. It was the only thing about the Queensland performance which could be described as second-class. After the Victorians kicked the first five goals to lead by 33 points the big Q kicked 14 of the next 16 goals to lead 14-7 to 7-9 late in the third quarter. When Victoria banged on the next seven goals straight to hit the front four minutes into the final stanza it looked for all money that they would steamroll the home side. There was a steamrolling alright, but it was a Big V that was flattened as the Maroons kicked the last eight goals.

Stephen Lawrence, so proud to wear a Queensland jumper he earned after a Maroons jumper was handed to him as a 17-year-old in 1986, was best afield in a magnificent performance in the ruck. Marcus Ashcroft, too, was magnificent in the midfield, and young Queenslander Simon Luhrs played the game of his life in defence. Merrett (four goals), Crosisca, McIvor and Rod Lester-Smith provided a real steadying influence, Clarke was busy on his wing, and Cameron O’Brien booted six goals in a performance which made a mockery of Queensland’s best previous result against Victoria – an 81-point loss in 1980.

Dare later described it as “Corey Bell Day”. Because the midget rover, a veteran of five AFL games at the time and later to become one of teammate Troy Clarke’s best mates and closest work colleagues, had typified the never-say-die Queensland spirit.

5.     FIRST WIN

What a week it was for Clarkey! Just five days after Queensland’s State of Origin victory over Victoria he got to sing the Bears club song for the first time after a seven-point win over Carlton at Carrara in Round 18 1991. Playing his sixth AFL game, he was a fine contributor with 23 possessions as captain Roger Merrett kicked five goals to grab three Brownlow Medal votes. Also playing his sixth AFL game for the Bears was fellow Queensland youngster Corey Bell.


It was 1.50pm on Saturday, 28 September 1991. Clarkey was among an immensely proud group of players who did a lap of honour at Waverley. A crowd of 75,000 applauded raucously for 10 minutes as they trudged around the perimeter, premiership cup held proudly aloft. To 20 ecstatic Bears players and their small band of Melbourne-based supporters it didn’t matter that it was the Reserves. It was still a flag. And it was history in the making.

The Bears, coached by Rodney Eade and skippered by Rod Lester-Smith, claimed the first AFL premiership flag to travel outside Victoria when they beat Melbourne in emphatic fashion 16-13-109 to 11-9-75 in just their third year in the competition. Why Waverley? Because the new Southern Stand was under construction at the MCG, meaning the AFL had to move that ‘one day in September’ to an alternative venue.

It was a Bears side with an average age of 23, seven homegrown Queenslanders, and an excellent mix of experienced AFL players and up-and-coming youngsters. They were strong sentimental favorites with the sell-out crowd, and they did their adopted fans proud, kicking 8-5 to 2-0 in the final quarter to split open a fluctuating contest that is remembered best for the result and the magnificent second half commitment of the ‘northerners’. The Bears had kicked only three goals to halftime and trailed by 10 points, but they responded to a verbal battering from coach Eade to avenge a 112-point hiding from the Demons in the second-last game of the home-and-away season.

The Bears’ barnstorming finish was a forerunner to Hawthorn’s success over the West Coast Eagles that same day, and the influence of the AFL’s premier club at the time, the unashamed Brisbane role model from the day favorite son Peter Knights was appointed the inaugural coach, was enormous. Eade was a magnificent coach, Lester-Smith an equally inspirational skipper with four goals in his last game, and fellow ex-Hawk Peter Curran split best afield honors with Alex Ishchenko.

Eade, a four-times premiership player at Hawthorn, said at the time: “I am not only delighted with the team performance but I am pleased that many of our young players were able to experience playing in front of a grand final crowd. For many of them, it is the highlight of their career to date, and it is what football is all about.”

Indeed, from this side would come three senior regulars with the Bears, later the Brisbane Lions – Shaun Hart, who suffered a foot injury early in the game, Matthew Kennedy and Clarkey. And it was a fitting and fantastic farewell for Brenton Phillips and David O’Keeffe, members of the very first Brisbane Bears side in 1987, who joined the likes of Lester-Smith, Curran and Ishchenko in providing leadership to help overcome the customary grand final day nerves.

Curran, with 25 possessions and three goals, was a wonderfully creative player at centre half forward, while Ishchenko had 13 kicks, nine marks and 12 handballs as he controlled the ruck and the aerial duels all day.

Midget rover Corey Bell, described by Eade as ‘the littlest player in the AFL with the biggest heart”, defied a vomiting attack at halftime to finish with 28 possessions, equal with ruck-rover David Ogg. O’Keeffe did a superb second half defensive job while Ray Windsor kicked three huge goals, and Clarke and Lachlan Sim worked tirelessly around the packs.

Steve McLuckie responded to an Eade rocket at halftime to play a key role in the second half, snapping two mercurial goals. It was an heroic performance because only afterwards did the 18-year-old Year 12 Merrimac High School student reveal he’d played the grand final with a broken left hand and a broken finger on his right hand. He’d carried the broken hand for six weeks, and had broken his finger in the first final three weeks earlier. So, while his teammates were celebrating their glorious victory on the Monday, he underwent surgery to have a pin inserted in his left hand.

The Bears’ 1991 Reserves Premiership side was:
B: Lachlan Sim, Simon Luhrs, Ben Thomas
HB: Brenton Phillips, Matthew Kennedy, Shaun Hart
C: Steve McLuckie, Brad Rowe, Troy Clarke
HF: Ray Windsor, Peter Curran, Andrew Taylor
F: Rod Lester-Smith (c), Cameron O’Brien, David Ogg
R: Alex Ishchenko, David Wearne, Corey Bell
I/C: David O’Keeffe, Robert Dickson

EMERG: Peter Worsfold, Craig Potter, Ian Kidgell
COACH: Rodney Eade

Brisbane Bears           2-4       3-7       8-8       16-13-109
Melbourne                  2-3       5-5       9-9       11-9-75

Goals: Bears: Lester-Smith 4, Curran 3, Windsor 3, Ogg 2, McLuckie 2, Rowe, Dickson. Demons: Sullivan 2, Gorozidis 2, S Wearne 2, Howat 2, Lovell, Lamb, Keogh.

Best: Bears: Curran, Ishchenko, Bell, Clarke, Lester-Smith, Ogg. Demons: Lovell, Keogh, Heaver, S Wearne, Hopgood, Mahoney.

It had been a campaign that brought finals football to Queensland for the first time, albeit at Reserves level. On Saturday night, 5 September 1991, the Bears Reserves hosted Geelong in a knockout final at Carrara. They won 25-13-163 to 11-16-82, with Cameron O’Brien booting nine goals and Ray Windsor and Peter Curran four apiece. Centreman Brad Rowe was best afield from wingman Steve McLuckie and rover Shaun Hart, but it was a costly win. Michael Gibson, described by coach Eade as his side’s best player throughout the year, was reported for striking Darren Flanigan and suspended for four matches. His season was over.

The following week, on 12 September, the Bears beat Collingwood 17-14-116 to 12-8-80 in a semi-final at Waverley to become the first interstate team to qualify for a grand final. Windsor and David Wearne kicked three goals while Curran, Corey Bell and McLuckie were the standouts but O’Brien rolled his ankle badly and was in doubt for the premiership decider. Among the Bears tour party were 15-year-old Queenslanders Clark Keating and Rudi Frigo, who were given a taste of the big time. Just in case either of them might go on to bigger and better things.

At season’s end, Bell , who played eight games in the seniors, stormed home during the finals to win the Reserves B&F with 23 votes from Craig Potter (19), with Shaun Hart and Clarkey (17) tied for third.


Clarkey earned another Queensland State of Origin jumper when he joined a 16-year-old Michael Voss among nine Bears and five ex-Bears in a Jason Dunstall-skippered Queensland State of Origin side that took on a talent-laden NSW side at the SCG on 12 May 1992. Also in the side were Scott McIvor, Matthew Kennedy, Corey Bell, Steve McLuckie, Simon Luhrs, David Wearne and Rudi Frigo, plus ex-Bears Darren Carson, Michael Gibson, Matthew Simpson, Tony Lynn and Steve Handley. It wasn’t exactly a memorable occasion –Queensland were beaten 6-12-48 to 22-9-141 to 6-12-48 hiding.


Six weeks later Clarkey played his 24th AFL game in Round 15 1992 against Hawthorn at Carrara, and collected his first Brownlow Medal votes. The Bears lost by four points after leading by three at the last change, but still they dominated the votes. Martin Leslie was judged best afield by the umpires, while Clarkey received two votes for a dominant display that saw him collection 23 possessions and two goals.


In Round 18 1992 the Bears beat Fitzroy at Princes Park by 41 points in a monumental day in club history. Headed by eight goals from Rod Owen, it was their first win in Melbourne since Round 21 1989 and ended a 23-game losing streak in the Victorian capital. The occasion was marked by two significant ‘firsts” – Clarkey picked up his first Brownlow Medal three-voter for 19 possessions, and 17-year-old Queenslander Michael Voss had a team high 26 possessions in the first of 289 AFL games.


On Sunday 6 June 1993 a combined Queensland/Northern Territory side which included Clarkey played Tasmania in a State of Origin match at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. And, with captain Jason Dunstall kicking eight goals, they won by 34 points. Clarkey was among 18 current, former or future Brisbane Bears players in the Queensland/NT side, coached by ex-Bears coach Norm Dare – Marcus Ashcroft, Nathan Buckley, Troy Clarke, Fabian Francis, Rudi Frigo, Matthew Kennedy, best afield Gilbert McAdam, Michael McLean, Steve McLuckie, Michael Voss, Darryl White and Ray Windsor, plus ex-Bears Darren Carlson, Tony Lynn, Simon Luhrs, Craig Potter and David Wearne, and future Bear Danny Dickfos, the only player chosen from QAFL ranks.


In Round 3 1994 it was the Bears against Fitzroy again, this time at Western Oval. And this time Fitzroy won by 33 points, but again Clarkey was in the headlines. Playing as a crumbing forward, he kicked a career-best 5 goals out of the Bears’ total of 12 goals, including his 25th career goal. Despite his big haul Clarkey missed out on the Brownlow Medal votes, which all went to Fitzroy players – Stephen Paxman (3), Anthony McGregor (2) and Matty Armstrong (1). It was the first of 279 AFL games for another standout 17-year-old – Nigel Lappin.


In Round 4 1994 the Bears hosted St.Kilda at the Gabba, and, coming off his five-goal haul in a losing side seven days earlier, Clarkey was able to celebrate another standout individual performance in a 53-point win. Playing his 50th AFL game, he had 17 possessions and was awarded three Brownlow Medal votes. It was Alastair Lynch’s first game for the Bears. He kicked eight goals.


In Round 2 1995 the Bears hosted Adelaide at Gabba – Bears won by 27pts – Clarkey had a career-best 27poss for 3 votes … it was the 2nd Bears game and the 129th career game for Ross Lyon (and his last game) … Scott McIvor kicked 5 goals for the Bears.


Ben Robbins, pocked-sized redhead who would later captain the Brisbane Bears Reserves to the 2001 AFLQ premiership, play 52 games AFL for the Bears and 40 AFL games for North Melbourne, made his AFL debut against Melbourne at the Gabba in Round 12 1996 to became Clarkey 85th AFL teammate. And his last. It was an illustrious group and, such was the high turnover of Bears players in the early 1990s, an exceedingly high number. On average through 68 career games Clarkey played with a new teammate  every week – and some. Marcus Ashcroft played 63 of Clarkey’s 68 games, followed by Champion (58).

For those captivated by football trivia, or are just feeling so hollow at present they cannot make any sense of what has happened, the list of Clarkey’s star-studded 85 AFL teammates, with the number of games each played with the little Bears favourite, is: Marcus Ashcroft (63), Richard Champion (58), Roger Merrett (55), John Gastev, Martin Leslie (52), Matt Kennedy (50), Michael McLean (49), Darryl White (45), Danny Noonan (43), Adrian Fletcher (35), Shaun Hart (35), Scott McIvor (33), David Bain (29), Michael Voss (28), Shane Hamilton (27), Paul Peos (24), Peter Worsfold (23), Matthew Clarke (22), Matthew Campbell (21), Nathan Chapman (21), Laurence Schache (21), Mark Zanotti (21), Andrew Bews (20), Fabian Francis (19), Nigel Lappin (19), Dion Scott (19), Ashley Green (18),Steve McLuckie (18), Nathan Buckley (16), Danny Craven (16), Gilbert McAdam (16), Chris Scott (16), Craig Lambert (15), Alastair Lynch (15), Ray Windsor (15), John Hutton (14), Craig Starcevich (14), Simon Luhrs (12), Brendon Retzlaff (12), Nigel Palfreyman (11), Damian Bourke (10), Brad Hardie (10), Troy Lehmann (10), Craig Potter (10), Matt Rendell (10), David Cameron (9), Brendan McCormack (9), Michael Murphy (9), Matthew Ryan (9), Peter Curran (8), Rod Owen (8), Paul Spargo (8), Rudi Frigo (7), Russell Jeffery (7), Justin Leppitsch (7), Cameron O’Brien (7), David Ogg (7), Matthew Ah Mat (5), Colin Alexander (5),  Andrew Gowers (5), Alex Ishchenko (5), Craig McRae (5), Lachlan Sim (5), David Wearne (5), Corey Bell (4), Heath Shepherd (4), Jason Akermanis (3), Ian Kidgell (3), Rod Lester-Smith (3), Brenton Phillips (3), Trent Bartlett (2), Martin Heffernan (2), Clark Keating (2), Adam Kerinaiua (2), Steven Lawrence (2), Ben Robbins (2), Andrew Taylor (2), Michael Gibson (1), Ross Lyon (1), Jason Millar (1), David O’Keeffe (1), John Parker (1), Brad Pearce (1), Steve Reynoldson (1), Shane Strempel (1).

Plagued by injury in his latter seasons, including a second knee reconstruction in 1995, Clarkey played his last AFL game in Round 13 1996. It was the Bears against St.Kilda at Waverley, and the Saints won by 46pts. Stewart Loewe kicked nine goals for three Brownlow medal votes.

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