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Howard Clark aims for fifth Herald Sun Shield

Former Tongala resident Howard Clark will coach St Patrick's Ballarat in tonight's Herald Sun Shield grand final at the MCG

LUKE MCMANUS August 8, 2014 3:06am

Education at St Patrick’s College Ballarat is paramount. Football is a close second.

That is not an assumption based on St Pat’s all-conquering senior football team, which tonight strives for a record fifth consecutive Herald Sun Shield.

The proof, rather, is in St Patrick’s healthy enrolment figures.

Spearheaded by Tongala-raised senior coach Howard Clark for more than a decade, St Patrick’s football program has been identified as a key driving force behind the college’s intake.

Put into context, of the 54 players who were selected in the Ballarat Football League under 14 interleague squad this season, 48 attend St Patrick’s College.

Football is not compulsory, but that failed to stop more than 650 students putting their hand up for either a junior, intermediate or senior spot at the school.

St Patrick’s unrivalled success, including a streak of four shields (five shields overall), has played a significant part in attracting prospective students.

Twenty former pupils listed at an AFL club, including Drew Petrie (North Melbourne), Nick Suban (Fremantle) and Clinton Young (Collingwood), might also have an effect.

The many potential draftees who will gear up for St Pat’s first XVIII tonight, like captain Liam Duggan, have also benefited from the program.

On-field results speak volumes, but those who walk the halls at St Pat’s know exactly where that success hails from.

‘‘Mr Clark is more of a teacher than a coach,’’ Duggan said, who shares the leadership duties with vice-captains Daniel Butler and Riley Stuhldreier.

‘‘Everything Mr Clark teaches and presents through coaching, you can take with you in day-to-day life.

‘‘I believe all our achievements have had a lot to do with Mr Clark’s guidance.’’

Clark’s positive influence under the St Patrick’s College football system is undeniable, despite the unassuming coach believing otherwise.

‘‘Mr Clark just lets us go out there and play our natural football, that’s what’s so good about it,’’ Stuhldreier said, whose father Chris topped the Goulburn Valley Football League goal-kicking with Kyabram between 1991 to 1994.

‘‘He’s a second father to a lot of us, he looks after us and is always there to guide us.’’

All three players confront a nervous three months ahead, with year 12 exams soon, as well as November’s AFL draft.

Surprisingly, the AFL dream sits at the back of the trio’s minds as things like study, ATAR and career take precedence.

‘‘School comes first, if you’re not performing well in the classroom then you’re not going to play,’’ Duggan said.

Such has been Clark’s philosophy, held ever since taking over as coach in 2002 and football director in 2006.

Clark was a talented junior footballer before debilitating spinal tumours cut a promising career short.

But through teaching and coaching, Clark has filled that void and has taken St Patrick’s College to new heights in the process.

‘‘For me, coaching is purely an extension of my teaching,’’ Clark said.

‘‘There’s a chance for me to have a real influence and provide these boys with a moral compass to help develop them into young men... that’s why I do it.’’Apart from a rare loss to Ballarat Clarendon College in the local Ballarat Associated Schools competition, St Pat’s first loss in five years, season 2014 has been sound.

After bouncing back against Clarendon College in the BAS grand final, St Pat’s won through to its sixth-consecutive Herald Sun Shield grand final with a dominant 18.15(123) to 2.2(14) performance against Sunbury’s Salesian College last Wednesday.‘‘Our motto is one school, one goal, once chance,’’ Clark said in the lead-up to the semi-finals.

‘‘The boys have a chance to create a legacy for future students at St Pat’s to strive for.’’

Tonight’s final against Box Hill Secondary College will be played as a curtain-raiser to the Essendon v Richmond clash at the MCG.

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