Darren Clarke insists that Padraig Harrington is key to Europe’s hopes of winning back the Ryder Cup.

The Ulsterman is one of Colin Montgomerie’s three vice-captains for the clash with the US at Celtic Manor from 1-3 October. And while he fully expects Harrington to make a last gasp dash to qualify on merit, he hinted that Harrington would be a certain wildcard for the clash with Corey Pavin’s American side

Speaking at rain-lashed Lough Erne, where he teamed up with Rory McIlroy to beat Harrington and Shane Lowry 66 - 67 in an exhibition fourball, Clarke said: “We need Padraig on the team. We want Padraig on the team and we all hope Padraig is on the team.

“Without a doubt, you want Padraig on the first tee in the Ryder Cup. That is how good he is. That’s how much respect he has amongst all his peers and I have no doubt that he will be there.”

Harrington has just three big events to play his way into the team before he has to decide between the non-counting Barclays Classic in the US or the final qualifying event at Gleneagles.

But Clarke believes Harrington will make it on merit, insisting: “You know what Padraig is like. When Padraig puts his mind to something, it is very rare he doesn’t succeed. He’s stubborn and talented. Massively talented.”

Harrington missed the cut in the Open at St Andrews and is now ninth in the race for four places from the Ryder Cup World Points List and more than 293,223 points outside the top five qualifiers at 17th in the European Points List.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Dubliner regrets not playing more European Tour events but still believes he can pick up the win he needs to clinch his place make the side on merit.

“I’ve had 14 top 10s in the last year but I’m not earning the bigger ranking points,” said Harrington, who can still make the side without having to win a tournament. “With only four guys getting in on the world rankings it’s a tough team to make.

“Maybe I should have focused more on the European money list end of things. But then I thought the world rankings was more where I would be focused.  It hasn’t quite worked out that way - as of yet.”

While he’s ranked 21st in the European Points list, 453,273 behind ninth ranked Ross McGowan, Clarke also believes he can win his sixth Ryder Cup cap at Celtic Manor.

He plays in next week’s 3 Irish Open in Killarney, where the winner will pocket €500,000. And while he doesn’t qualify for the following week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, he hopes to make the top 100 in the world who will tee it up in the US PGA at Whistling Straits from August 12-15.

Ranked 102nd in the world, Clarke must be inside the top 100 on Monday next or failing that, on the Monday following the Irish Open.

Either way, his manager Chubby Chandler is hopeful that the PGA of America will give the Ulsterman an invitation if he fails to make it.

“They love him over there,” Chandler said.

As for Clarke, he does not agree that accepting an assistant’s role means he has given hope all hope of a captain’s pick.

“I still want to play in the Ryder Cup,” Clarke said. Then he added with a grin: “Being a vice captain I’ll pick myself. Monty wants me there one way or another and he knows I still want to make the team.

“Right now in terms of the US PGA I am just outside. If I don’t get into that I’ll probably play the Czech Open and Gleneagles. Either way I will be 110 percent behind this team, as a player or a vice-captain.”