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Orchard rather than Big Apple fires Jamie Clarke's ambitions

 

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has good reason to be thankful that Jamie Clarke decided against pursuing his burgeoning soccer career in the United States last summer.

The Crossmaglen Rangers ace had been taking tentative steps with New York Shamrocks in the Cosmopolitan League but when Orchard boss McGeeney came calling in person it was to signal a fresh chapter in Clarke's gaelic football career.

If proof were needed that Clarke's renewed commitment to the Armagh cause was indeed nothing less than absolute, then it was provided by the player himself in a media event that preceded the Ulster Championship quarter-final against Down.

"I have never been part of an Armagh squad that has been more together and enjoys such a special bond," stated Clarke. "We are very united and our sole focus is on doing well in the Ulster Championship."

Down were having none of that, though. McGeeney's men were unceremoniously despatched from the provincial series but since then a hoped-for Armagh renaissance became a reality via All-Ireland qualifier wins over Fermanagh, Westmeath, Tipperary and Kildare.

Yet everything must be taken in context. In four qualifier matches Clarke has posted a modest 1-8 but his imprint has been on many more Armagh scores.

Tomorrow he can expect to be rigidly policed by a Tyrone defence that, thanks to the input of coach Gavin Devlin, have reinvented the tackle as an art form rather than an avenue for the concession of frees.

And while Clarke undoubtedly faces the enormous personal challenge of replicating or perhaps even bettering his stellar performance against Kildare, it's the welfare of the team that is uppermost in his mind.

"We knew if we reached this stage the going would get tougher and you could hardly ask for more difficult opponents than Tyrone," states Clarke.

"This is where Armagh want to be, though. We're really looking forward to this test.

"Our recent wins have given us added belief that we can come out on top in tight encounters and we will surely need that belief against the Ulster champions who will be favourites."

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