Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Clarke crucial to Tyrone's title ambitions

Conor Clarke can play a number of roles
Conor Clarke can play a number of roles

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has reason to be grateful that Conor Clarke offers him an element of versatility.

The 21-year-old Omagh St Enda's strongman played at midfield and full-back during the Allianz League and is now in the frame to face Donegal at Ballybofey on May 26.

But far from believing he has moved closer to automatic selection, Clarke suggests that the "hot competition" for places has lent a considerable edge to training.

"You should not expect to get the jersey easily," insisted Clarke who made his debut for the Red Hands against Antrim in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup last year.

"I have played in a few positions during the league and was always delighted just to be in the side.

"I'll be happy to go wherever I am put against Donegal, I don't mind where I play. The hot competition for places is helping to keep us all on our toes."

Physical power, strong tackling and ability to read the game make him a key figure in the central area.

In addition to the emergence of Clarke as a footballer of rare quality, manager Harte can also take comfort from the fact that skipper Stephen O'Neill and utility player Peter Harte should be fit to face Donegal.

This coupled with the fact that players like Connor McAliskey, Paddy McNeice, Ryan McKenna, Ronan McNamee and Aidan McCrory have their sights set on starting places certainly strengthens the manager's hand.

"With Kyle Coney coming back from injury as well as Stephen and Peter likely to be ready again, this means that competition will be stepped up even further," pointed out Clarke.

"There will definitely be men disappointed when the team is unveiled. But that's what you want as the competition for places is always helpful in bringing about the required team performance."

Clarke made his Ulster Championship debut in the semi-final defeat to Donegal at Clones last year and the Omagh man believes the reverse they suffered provides a major spur to get the better of Jim McGuinness' men this time.

"We beat Donegal in the league earlier this year but we know that this counts for nothing.

"They are making it known they fancy a hat-trick of Ulster titles so we will have to remain very focused," maintained Clarke.

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