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Clarke some way off Armagh return

By Declan Bogue

Armagh boss Paddy O'Rourke has quashed reports that Ronan Clarke is back training with the senior set-up, and expressed his sympathy for a player dogged with a long-standing achilles problem.

“He's not training with us,” the 1991 All-Ireland winning Down captain said.

“He's training with the club (Pearse Og) and he's playing some football for the club, but he hasn't played any more than 20 minutes in any of those games.

“He would still be well off the mark as far as playing at the level you need to be at county level.

“The medical team are still looking after him, but he's not participating in our training sessions and he's just training with his club at a lower level.

“Our aim would be that when he is back able to play full games with the club, hopefully then maybe he could rejoin.

“There's no point him rejoining if he can't do everything that the squad's doing,” he added.

In recent weeks both Paul Hearty and Stevie McDonnell have retired from the county scene, leaving Clarke as the only link to the 2002 squad that captured Sam Maguire for the first and only time.

Indeed, a measure of sympathy must be extended to the Orchard manager. Forced to field for the majority of the last two league campaigns without the all-conquering Crossmaglen Rangers players, he has also been robbed of talisman attacker Clarke.

“It has been very disappointing,” O'Rourke continued.

“He's a lad with a lot of ability, but he's been injured now for over two years and that's disappointing, probably more for Ronan than it is for everybody else.

“It's frustrating for us that we can't have him, to play him, but I'm sure it's even more frustrating for him that he has spent so much time out.

“Hopefully he will get back playing at the highest level again,” said O’Rourke.

“It's a major operation that he is coming back from. When you come back from an achilles, it's a difficult one.”

While Armagh have lost some important figures in recent weeks, they were given a boost when the experienced Kieran Toner returned from Australia this week.

Toner did not play football while away on his travels, but is known to be fastidious about his fitness and will be expected to make a big push for the midfield sector, an area that struggled to identify an adequate replacement in his absence.

He was a spectator at collective training on Tuesday night.

With Armagh's first-round Ulster Championship clash against Tyrone not until June 10, O'Rourke has been happy to free his players to their clubs.

He said: “It's important that their clubs see them and they all get plenty of regular club football, so they will be doing that over the next three or four weeks.”

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