New Armagh manager Paul Grimley has a double reason for hoping that Pearse Og can make significant progress in the senior football championship.
Not only is Grimley a prominent member of the club but as county boss he is keen to see Ronan Clarke sample as much competitive action as possible as he continues his quest to achieve peak fitness following a two-year lay-off due to a deep-seated Achilles injury.
Clarke’s absence has been sharply felt by the Orchard County side and his rehabilitation has taken much longer than had been anticipated.
But apart from the player himself and Pearse Og manager Paul Turley, it is doubtful if anyone was more pleased than Grimley when Clarke went on as a substitute in the 3-16 to 0-9 win over Granemore at the weekend and promptly fashioned a point before scoring another.
“It’s great to see Ronan back in competitive action. It has been a long haul for him and he has had to be very patient,” says Grimley.
“I know Armagh followers are yearning to see him back in the county colours again but obviously there are no matches scheduled until the New Year so we will have plenty of time to get him into shape.”
The longer that Pearse Og remain in the county title hunt, the happier Grimley will be. The early indications are that they could pose the biggest threat to perennial champions Crossmaglen Rangers.
“This will mean that Ronan can get more games under his belt which would prove invaluable to him,” points out Grimley. “There is no substitute for meaningful competitive action as this means that he can challenge himself to reach the standards which he had previously set.”
Clarke’s cultured style, creative flair and languid scoring touch have been sorely missed in an Armagh attack which was also robbed of the considerable presence of Steven McDonnell who confirmed his retirement prior to the start of this season.
Grimley’s predecessor Paddy O’Rourke had clung to the belief that Clarke might recover more quickly from his injury but instead he remained an absentee for the greater part of the Burren man’s term in charge.
While Clarke relishes a return to county action, he is quick to pinpoint where he feels the real pressures will lie in this context.
“County football has moved on since I last played at this level and it now requires an extraordinary level of fitness,” said Clarke.
“While I have been involved in league games with the club, the Armagh internal championship matches are played with greater intensity and this will provide a bigger test for someone like me who is aiming for full fitness.”