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Jamie Clarke returns with man of match display

He may have been conspicuous by his absence from the Crossmaglen Rangers line-up over the past two months because of suspension but Jamie Clarke made the kind of return to top-flight action yesterday that reflected sporting romance at its best.

The precocious 21-year-old emerged as the man of the match in his team’s stunning Ulster club final victory over Donegal champions Naomh Conaill and afterwards attributed his five-star performance to the fact that “I owed the lads one” following his red-carding in the drawn game against St Patrick’s in the Armagh Championship.

“I felt I let the side down that day,” reflected Clarke as he absorbed congratulations from all sides. “That match really hit a sour note for me. I made up my mind to try and get back into the side if they reached the Ulster final and I am delighted that I got my chance again.”

It was Clarke’s clinical first-half goal that spawned optimism Rangers could land their eighth Ulster title but typically Clarke deflected the plaudits to veteran Oisin McConville.

“We were down to 14 men at that stage after Tony Kernan was sent off but Oisin’s goal inspired us right to the end,” he said.

“We have been starting slowly in games but we never panic. Our joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill had set us down at half-time and told us exactly what they wanted from us. We sorted out our tactics and got our heads right and we were able to take things on from there.”

And Clarke heaped praise on old hands Francie Bellew and John McEntee for their contributions to this provincial triumph.

“They are great men to have to call upon — they have done it all. They knew how to steady the ship,” he smiled.

Tony McEntee said: “We kept our shape well because we knew that Naomh Conaill would keep coming at us.

“Obviously the two goals were bonuses for us but our defence was superb too. We now must turn our focus to Neasdon Gaels in the All Ireland Club quarter-finals.”

Skipper Paul McKeown hailed the players’ commitment and application. “It’s great to be Ulster champions again, there is no better feeling,” he said.

“We had set our stall out this year and anything the boys were asked to do they did it without question.

“They have worked unbelievably hard over the past 12 months but it has all be worthwhile.”

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