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Armagh boss springs to defence of star man Jamie Clarke

By Declan Bogue

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has appealed for referees to recognise the abilities of his star attacker Jamie Clarke, while also maintaining that the Crossmaglen man has a little maturing to do as a player to reach his full potential.

One of Clarke's strengths is his utter composure on the ball, and he also has a willingness to look up and take his time to assess options. However, some referees tend to take a dim view of it.

"Sometimes, he knows himself," explained McGeeney of his blue-chip talent ahead of tomorrow's qualifier against Galway at the Athletic Grounds.

The manager admitted, though: "He takes a wee bit too much out of it, and referees don't like that. They punish him for it and think he should get rid of the ball.

"Jamie doesn't look for frees, he doesn't hold on to anybody's arms. For a light fella, he's a real honest chap and referees just decide 'no, you had your chance to get rid of it'. He is a joy to watch when he's on his game but he probably needs to realise that he's going to have to simplify his game."

By that, one is put in mind of an incident in the recent Armagh victory over Wicklow, where Clarke attempted to chip the ball up into his hands, but instead it rolled over the line, provoking a frustrated reaction from the manager.

"It's just about getting him to understand what's more efficient than anything else," McGeeney commented.

"I don't mind if you flick it up and catch it at the back of your neck - as long as you catch it.

"But if you're going to try it that way, you better catch it.

"Creativity is a big thing. The possibilities of doing it in defence is slim but I think creativity can open things up and can lead to something special.

"It's in those tight games that something like that tends to work, so you don't want to take that out of a player, but if you're going to try it, get it right.

"You don't want to take creativity away from any player. There's certain positions you can try that in more than others.

"In the positions that allow you to do that, you like your players to have creativity.

"If it doesn't go to plan then you get annoyed as a manager, because the simple thing is always best.

"But then in tight games, when the simple stuff is being stopped, it's the creative stuff that can unlock that.

"I wouldn't be dictatorial as some people would lead you to believe in the press, but at the same time you want players to look up and pick the best option.

"What that option is has to be left to them, because once they cross the white line they can't look for me to make decisions for them. The amount of permutations in any scenario is in the hundreds, so they have to learn to make those decisions themselves."

His views echo those of former Cork hurling manager Donal O'Grady, who always held the threat of instant substitution over any player who attempted to jab lift the ball from the ground with only one hand on the hurl.

"The best people in any sport are the ones who do the basics the best," agreed McGeeney.

"Simplicity is the key to brilliance in all sports and you must aim to get them to think like that. If they do the right thing nine times out of 10, and they save the 10th one for some of the fancy stuff, well you don't get extra marks for it.

"If you can kick the ball over from 23, 24 yards from in front of the sticks, that's great.

"Why go into the corner just to try and stick one over with the outside of your boot? Because someone on TV is going to tell you you're brilliant?

"But when you are stuck in the corner and you manage to stick one over with the outside of your boot, that's great. If you can do that."

McGeeney will be without injured trio Kevin Dyas, captain Ciaran McKeever and Mark Shields for tomorrow's game against Galway.

It is a test that he describes as difficult. He said: "Essentially it is the toughest draw we could have got. They pushed Mayo very hard and Galway are always a handful whenever you get them.

"They play attacking football and they were definitely very strong against Mayo and they were probably rather unlucky. It was a tough draw."

Armagh (v Galway, Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 3.30pm): M McNeice; A Mallon, C Vernon, J Morgan; M Murray, B Donaghy, S Connell; A Findon, E Rafferty; S Campbell, A Forker, C Rafferty; M McKenna, A Murnin, J Clarke

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