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Jamie Clarke calls on Armagh to raise game

By John Campbell

Armagh arguably shipped more criticism than any other side on the basis of a single championship display this season.

Manager Paul Grimley in particular was forced to field brickbats from all quarters following what was labelled as "a defensive shambles" in the Ulster preliminary round defeat to Cavan.

Having been forced to take it on the chin, Grimley was left with the onerous task of restoring morale for the All-Ireland first round qualifier against Wicklow and the fact that his side came out on top by 2-21 to 0-2 testifies to the success of his efforts in that respect.

But now ace forward Jamie Clarke warns that victory over their Division Four opponents last month does not provide Armagh with any guarantee of further progress in the qualifiers in which they meet lowly Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon tomorrow.

In fact, the straight-talking Clarke believes that any return to the approach that prevailed against Cavan could have catastrophic consequences.

"In that game you could blame the system but I'm not sure that everyone knew what they were doing," admits Clarke.

"We didn't actually play as a team – we did not adhere to our game plan.

"Against Wicklow we all knew what we had to do and everyone stayed very focused. We stuck to our game plan – that was the difference.

"We were patient in our build-ups but once we broke the line we had a lot of success.

"That game was more of a test of our mental strength than anything else.

"We got our reward but we knew that all this meant was that we were through to the second round of the qualifiers."

Clarke's scoring exploits – he landed 2-3 against Wicklow – will be a key facet of Armagh's attacking armoury tomorrow.

But the Crossmaglen Rangers player believes that there is quality throughout the Armagh side.

"I think we have class all over the field and it is always our intention to give the best performance possible," he says.

"Maybe this does not always happen but I think we are more attuned now to pushing on for success," states Clarke.

And the defensive deficiencies which proved the team's undoing to an embarrassing extent against Cavan have to all intents and purposes been addressed.

"We have worked on a few things since the Cavan game and I think that we answered a lot of our critics with our performance against Wicklow but that was nothing more than a win in the first round of the qualifiers.

"We would be hoping to push on from here," insists Clarke.

Having named an unchanged side, manager Grimley is keen to see Armagh regain at least some of the credibility they enjoyed a few years ago when they were the dominant force in Ulster and one of the top sides in the country.

"This team is a work in progress and we are taking things step by step," declares the Orchard County boss.

"Our aim now is to make sure Armagh's name goes into the third round qualifier draw on Monday."

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