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Jamie Clarke proves devotion to Armagh cause

By John Campbell

When Jamie Clarke was despatched from the bench for the last 15 minutes of Armagh's McKenna Cup tie against Donegal on Sunday, it was his first segment of action in his county's colours in the competition.

It has virtually become a tradition for Crossmaglen Rangers to be involved in the closing stages of the All-Ireland club series over recent years, thus eliminating Clarke and his colleagues from county duty until the spring.

But it is a measure of his determination to see Armagh progress this year that he had no hesitation in answering manager Paul Grimley's SOS by planting himself on the bench only a few hours after landing from the US where the Crossmaglen squad had been holidaying.

Tonight at Healy Park, Omagh, Clarke will square up to a Tyrone side that already have one foot in the McKenna Cup semi-finals after wins over Donegal and Queen's.

But while his return to the attack is warmly welcomed by manager Paul Grimley, the loss of experienced defenders Kieran Toner and Finian Moriarty with knee injuries is a double blow. With Gary McCooey still on crutches, Grimley's defensive options are now limited.

Ciaran McKeever is likely to return at centre-half-back with Charlie Vernon remaining at full-back while Mark Shields and Andy Mallon can build on the impressive form they have shown so far.

Clarke's attitude typifies the spirit that is endemic within the Armagh squad.

"I am looking forward to playing against Tyrone," reveals Clarke.

"They are unbeaten and have home advantage but that is the real challenge for us.

"I thought that it was a great performance by the lads against Donegal and I felt they should have won the game.

"We know where we are now. I believe that we are in good shape and we can only build on that."

Clarke's Crossmaglen Rangers colleague Paul Hughes can also expect to get game time tonight while Stefan Forker, Stefan Campbell, Oisin MacIomhair and Robbie Tasker will be key figures in attack.

Grimley takes considerable heart from the fact that his finishing line-up against Donegal contained four promising under-21 players.

"We had other injuries going into the match against Donegal and we also had players with their universities, so we were down to the bare bones.

"I thought we turned in a crucial performance in the second half and the gap between us and other sides is not as mighty as some people would say," adds Grimley.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, meanwhile, looks certain to continue to monitor the form of players such as Conan Grugan, Peter Hughes, Niall McKenna, Kevin Gallagher, P J Lavery, Daniel McNulty and Patrick Quinn as he maintains his bid to lead his side to a three-in-a-row success in the competition.

"We were very creative in the second-half against Queen's. We drove forward in packs and there was some very good finishing," points out Harte.

He will certainly be looking for more of the same tonight against an Armagh side that remains very much a work in progress.

Belfast Telegraph

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