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Blow for Armagh as Clarke opts out

By Declan Bogue

Jamie Clarke will not be a part of Armagh's squad in 2016, according to manager Kieran McGeeney. Despite being vice-captain last year, it appears that the flamboyant Crossmaglen Rangers forward will decide to return to New York, where it is believed he is keen to base himself long-term.

McGeeney is without his Rangers contingent as they are preparing to face Castlebar Mitchells in the All-Ireland Club semi-final on Saturday, February 13.

McGeeney explained: "At all times we just let Crossmaglen batter away. Obviously there are good players in the team and Jamie is one of those.

"He has indicated that he is gone for the year. He will probably go back to the United States after the team's involvement in the All-Ireland Club series has finished."

After Cross won the Ulster Club final, with Clarke coming off the bench to beat Scotstown in an epic, he told reporters: "It has been a tough year and from my own point of view, I have to think of my own future as well away from football.

"It is difficult to balance football and work at the moment.

"At the minute, I am playing it by ear and I don't want to make any rash decisions."

However, McGeeney revealed that he has been talking to Clarke since then, and it looks like the door is now closed for the season.

McGeeney said: "I was chatting with him and this is what he indicated to me."

And there may be doubt over the involvement of Tony Kernan, once Crossmaglen Rangers' journey in the All-Ireland Club series comes to an end. The accountant recently got married and may decide to follow his brother Aaron into retirement from county football.

"Tony Kernan has just got married so we have to let him settle into that," explained McGeeney, who now has his eyes on a number of other Cross players.

"James Morgan will obviously be playing with the club but he will be back with us when their run has ended.

"Young Aidan Rushe is playing very well, as is Paul McKeown, and obviously it will depend on the players themselves.

"When you ask a player you have to be sure that they want to play for the county.

"But, touch wood, Crossmaglen will go on and win the All-Ireland Club Championship because it would be good for us to have winners in our county team. If those boys can go on and win another medal or two that would be great."

Armagh had a fractious defeat to Cavan in the opening round of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup on Sunday, with five red cards, two black cards and four yellows.

McGeeney was left frustrated with some decisions. He said: "I still find it hard to see why they are not being implemented properly. It's a problem for us all to understand the rules and wonder how they can be implemented or if they can be implemented at all."

The two teams will meet again in Division Two of the National League, with five Ulster sides in that group.

The former Kildare manager feels that the concentration of teams from the province could be detrimental to them, given the long-held prejudices about the style of football in Ulster.

"When we talk about Ulster football I think this can be used as an excuse. It seems then that referees can referee games a different way," McGeeney noted.

"I see more teams on the other side of the border playing a much more physical game and being allowed to play that game.

"I think that there is constant talk about Ulster football and its 'type' and I think that this gives it a name."

He returned to a familiar theme of his when he voiced his displeasure about the standard of punditry in Gaelic games.

"It's unfortunate that we listen to - what would you call them? Experts I suppose, that's the best word I'm allowed to use - and they tell us that's what the football is.

"There is one in particular who likes to call Ulster football 'puke football' and things like that. He tries to influence things and nobody can see that. Nobody can ever catch on that he has only one description for one type of football and we are worse than mad for listening to him and writing about it.

"But that's just the way it goes. Don't get me wrong, we have teams here that are quite even, they are always going to be positive and aggressive, but as long as the game is refereed correctly, that's the way Gaelic football should be played.

"That's what we are looking for. We're not looking for anything else. It's a contact sport and we are looking to see hard hits going for the ball.

"Punching off the ball is no good for anybody, it's stupid for the players. To be fair, the referee's job is hard but there is a responsibility on both sides."

Armagh's next game will be against Ulster champions Monaghan - who were beaten by Jordanstown last Sunday - in Clones next Sunday.

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