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Charlie Vernon delighted with Jamie Clarke return as Tyrone boss Mickey Harte eyes up sixth McKenna Cup title

By Declan Bogue

Armagh stalwart Charlie Vernon has hailed the potential impact that the return of Jamie Clarke can have. Earlier this week, Clarke posted a picture of himself in the Armagh kit on his Instagram, with the caption 'I'm ready'.

He had met with manager Kieran McGeeney in New York over a fortnight ago when McGeeney was Stateside for UFC star Conor McGregor's fight.

About Clarke's return, Vernon said: "To be honest I don't know, but what I do know is that contact has been made and he expressed an interest in coming back.

"We will believe it when we see it. I know in the past he has sort of hesitated, saying he was in and then he was out, but we would be glad to have him."

Clarke's desire to fulfil some ambitions outside of sport has to be respected, and Vernon believes that is only natural.

"From my own personal point of view people do what they want to do. We are not a cult and wanting people indoctrinated," Vernon added.

"Obviously in a team sport you like everybody on the same page. If people aren't willing or able to give their commitment then that's better than being half in or half out."

On what he provides as a player, he remarked: "Like most good forwards they not only score themselves, they create scores for others, create for other guys and create space for others. When you take a player of that standard out, it leaves a gap."

The Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup was launched in the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast, with holders Tyrone - who will be going for their sixth title in a row - placed in a particularly difficult Group C along with Division One rivals Cavan, who have fellow Tyrone man Mattie McGleenan now in charge, along with Donegal and University of Ulster Jordanstown.

Manager Mickey Harte outlined how important the January competition is to Tyrone, stating: "Not only is it good preparation, it is critical preparation because if you get knocked out after the group stages you only have three games and a bit of a gap before you play the league games, a bit of downtime.

"I like to be playing competitive football right up to the start of the National League, and to do that you have to top your group and win your semi-final, and we like to do that every year and it will be the same this year."

On the subject of which players he might have to battle the various Universities for to get first choice come the start of the competition, Harte added: "A few things have to be decided upon but I would say at this stage that Conor (Meyler) would be going to St Mary's.

"We have the O'Fiaich Cup coming up now so that gives us a few games, it eases the burden of us to see players that have ties to the colleges.

"There would be a few players that we will negotiate over and I don't know the precise details of that just yet.

"I think now that we are in a position where we can say that some players can go this way and some may stay with us, depending on how we see the need for that."

McKenna Cup draw

Section A - Queen's, Armagh, Down, Derry

Section B - St Mary's, Fermanagh, Antrim, Monaghan

Section C - UUJ, Tyrone, Cavan, Donegal

Match dates - Round One: Sunday, January 8

Round Two: Sunday, January 15

Round Three: Wednesday, January 18

Semi-finals: Sunday, January 22

Final: Saturday, January 28

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