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Clarke back and fired up for Armagh's Ulster tilt

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Paul Grimley has been handed a huge boost ahead of the Ulster Senior Football Championship preliminary round tie against Cavan now that Jamie Clarke is back in the fold.

The Crossmaglen Rangers player returned late on Tuesday from a month-long travel safari that took him to Australia and South America.

He will resume training immediately and is expected to join the Armagh squad when they head off on a bonding weekend on Friday night.

Crossmaglen are due to play Culloville on Friday night and Ballymacnab on Sunday in the Armagh All County League but it is not known if these matches will go ahead because of the county squad's championship preparation plans.

Clarke's return gives much-needed impetus to Armagh's championship build-up and manager Grimley makes no secret of his delight that the sharpshooting forward will be available for the Ulster series.

"Jamie had given an undertaking that he would return for the championship but it is a bonus that he is now back quite early and will be fully engaged in our preparations over the next month," says Grimley.

"Obviously he played a big part in our league campaign for the period that he was available and we are hopeful that he will replicate the form that he showed then."

It was in Armagh's win over Longford and their drawn game against Derry that Clarke was seen at his best before his departure, with the Orchard County only managing to retain their Division Two status with a last round win over Galway and a Laois victory over Wexford which also consolidated their position.

Armagh skipper Ciaran McKeever is also back training and is hoping to lead the side against Cavan having missed the team's last two games in the Allianz League.

But McKeever found himself in hot water with the GAA authorities when, while fulfilling the role of water-carrier, he was deemed to have impeded Louth's Brian White while he was attempting to take a free-kick in his team's victory over Armagh at the Athletic Grounds.

The reappearance of Clarke and McKeever, the impressive form of Stephen Harold at midfield, the ease with which Kieran Toner has now slipped into the centre-half-back berth and the return to form of Kevin Dyas are plus-factors which Grimley is only too keen to embrace.

"We had to play for a portion of the league without our Crossmaglen players, then we had injuries and the subsequent loss of Jamie because of his travel plans and these elements combined to make things hard for us," points out Grimley.

"But since that win over Galway there is a new spirit within the squad and this is certainly being reflected in training."

Cavan's loss to Cork in the All-Ireland U21 semi-final will, Grimley feels, make their senior team even more formidable opponents on May 19.

"They will want to show that at senior level they can also make an impact at provincial level," predicts Grimley.

Belfast Telegraph


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