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Clarke's travel plans hit Armagh

By Declan Bogue

Armagh manager Paul Grimley has confirmed that star forward Jamie Clarke intends to go travelling in 2013, therefore robbing the Orchard county of their most talented forward as they bid to bounce back to Division One of the National League, before they face Cavan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship.

“Jamie spoke to me about a month ago and expressed his desire to travel,” Grimley revealed.

“Myself and the Armagh county board did everything we possibly could to try and change his mind. But it wasn't to be.

“He has confirmed to me that he was definitely going, so I wished him all the very best. He's a great player, he's a great lad, and he's entitled to do with his life what he wishes.”

Grimley (pictured right) added: “I'm just a football manager at the end of the day, I'm not a careers counsellor or anything like that, so I wished him all the best and I will introduce someone new to the squad now this weekend.”

The Crossmaglen Rangers attacker is rated as one of the most dangerous forwards in the game with an astonishing goal-scoring record, but because of Crossmaglen's continued forays in the All-Ireland series over the past two years he has not been able to get a continued run of games for his county team.

Last season he came back for the do-or-die league match against Donegal that they lost in Ballybofey, thereby condemning Armagh to relegation. He then played in Armagh's two Championship defeats to Tyrone and Roscommon, scoring 1-9 over the two games.

Despite losing in all his Armagh appearances last season, he was still nominated for an All-Star.

Evidence of his threat and inventiveness was displayed last season in the Ulster Club Championship when he netted a memorable goal against St Gall's using some nimble soccer-style skills. Added to that, Clarke's ongoing maturing as a player was shown in the All-Ireland final replay against Garrycastle, when he weighed a beautiful ball into Franny Hanratty, who put the ball in the net after five minutes that put them on the road to an eventual 15-point win.

In choosing to travel, Clarke is temporarily ruling himself out of the plans of the new Armagh manager, but he is something of a free spirit, with a variety of interests beyond the tastes of most county footballers. In choosing to travel he is fulfilling a natural cultural curiosity.

However, Grimley admits that it could be used as a criticism of the new regime in the county.

“I suppose a lot of people out there will look upon this as a massive negative,” he said.

“It's obviously not great news but at the end of the day I view it as a blip in an upward curve. We will deal with it and move on. I wish Jamie every success and all the happiness on his travels and I wish Crossmaglen all the best on Sunday.”

In restructuring the county team and maintaining the work of the Armagh ‘academy’ system that they currently operate, Grimley explained that the project cannot be reliant on individuals.

“I can only speak about Armagh and this Armagh set-up has to be a stand-alone identity,” he said.

“It has to be an identity that relies on no-one; no one individual and going forward when the managerial job is up for grabs again, that the new incumbent of the job won't be coming into a whole new thing to him. And likewise players. The strength of the team is the players in the team.”

Commenting on the massive annual commitment it takes to play county football, Grimley added: “Lads are amateurs. They are entitled to do what they like and I can only put demands on their leisure time and that's all I can do.

“Last weekend, we had fellas on the squad who gave up their Saturday day's pay to come and train with us. We have fellas who are changing their work to come and train with us. Fellas who are coming long distances to come and train with us.

“Those are the players I have to focus on and when you are the manager, you are the manager of all the players, not just one or two.”

Clarke wrote on his Twitter page yesterday that he had not spoken to any media outlet regarding his Armagh situation, and would decline to until after Crossmaglen's Ulster campaign.

They meet Errigal Ciaran this Sunday in Clones, a game set to attract a lot of neutral support because of an old rivalry renewed.

Belfast Telegraph

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