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Crossmaglen Rangers will soldier on without star Clarke

By Declan Bogue

With 17 of the last 18 Armagh Championships in the bag, the model of consistency that is Crossmaglen Rangers swings into action again this weekend without their star attacker, Jamie Clarke.

The figurehead of both the Armagh and Cross attacks intends to spend nine months in Spain. He returned last January from another spell away in New York, among other places, satisfying his wanderlust.

And while he is not set to depart for a few weeks, he will not be included in this Sunday's Championship opener against Sarsfields.

Clarke's departure adds to the disjointed nature of the Rangers' season. Last week they wrapped up the league, finishing one point ahead of Cullyhanna and two clear of Sarsfields, who actually beat them in Crossmaglen.

"We had a frustrating year because we had six men away with county duty all year. For the majority of the matches we haven't had them and we haven't had them at training," reveals John McEntee, who has succeeded his brother Tony as joint-manager of Cross this season, along with Oisín McConville.

"That said, we have enjoyed it. It's a different challenge, both for Oisín and myself. We work with very talented footballers and it's an opportunity to see what we can bring to the table and how we can improve these lads. We had a great opportunity throughout the league to use different players and bring them on and to bring a few lads in from minor grade into the panel to see what they are like.

"What that has meant is we have a stronger panel now going forward for the rest of the year. We can now pick from 25 players, as opposed to just 18 or 19 players."

However, he makes the point that Sarsfields have not had so many players on the county panel, therefore strengthening their familiarity with each other.

"And," warns the 2002 All-Ireland winner, "they will be thinking that in the first round of the Championship, this would be the ideal time to catch Cross. We have to be ready for that."

Over the years Cross have drawn much admiration for not only their success, but the way in which they play their attack-minded game. The new management see no reason for changing that philosophy, which has recently drawn comparisons to the current Dublin team.

"As a manager, you have to look at the resources you have," says McEntee.

"If you've the talent that Dublin have, you can really play whoever you want, whatever style you want. Apart from the 15, they have fabulous subs to come on and they can set out the team and their gameplan to play anyone."

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