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How Jamie Clarke can help New York seal one of GAA's most sensational results ever

By Declan Bogue

With interests as varied as coffee culture, the paintings of Paul Cézanne, NBA and baseball, along with a well-documented passion for fashion, New York is a marvellous fit for Jamie Clarke.

The outlier is that this is one of Gaelic football's stellar talents. If ever there was a square peg in a round hole it is the man from Crossmaglen trying to fit into the typical life of the inter-county footballer, making the much-vaunted 'sacrifices' and 'long, lonely hours' in the gym.

For some, that framework provides a fulfilling way of life. Representing your people, playing at the highest level possible and having that five-times-a-week endorphin buzz after training and matches.

Clarke has always been a little different. A BBC NI documentary on Crossmaglen Rangers scratched his surface. He allowed the cameras to observe him conducting his own finishing lessons at Oliver Plunkett Park. He opened his own book on how he felt he played in games, the diagrams he draws to show how he kicked a particular goal and observations on his game.

Most revealing was his outlook on the remorseless winning machine that was Crossmaglen at the time. He openly admitted that he questioned the desire, the burning need to keep winning, so that the other team don't. That manic drive sat awkwardly with him, as a man who cares about aesthetics as much as achievements.

Ahead of a Championship game against Cavan in 2013, he had spent some time touring South America, hitting up all the tourist spots such as Ipanema beach, the Bolivian salt flats and the Christ the Redeemer statue, but he also got down and dirty, eating in the local cafés, getting a feel for the locals.

His life appears to be of a man who is determined to wring whatever enjoyment he can get out of what he is experiencing right then and there, which sets him at odds with the pressured game back home.

That's why he will line out at full-forward for New York as they get the Connacht Championship under way this Sunday against Leitrim, deep in the Bronx. Try as he might, he is still a Gaelic footballer.

When packaged and marketed correctly, tradition can be a wonderful thing. We often wonder why the GAA themselves do not make more of the fact that their All-Ireland Football Championship begins in America, the country that provided salvation for Irish people and one that they have richly contributed to.

But the Connacht opener can only become a marketing tool if New York win a game. Despite competing since 1999, all they have to show for it are thumpings, with a couple of honourable defeats in more recent times.

For example, they almost ended James Horan's time as Mayo manager in shocking fashion when bringing them to extra time in 2011, and came within one point of Roscommon in 2016.

However, New York's failings most of the time lay with a lack of continuity, a fresh panel having to be drawn up every year, a serious lack of gametime with mere challenge matches against Boston hardly comparing to a seven-game National League campaign, and a depth of conditioning that their Connacht opponents started laying down in the depths of October and November.

Such a measure has been New York's downfall as their spirited challenges have fallen off in the last quarter of games.

However, their roster now makes for impressive reading. Along with the marquee name of Clarke, they have Daniel 'Yankee' McKenna, a former Monaghan player whose nickname owes to being brought up in America, Tom Cunniffe of Mayo, Donal Ward and Neil Collins of Roscommon and Meath's Dalton McDonagh.

There's a real chance for them, given they have taken their preparations to new heights for this campaign.

Tune in for the score updates on Sunday evening - Jamie has a chance to write himself into one of the most sensational results ever in Championship history.

Belfast Telegraph

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