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McGeeney persuades Clarke his future lies with Armagh

By Declan Bogue

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has remained tight-lipped on the return of his star forward Jamie Clarke from New York.

Clarke declined to play for his county this year, deciding to spend some time in New York.

Working as a barman in the Big Apple, he recently hooked up with McGeeney when the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain was over for the Conor McGregor UFC contest against Eddie Alvarez.

McGeeney gave little of the conversation away, but he succeeded in convincing Clarke to return home and line out for the Orchard in 2017 as they prepare for life in Division Three of the National League, with a mouth-watering Ulster Championship clash against Down in Pairc Esler in the summer.

"Look, myself and Jamie would be good mates too, so I always kept in contact and I was over there. I have a lot of friends in New York so I just called out to see them," said McGeeney.

Asked about the 27-year-old's appetite for returning to Gaelic football, McGeeney kept the conversation light, referring to the Cross man's devotion to coffee.

"He was enjoying the coffee!" joked McGeeney.

"A nice cup of coffee sitting in Byron Park, that's all we did, sitting chit-chatting. He's a good fella Jamie, so he is still enjoying himself over there."

Pressed on when he expects to see him back at Armagh training, McGeeney replied, "Jamie will come back when he is ready", but it is understood he is returning a few days prior to Christmas.

"There's a lot of interest in boys that aren't here," continued McGeeney.

"Jamie will be back when he is back. You don't push him into anything. He is a free spirit that way. He is a good lad and he will make up his own mind."

While James Morgan is now back in training following a problematic hand injury, and Paul Hughes is back working at home and back with Armagh, another Crossmaglen man, Tony Kernan, is understood to be mulling over his future.

"I know he is playing with Ulster at the minute so I haven't got speaking to him. I think we will leave him until after Christmas, he will have to make his own mind up," added McGeeney.

In Armagh's defeat of Derry in Sunday's O'Fiaich Cup semi-final, Oisín ÓNeill was the standout performer on his debut. Another Crossmaglen player, he is the nephew of Oisín McConville and son of current Crossmaglen manager Gareth.

Both he and his brother Rian have attracted interest from Australian Rules teams and appear to have the raw ingredients required to succeed at the sport.

Armagh will play the winners of this Sunday's other semi-final between holders Tyrone and Louth. In the meantime, McGeeney identified the short-term goals of his squad.

"We need to get our confidence back," he explained.

"Division Three will be just as tough as Division Two. We have a tough campaign.

"I suppose the good thing about last year and the injuries is that there are a lot of players who got gametime like Shea (Heffron) and Joe (McElroy), who maybe wouldn't have got it if Paul and James and these fellas might have been about. It's really stood to them."

One thing McGeeney is keen on is the ongoing development work in the county and the conveyor belt of talent established by the Orchard Academy.

"I suppose we are trying to change the culture in Armagh, getting young players through the academy system with Denis and Paul McGrane. They have done a lot of work," he said.

"We had a tough lot of injuries last year. We are hoping we get the mix right and have a decent campaign, but it is about blooding a few players through and trying to get a competitive set-up.

"Probably over the last number of years the competition for places wasn't at the strongest," he said.

"We have to get that. When you have been in a set-up where you have been competing for places, then you are in with a chance of doing something."

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