Ulster Club Championship: Clarke’s return gives Crossmaglen selection poser
Crossmaglen Rangers joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill face a problem as they begin the build-up to Sunday week’s Ulster Club football final against Naomh Conaill – just how do they accommodate one of the most exciting talents in the province in an attack that has been functioning smoothly of late?
Jamie Clarke has been conspicuous by his absence as the Rangers swooped for their 14th Armagh championship title in 15 years and then overcame St Gall’s and Burren to keep themselves in line for what would be their fifth Ulster crown since 2000.
A two-month ban has kept Clarke, an explosive finisher with both his club and Armagh earlier in the summer, out of the spotlight of late.
But now the 21-year-old UUJ student is available again and McEntee and O’Neill must decide if he is to merit a starting place against Naomh Conaill.
Clarke burst into the Armagh side in spectacular style. In the All Ireland qualifying tie against Donegal on his home Crossmaglen patch in particular, he cracked in two goals within the first 10 minutes.
And although Armagh subsequently were heavily beaten by Monaghan in the Ulster championship at Casement Park, Clarke nonetheless showed even in defeat that he possesses special skills.
While he has been out of the picture lately, he has nonetheless been training harder than ever and has been catching the eye in in-house games – so much so that management duo McEntee and O’Neill will now ponder the composition of their attack for the club final even more carefully.
“Obviously it’s encouraging that we will have Jamie back on board for this very big game. He is a natural finisher of course but we are fortunate that in his absence other players have been stepping up to the mark very smartly indeed,” maintains McEntee.
In this respect, Michael McNamee can expect a vote of confidence. Despite not having been named in the initial line-up for the Ulster Club quarter-final and semi-final, the Dublin-based McNamee was immersed in the action from the outset and proved outstanding in both games.
Tony Kernan reached new heights last Sunday against Burren while Oisin McConville scored 1-6 against St Gall’s and landed two points from frees against the Down champions.