Jamie Clarke has revealed how he was offered the chance to swap Armagh football for life as a professional soccer player in New York.
The Orchard County attacker spent much of 2016 in the US and got involved with the Queens-based New York Shamrocks club who compete in the Cosmopolitan League. Kevin Grogan, a former Manchester United and Ireland underage player, was the point of contact as the Dubliner is working in coaching and player development in the Big Apple.
Crossmaglen man Clarke was on the books of Dundalk for a while as a teenager before focusing fully on Gaelic football and burst onto the inter-county scene with 2-2 against Donegal in the 2010 Championship.
“It was a chance to give it a go again,” said Clarke of his New York soccer stint. “He (Grogan) took in a number of guys that would have played in England, guys that had played a bit around the world and I was one of two Irish guys in the team. So it was a great experience and a great insight into the different sport and it kept my fitness up as well.
“Initially, it was a couple of training sessions to see where I was at. Then he kind of knew I was going to be alright. I would have went with the professional approach that I would have taken from inter-county football.
“The opportunity was there for me to progress to the next level and he said if I wanted to stay on and give it a go, that he could make it happen. Not so much in the MLS, there was one guy actually that played with the Rochester Rhinos (in the lower level United Soccer League), so a couple of divisions below, but it is a professional level.”
Clarke wasn’t tempted though. “I wasn’t playing at the top level of the actual sport, and I think that was probably a big thing that would have played on my mind, that I want to be at the top, top level of what I do and ultimately this is my sport. Gaelic is my sport and and it’s what I grew up playing and I suppose I think the best chance to make the most of myself is through Gaelic.”
No Armagh footballer has been more commented on and critiqued more than Clarke since 2010. He has shown his immense ability at various times but also struggled with packed defences on occasions and, at other times, frustrated supporters with his wanderlust and desire to travel. Now 27, he is determined to live up to his vast potential.
“I think I am coming back with a different mindset and a different approach,” he said ahead of Sunday’s Ulster SFC showdown with Down.
“Looking back, early on in my career, I was relaxed and enjoying my game but I started to put a lot of pressure on myself in terms of my performance and where I should be at, and I was comparing myself to the likes of Michael Murphy, Conor McManus, and James O’Donoghue at the time, which was obviously the wrong attitude and the wrong mentality to take.”
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