Jamie Clarke said the prospect of working with Kieran McGeeney was the big carrot which brought him back home to Armagh.
The Crossmaglen star spent three months in New York and several weeks in Toronto following Armagh’s exit from the All-Ireland series but returned home within the last fortnight to join county training.
Speaking at the launch of the Dr McKenna Cup in Belfast last night, Clarke said he is already learning so much from Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winning captain.
“I had planned to stay there until after Christmas but when it was confirmed that Kieran was coming in, it was a ‘when’ and not an ‘if’ about me coming back,” he said.
“I had a brilliant time away and it flew — but I missed the football and I missed the craic with the boys. I am delighted Kieran is on board and wanted to be there from the start when he came in. He has been brilliant so far. I’m really excited and so is everybody else about the year ahead. Our management team is second to none, we have so many characters in the team and everyone is singing off the one hymn sheet. We’re aiming towards something and it’s only December.”
Crossmaglen’s incredible success in the Ulster and All-Ireland Club championship over the years has meant that Clarke has never played in the McKenna Cup for Armagh. Even his appearances in the league have been limited to very few, so he is enjoying having a full pre-season training regime with the county.
McGeeney’s influence is already telling, according to Clarke.
“It’s not your standard pre-season slog, you know. I don’t want to give too much away because we are a tight group, but it’s a shock to my system. We are working towards something. There is a purpose to it, it’s not just a slog like any other pre-season.”
Clarke said that he has got the travelling bug out of his system and is committed to having a long, successful season with the Orchard County.
“I think I’ve only played in one McKenna Cup game and that was with Jordanstown a few years ago so I’m actually looking forward to getting out there in January,” he said.
“In it, and in the league as well, you’re able to express yourself a bit more. Crossmaglen have a team holiday to Florida in January but I’m hoping to play some part in the McKenna Cup. The number one priority is football at the minute.”
Clarke missed all of the club championship for Cross this year, but says he was “in regular contact” with his team-mates during the season. Now he is firmly in county mode and relishing the link-up with McGeeney.
“People have different perceptions of Kieran and different ideas of what he is about,” Clarke added. “He’s very honest and trustworthy. He will look after every player individually. He’s on board with Paul Grimley, who was assistant manager when they won the All-Ireland, and we have Peter McDonnell who was manager the last time they won Ulster. So it’s a fantastic backroom team.”
The Ulster Council announced that a McKenna Cup season ticket, priced at £20/€25, is available online which grants entry to all games in January.
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