Jamie Clarke looking forward to duel with Down in Newry
JAMIE Clarke has allayed fears that his much anticipated Championship return with Armagh is in jeopardy following an ankle injury.
The Crossmaglen forward hasn't played Championship football since 2015 after spending much of last year in the US.
He said he's 'really excited' about the prospect of returning to Ulster Championship action on Sunday week against Down, despite rolling his ankle in training earlier this month.
The rumour mill around the county went into overdrive when Clarke wore a protective boot for a period, but he has since taken it off and is back in training.
His availability is a major boost as the 2002 All-Ireland winners approach the Championship under a cloud after failing to secure an anticipated promotion from Division Three.
"I had a bit of a setback there a couple of weeks ago," said Clarke.
"I went over on my ankle during a training session so was out for a couple of weeks. I was in the moon boot for a while. It wasn't as bad as people seemed to think, it was more or less precautionary so I'm back at it and we are in good shape."
Armagh will definitely be without boss Kieran McGeeney for the Newry date after a 12-week suspension for an incident that occurred in their League game with Antrim.
Clarke said they've had to accept that situation, though they've been more proactive about correcting the mistakes that occurred during the League.
They conceded a last gasp goal to Tipperary in their final game to lose out on one of the two promotion spots.
"Obviously that game itself and not getting promoted to Division Two were big setbacks for us, in terms of where we want to go as a team, but in terms of the camp itself there hasn't been much of a dip in mood," said Clarke.
"If you look at the first two games, I think we lost a six-point lead twice, against Laois and Sligo. We ended up losing one of those games by a point and we lost to Tipp by a point. When you look back on it, ultimately there wasn't much wrong with us and I think in a way I am glad that Tipperary happened because, you know, we realised what we need to work on.
"I suppose we have lost leads on three of those occasions and it's something we have really looked at, and that's closing out games moving forward."
Armagh were tipped for big things when McGeeney was upgraded from selector to manager for 2015 having pushed Donegal close in an All-Ireland quarter-final tie the previous year.
The 2008 Ulster champions have struggled to make progress since though and Clarke admitted they haven't always been fully focused, particularly this season.
"I would say a lot of it has got to do with concentration," said the 27-year-old.
"I think, early on in the League this year, that's probably what happened versus Sligo and versus Laois, that we probably thought we had those games wrapped up and obviously it's the domino effect then, it just gets away from you when they get on a roll.
"The same thing happened against Tipperary where we thought we had the game wrapped up and obviously we didn't rectify those problems from the previous games. We didn't highlight that as enough of a problem after those earlier games and it came back to haunt us against Tipperary.
"It's something we worked on straight away then. We knew it was a weakness we had in our game. I suppose tightening up at the back in those situations, the last 15 or 20 minutes of games, is crucial, particularly with the way defensive set-ups are in the Ulster championship."
Clarke had a spell playing soccer in New York last year but was also contacted by the Gaelic football team about playing for them in the Championship.
"Was I close to playing? Not at all, no," Clarke said at the GAA and Department of Foreign Affairs' launch of the 2017 Global Games Development Fund.
"They were on to me a couple of times about it but I knew I was coming back to play for Armagh. In terms of that level, Championship football, I don't think I would have been interested at that stage. Playing Gaelic out there was just a bit of fun for me."