GAA Football

Armagh attacker Jamie Clarke - I put too much pressure on myself

Paul Keane

Jamie Clarke has admitted he put too much pressure on himself early in his Armagh career to emulate top forwards like Michael Murphy and James O'Donoghue.

Clarke will return to Championship football with Armagh after a two-year break when they travel to Down for Sunday's Ulster quarter-final.

The Crossmaglen forward, who spent last year in the US, explained that he has returned to the game with a 'different mindset and a different approach'.

He said he feels more relaxed about the game now yet also promised boss Kieran McGeeney during an open and honest discussion in New York last year that he wouldn't let the team down when it came to this year's Championship.

Clarke is confident that McGeeney knows exactly how hard he works and isn't concerned about those who feel he has underachieved or that he shouldn't have indulged his wanderlust and desire to travel in previous years.

"I think going away has helped me with that, I think it's just a case of being comfortable with yourself, because I probably would have been a bit insecure in that regard before I went away," said Clarke.

"It's water off a duck's back at this stage what people think. Ultimately, it's the people that I really care about that I want to make happy."

Clarke's own opinions of himself were a little out of line at one stage too as he felt a need to prove himself alongside the greats of the game.

"Looking back, early on in my career, I was relaxed and really enjoying my game and then 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," he said.

"I'm definitely revitalised now after being away and I appreciate the game a lot more and the love I have for it. I just love being around the team."

Anyone who doubts Clarke's commitment to the cause should consider that he left behind a potential professional soccer career in New York late last year.

Kevin Grogan, the former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland underage player, works in coaching and player development in New York and liked what he saw from Clarke.

"I grew up playing street soccer and I had a bit of a stint with Dundalk when I was U-18, when I was 15, and at that stage it was a case of signing an U-21 contract, which would mean that you couldn't play any other sport," said Clarke.

"It was just a no go at that stage because Gaelic was number one. It was a chance to give it a go again in New York. He (Grogan) reached out to me and asked me to get involved with the New York Shamrocks in the Cosmopolitan League.

"He 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 a 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. Ultimately, he was impressed with the professionalism from the Gaelic because I would have went with the professional approach that I would have taken from inter-county football.

"Listen, 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 a guy actually that played with the Rochester Rhinos, so a couple of divisions below. But it is a professional level."

Clarke wasn't temped though.

"Not really," he said. "The way I looked at it, playing over there, 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 it's what I've grown up playing and I think I've the best chance to make the most of myself through Gaelic."

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