JAMIE Clarke didn’t get that many minutes on the pitch but he got long enough to showcase his undoubted natural talent when he made his Irish Premiership debut against Linfield on Sunday.
With his team 2-1 down against the reigning league champions, Darren Mullen sent the Crossmaglen All-Ireland winner and former Armagh star on to try to force a late equalizer at the Showgrounds.
A third goal for the Blues scuppered the Newry manager’s plans but Clarke did show glimpses of the attacking threat he can add to newly-promoted Newry this season.
His first touch in the Irish League came when he picked the ball up on the left wing. He was closed down but cut inside a Linfield defender with an instinctive deft touch off the inside of his left boot and began a move that ended with a chance for his side. By the end of the game he’d been handed dead ball-taking duties.
"He did well," said Newry boss Mullen.
"He's composed on the ball and he's a smart player, he's one of those lads who can hold it up when you need it. It doesn't have to go forward all the time and he's smart enough to hold is and bring others into play. In terms of his debut, he did well."
Clarke, looking lean, fit and fresh, added: “It would have been nice to get a goal.
“They scored just after I came on and I think at that stage my focus was to get on the ball as much as possible and get comfortable with it, knock it around and try and squeeze out a goal but they were set up well.
“But we had plenty of chances in the first half and you can see that we’re going to have opportunities as the season goes on.
“The league will be tight, I think a lot of games will be very tight and I think we can take heart from how we’ve performed in both games so far. We’ve played the champions now, we’ve Crusaders to come next and the games come thick and fast but once we’re creating chances we can be happy and we’re confident we can get points on the board.”
Fellow Crossmaglen native James Teelan is another attacking threat in Darren Mullen’s side and the Newry manager hopes Clarke’s influence will help him and front two Daniel Hughes and John McGovern to apply the cutting edge Newry need to survive this season.
“We’ve quality all over the pitch,” said Clarke.
“We’re a technical team, we like to play so the key for me is to train hard and try and get into the team and get a few goals for Newry.
“The transformation isn’t as easy to come from GAA to soccer because soccer is a lot more technical. “If you don’t have a touch, you’ll lose the ball but the boys here are confident, a lot of them are young lads but you can see that they can get the ball down and play. If I can bring any guidance from the Gaelic and show some leadership and encourage them to have that freedom of expression and have a go at it I will.”
Clarke made his name in the GAA and has been training with his native Crossmaglen Rangers for four months now. His last game for Armagh was a chastening Ulster semi-final loss to Donegal in 2020 but he hasn’t closed the door on his county just yet.
“I’m training away with Cross, I’ve 20 weeks under my belt in training,” he said.
“Things have been going well, I’m feeling very fit and sharp and I’ll put a focus on Cross when the championship comes around – that’ll be September 11 against Silverbridge so it’s a while away yet and I’ll just have to mind the body a bit and manage the workload.”