GAA Football

Jamie Clarke ready to resume his Armagh career against McKenna Cup opponents Antrim

Jamie Clarke (right) is back for Armagh after a year away

ARMAGH ace Jamie Clarke could make his eagerly awaited return to county colours against Antrim in Glenavy on Sunday after missing the entire 2018 season due to his travels.

The Crossmaglen Rangers forward missed Armagh's opening Dr McKenna Cup tie with St Mary's last month as he was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the 2018 calendar year after playing for New York in the Connacht Championship.

Clarke is back in harness alongside Stefan ‘Soupy' Campbell who also took a year out from the inter-county scene. Campbell bagged a goal in the St Mary's rout on December 16 and looks in good shape.

Crossmaglen trio James Morgan and Rian and Oisin O'Neill are also back in Kieran McGeeney's squad for the 2019 season but Gavin McParland has taken time out.

The talented Ballymacnab forward will be a loss to the Orchard panel after showing glimpses of his undoubted talent in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The injury-plagued Kevin Dyas has announced his inter-county retirement while back-up goalkeeper Patrick Morrison has been forced to quit the panel due to work commitments.

The Armagh Harps netminder mightn't have been able to dislodge Carrickcruppen's Blaine Hughes last season but his value to the squad would be sorely missed, says McCorry.

“Paddy is taking time out but we'd love to see him back again. He's a real character. He was very, very good in the changing room and on the field, so he's a big loss to us.”

Sean O'Hanlon of Killeavy took over goalkeeping duties in Armagh's opening win over St Mary's last month as Hughes was on a skiing holiday.

“Sean O'Hanlon would be our back-up 'keeper this year,” McCorry confirmed. “Sean will really push Blaine this year, which is what we want.”

Talented forwards Miceal McKenna and Ciaron O'Hanlon remain unavailable in 2019 – but McGeeney looks to have added significantly more depth to last season's squad that was one game away from reaching the inaugural Super 8s, falling to Roscommon in Portlaoise.

McCorry is delighted to see the likes of Clarke, Campbell, Morgan and the O'Neills available to Armagh this year and feels it will significantly improve competition for places.

“I suppose there are two aspects to it: you have the guys who were there last year and performed, especially the talk at the start of the year was the amount of key players we had missing and that Armagh were going to struggle in Division Three and won't be able to perform in the Championship,” McCorry said.

“But those absentees allowed other players to come to the fore as well as the camaraderie of the squad which was tremendous last season.

“This year you have the experienced guys coming back in – ‘Soupy' Campbell, who is training really hard, Jamie Clarke is coming back in with his renowned talent,

“Jamie kept himself in good shape last year while ‘Soupy' was playing other sports so both came back in good shape and did a good pre-season programme with Julie Davis and Denis [Holywood].

“I've been certainly very impressed with all the new recruits coming in and how they've got their fitness levels up.”

McCorry added: “Then you have the two O'Neills who have been spoken about quite highly.

“James Morgan is back from his travels which is going to make a big difference and we also get Ethan Rafferty back, we get Paul Hughes back and Aaron McKay is back. Hughes was out injured for most of the year and was a big miss for us. Before Ethan Rafferty got injured he was racking up 1-2, 1-3 in games.”

With so many absentees and injuries to key personnel, Armagh still managed to travel deep into the All-Ireland Qualifiers after suffering a disappointing Ulster Championship defeat to Fermanagh.

Ryan McShane, Patrick Burns, Jemar Hall and Andrew Murnin ended 2018 with their reputations enhanced while Aiden Forker, captain Rory Grugan and Charlie Vernon provided great leadership to a transient panel.

“Ryan McShane did great for us last year, so too did Paddy Burns. Connaire Mackin got his place before the National League final and held onto it. We also used quite a number of the U20 squad too and they're being led by a tremendous captain in Rory Grugan as well as Aiden Forker and Stephen Sheridan – all great leaders.”

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