"We’re going to be the hardest working team out there..." Aristocrats Cross doing it differently, says Clarke

Jamie Clarke on the attack for Crossmaglen during their Armagh SFC campaign
Jamie Clarke on the attack for Crossmaglen during their Armagh SFC campaign Jamie Clarke on the attack for Crossmaglen during their Armagh SFC campaign

CROSSMAGLEN Rangers may be renowned for the flair of their traditional kicking game but the modernising Armagh aristocrats will be as much about perspiration as inspiration in this Ulster campaign, says Jamie Clarke.

The Rangers take on Tyrone champions Trillick under the Healy Park lights on Saturday night and Clarke is determined that, come what may on the scoreboard, no team will work harder than the 11-time provincial champions.

“We’re trying to do something new at Cross,” says Clarke, a survivor of the last Rangers team to win Ulster back in 2015.

“We’re trying to play a different way and Anthony (Cunningham, the manager) has brought that but, first and foremost, there’s a work ethic and our mantra is that we’re going to be the hardest working team out there.

“Once we do that we’ll reap the rewards, we’ll always have a chance. Our scores are coming from everywhere - Paul Hughes got man of the match in the county final with three points from half-back.

“Ulster is tight and you need a range of scorers. Most of the games are close and Tyrone teams have always proved difficult for us. Cross going to Omagh… It’s always going to be a tight affair but we’ll be ready, we’re all buzzing for it now.” 

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When Clarke began his career a forwards’ sole purpose was to put the ball over the bar or in the net. The game has changed since then and the Crossmaglen skipper says that dropping deeper and getting more involved is “starting to suit”.

“Anthony came in there’s a forward rotation within our game that allows you to get on the ball,” he says.

“You know you have to drop back into defence and you have to be really fit and hard-working.

“To be involved is far better and I prefer that than going and standing in the corner waiting for a 40-yard kick pass and, if you don’t win it, the defender is one up on you. Mickey Harte was right when he said: ‘Why would you risk playing a ball in like that when it’s a low-percentage pass?’”

He goes back a long way with Trillick manager Jody Gormley. It was Gormley who made him captain of the MacRory Cup team during his school days at the Abbey in Newry.   

“I know he’ll have them well set up and they have so much expertise with Mattie and Richie (Donnelly) - Crossmaglen Rangers coming to Omagh is something that they’ll truly relish,” said Clarke.

“I watched the Tyrone final and I was very impressed. They’re well set up and very strong, strong in the tackle and very compact at the back. They’re very fit as well.”

A precocious talent, Gormley had Clarke in the Abbey’s MacRory team as a fifth year and he recalls leaving training at school and going straight to minor training. When he came of age he was brought into the Crossmaglen senior side in 2007 and was a fixture in Armagh teams for a decade.

When you consider how packed his life was with GAA from such an early age, it’s really no surprise that he decided to go off and see a bit of the world.

“The first time I went to New York I was 22 and I’d already won four Ulsters,” he says.

“It wasn’t a case of getting bored with success, it was a case of – I’d seen New York and I thought: ‘This place is alright, I wouldn’t mind coming back here for a bit’.

“I lived in Manhattan, I was in Brooklyn for a while, I lived in Williamsburg and I lived in Chinatown for a while as well. It was cool, like. I was young, in my early 20s and I enjoyed it. I always enjoyed my football too, if I went away and I missed out on playing with Armagh or Cross, I made up for it by winning a championship with a team in New York - I have a couple of New York county medals.

“Anywhere you go – whether it’s Melbourne, or America, or wherever – you’re always sucked into the GAA community. It keeps you fit and it’s a great way to meet people.”

Jamie Clarke turns Garrycastle's David O'Shaughnessy in the 2012 All-Ireland final
Jamie Clarke turns Garrycastle's David O'Shaughnessy in the 2012 All-Ireland final Jamie Clarke turns Garrycastle's David O'Shaughnessy in the 2012 All-Ireland final

Cross missed him when he was gone. He’s back now and on Saturday night he’ll be skipper his club against the man who made him skipper all those years ago.

It’s eight years since a man in black and amber lifted the Seamus McFerran Cup and Clarke says that if the drought doesn’t end this year it won’t be for the lack of trying.

“Winning the Armagh championship last year was important to us because the boys had lost two (finals) in-a-row,” he said.

“But then the Ballybay defeat (Ulster preliminary round) meant the season was a bit of a damp squib for us. Anthony came in last September and he introduced new, innovative ways of playing and it’s a young changingroom and a great dynamic.

“It’s been a great year, a long year but we’re exactly where we want to be now and we’re ready for Ulster.”