Clarke travel plan fears for Armagh
ARMAGH football is bracing itself for a major blow with speculation that star forward Jamie Clarke is seriously contemplating taking a year out next season to travel abroad.
The Crossmaglen man has been seen as the Orchard County's natural successor to Oisin McConville since bursting onto the inter-county scene by hitting Donegal with two goals in the 2010 Ulster Championship.
The All Star nominee is still in club action and will line out in Sunday's big Ulster club SFC semi-final against Tyrone's Errigal Ciaran.
Clarke did not deny the rumour on Twitter: "I have not spoken to any press regarding my situation with Armagh and don't intend to until after the Ulster club campaign with Crossmaglen."
Clarke (right) will continue playing with the All-Ireland club champions until their run finishes, which could take him right up to St Patrick's Day, but he is reportedly contemplating heading off then.
Paul Grimley has just taken over the Armagh reins from Paddy O'Rourke and has already swept with a new broom, dropping Andy Mallon, Malachy Mackin and Billy Joe Padden and assembling a youthful panel, with Crossmaglen's Paul McKeown and Stephen Finnegan among a dozen newcomers he has introduced.
New Derry boss Brian McIver has also lost one of his top forwards as Conleith Gilligan has announced his retirement.
Gilligan was a member of the Ballinderry side that McIver managed to the All-Ireland club title in 2002 and, even at 32, was prominent for them when they won the county championship again this autumn.
But the father of three admitted yesterday that the rising levels of inter-county training were a factor in him bowing out and said they were driving older players out of the game.
"I've seen the itinerary that Brian has laid down for pre-season and I physically can't find the time to fit it in," Gilligan said.
He said he had contemplated retiring before McIver was appointed but had been keen to work with him again. "When Brian got the job I thought more about it," he said. "I would have loved to have worked with him again, and with Paddy Crozier and Paddy Tally, that's a very, very good management team.
"But even at club level, the demands are more professional.
"The All-Ireland winners each year always seem to up the ante, and everyone follows suit. So if Donegal or Dublin go five nights a week this year, everyone goes five nights a week.
"It's driving off men who are married or who have families, it's all 23 or 24-year-old boys who are playing now."
McIver has approached several other Derry veterans like Enda Muldoon and Kevin McGuckin about returning, with little joy, but Ballinderry's Collie Devlin is one he has successfully recalled to the Oak Leaf panel.
Elsewhere, veteran Offaly corner-back David Franks (33), who has played with Kilkenny's Carrickshock in recent years, has joined Brendan Murphy in announcing his inter-county retirement. Franks' decision severs the final link with the last Offaly team to play in an All-Ireland SHC final in 2000.