Friday 20 October 2017

Sensational Clarke destroys Wicklow

ARMAGH 2-21 WICKLOW 0-2

Armagh’s Caolan Rafferty powers past Wicklow’s Alan Byrne at the Athletic Grounds
Armagh’s Caolan Rafferty powers past Wicklow’s Alan Byrne at the Athletic Grounds

Orla Bannon

Any doubts about Jamie Clarke's commitment to Armagh were buried within five minutes as he hit two goals to shatter Wicklow in the Athletic Grounds.

Any doubts about Jamie Clarke's commitment to Armagh were buried within five minutes as he hit two goals to shatter Wicklow in the Athletic Grounds.

Rumours were circulating prior to yesterday's All-Ireland football qualifier that Clarke and Ciaran McKeever would be heading to America, as they did last summer, whether Armagh won or lost.

SENSATIONAL

Wicklow were inept in all departments and failed to score in the second half, but Clarke's display was still sensational as he hit 2-3 and set up numerous assists.

"The rumour mill is going to be out of course, because we had lost our first provincial championship game," said Clarke. "But there was no contact made (with New York clubs) whatsoever. It was just a rumour.

"Myself and Ciaran are committed to Armagh until the campaign is over, which is hopefully the third Sunday in September."

Clarke was held scoreless in the defeat to Cavan – a game Armagh boss Paul Grimley took a lot of criticism for. It was hard to tell whether the tactics had changed much yesterday, so one-sided was the contest. After the criticism they received for going man-to-man against Cavan, Armagh dropped their half-forwards back and left acres of space for Clarke and Eugene McVerry to operate in.

They swarmed and hustled Wicklow and, when they won the ball back, broke at speed with Tony Kernan and Kevin Dyas key to the counter-attack.

Everything went right for Armagh. Ten different players got on the scoresheet, the entire starting six forwards scored from play and they were out in front of their men every time.

Tony Kernan and McVerry scored heavily while Stephen Harold enhanced his growing reputation in midfield.

Wicklow pushed Leinster finalists Meath all the way a few weeks ago, but not in their worst nightmares could they have imagined they'd be embarrassed like this.

Clarke converted a dubious penalty in the third minute for a jersey tug which even he admitted was outside the large square. When Wicklow 'keeper John Flynn and Anthony McLoughlin both went to collect an Aaron Kernan free that dropped short and fumbled it, Clarke pounced again.

Wicklow never recovered from the double whammy. Any belief they had was sapped out of them very quickly and Armagh were 2-10 ahead before Wicklow registered their first point in the 27th minute.

Incredibly, Joey Kelly was immediately substituted after scoring the point. Corner-back Alan Byrne must have cast a nervous glance over to the sideline when he scored Wicklow's second and final point of the day two minutes later.

Afterwards a shellshocked Harry Murphy said: "I couldn't see that happening. Since the Meath game we worked very hard and thought we would put in a performance. We thought we were right but we weren't."

Clarke painted a picture of contentment within the Armagh squad after six weeks' hard work since the Cavan debacle.

"We have class all over the pitch so it's about working on a system that everyone is comfortable with," he said.

"In the Cavan game, I'm not sure everyone knew what they were doing or that we played to the game plan.

"Today was a test of our mental state and we answered a lot of critics – but it's only the first round of the qualifiers. Hopefully the draw is kind but no matter who it is, I think we'll be ready for round two."

Scorers – Armagh: J Clarke 2-3, T Kernan 0-5 (3fs), E McVerry 0-4 (1f), C Rafferty, M Shields 0-2 each, B Donaghy, K Dyas, E Rafferty, S Harold, S Campbell 0-1 each. Wicklow: A Byrne, J Kelly 0-1 each.

ARMAGH – P McEvoy; P McKeown, B Donaghy, J Morgan; A Kernan, C McKeever, M Shields; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, K Dyas, E Rafferty; J Clarke, T Kernan, E McVerry. Subs: F Moriarty for Donaghy (42), S Campbell for Dyas (50), B Mallon for T Kernan (54), J Hanratty for Harold (56), R Grugan for Clarke (65).

WICKLOW – J Flynn; C Hyland, D Power, A Byrne; D Hayden, P McWalter, D Healy; A McLoughlin, J Stafford; D O'Sullivan, R Finn, J Kelly; J McGrath, S Furlong, P Earls. Subs: N Mernagh for Kelly (27), J Sheerin for McLoughlin (h-t), L Benson for Hayden (h-t), B Coen for Finn (h-t), A O'Malley for Earls (58).

REF – D Fahy (Longford)

Irish Independent

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