Monday 27 January 2020

Jamie Clarke suffering in 
system but Armagh going in right direction

Armagh's captain and talisman Jamie Clarkeis the player suffering most from the side's new system. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Armagh's captain and talisman Jamie Clarkeis the player suffering most from the side's new system. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Colm Parkinson

Armagh exited the All Ireland championship on Saturday with their heads held high. They came within a whisker of reaching an All-Ireland semi-final, a remarkable achievement for a county relegated to Division 3 earlier this season and one that has been on the slide for a good few years now.

Like Down in 2010, other second-tier counties can take a lot of heart from their championship performances.

It's true that defensive systems make teams more competitive but to call Armagh solely a defensive team is doing them a disservice. They leave three, sometimes four forwards up front for the most part, they are well coached and break at speed from defence. In Kevin Dyas, Stefan Campbell and Tony Kernan they have forwards that can work hard to make space and score.

Ironically, the player suffering most from the new system is their talisman and captain Jamie Clarke. When teams play a sweeper they automatically give the opposition, even non-defensive teams, an extra defender. No prizes for guessing who he will double-mark. Karl Lacey swept in front of Clarke, denying him any quality ball, while Neil McGee did a very good man-marking job on him.

To thrive in this system Jamie needs to adapt and change his game. Winning ball out on front is no longer an option. Even if he wins primary possession he doesn't have the upper body strength to hold off two markers and score. He needs to be patient now and wait for the play to develop near him before looping around for a score. Playing him at centre-forward might not be the worst idea either.

Paul Grimley's time as Armagh manager looks set to be coming to an end and I think that could be a blow for them. Kieran McGeeney offers so much to the Armagh panel and there is no doubt Armagh would not have reached the last eight without him. But he is incredibly intense, maybe at times too intense.

The genial Grimley (outside of his media duties this year) is a different type of personality altogether. Maybe this contrasting mix provided a balance to the management team and the Armagh players get the best of both worlds.

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