Home is where the heart is for former Armagh favourite Jamie Clarke as he’s now relishing a new chapter in his remarkable sporting career.
Once a sparkling diamond for the Orchard County, the 33-year-old has switched codes and been handed the chance to hit the target for Newry City in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Darren Mullen’s side are adapting to life in the North’s top flight again after promotion and Clarke, who made 39 championship appearances for Armagh, is hungry to make a big impact on the soccer pitch.
Of course there’s a little nervous excitement coursing through his veins but also a quiet confidence that he can deliver.
“It’s great to be back, obviously this is a new challenge for me and something a bit different but it’s a chapter I’m looking forward to,” said Clarke.
“It’s been great, I’ve been in a few weeks and it will take a little time for me to adapt. It’s a different sport and code and everyone has been great.
“Newry is a great family club and for me it’s about getting on the pitch and playing ball.”
And football isn’t a new sport to Clarke. In his early years he was on Dundalk’s books before focusing on Gaelic football, where he burst onto the inter-county scene.
He spent some time in America and linked up with the Queens-based New York Shamrocks club who compete in the Cosmopolitan League.
Dubliner Kevin Grogan, a former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland underage player, was working in coaching and player development in the Big Apple. In fact, 2017 All-Star nominee Clarke trained with MLS side New York Red Bulls and was hoping to earn a full-time contract with the club.
He’s been to South America, France, Australia, and America on his travels but now it’s the home comforts of Newry that have a firm grip on him.
“It’s not something that is very different to me as I played for Dundalk U-18s and also in New York in the Cosmopolitan League,” he added.
“I’m looking at it as a new challenge and I simply need to get my head down and work hard at it. I know the game and have played it before so for me it’s about looking forward to getting on the pitch and playing ball.”
Clarke came into the GAA like a breath of fresh air — a precociously talented young player — and he settled into a successful Crossmaglen Rangers side.
It was a winning machine and Clarke played a huge part. Armagh may not have tasted the success they hoped for but Clarke was a ruthless finisher.
City will now hope that he can make a significant impact for them in domestic football’s top flight.
“If you haven’t played football before, it can be difficult to make that transition but if you have played before that physicality and special awareness can have an impact,” added Clarke.
Clarke clearly hasn’t lost that appetite for competitive sport and winning. And perhaps he can sprinkle more magic on Premiership football pitches.
A winner against Linfield on Sunday would be a pleasant start.