ALEX CLARKE KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
A Crossmaglen gaelic football forward called Clarke lighting up the summer for Armagh is nothing new given Jamie’s exciting exploits in the orange jersey for more than a decade since he first burst onto the scene.
However, with the enigmatic Jamie’s latest sabbatical from Orchard duty possibly bringing down the curtain on his inter-county career, the torch has passed to his talented teenage sister Alexandra, who has started making waves with Armagh ladies.
Her big brother has set a high bar but, from what we have seen already, Alex Clarke looks like a player with the potential to make her own name and shine brightly with the Orchard outfit for many years to come.
Alongside future county camogs Aislinn McMahon, Faye Fitzpatrick and Caoimhin O’Neill, Clarke was part of a very youthful contingent in the Crossmaglen side which won the Armagh Intermediate Championship and Division Two double in 2017.
Cross captain Lauren McConville was the big county star in that team, and she collected the Player of the Match award as well as the trophy when they beat Sarsfields in a replay at Clonmore to regain Senior status.
McConville missed the 2019 club campaign as she was in Australia and, on her return to the amber and black last season, she found herself sharing the limelight with blossoming attacker Clarke.
Clarke’s performance in the opening league game of the season against Granemore got the locals chattering and she scored a hat-trick of goals at Lissummon a couple of weeks later when Crossmaglen effectively clinched the Division Two title.
It wasn’t until the following month that they made mathematically certain by beating Killeavy at home on a night Clarke at times was almost too good, with her power and pace creating a disconnect with her own team.
On to the Orchard campaign in the autumn and, with Armagh needing to roll the dice as that pulsating All Ireland semi-final against Dublin began to slip away, this writer suggested to a colleague in the press-box that Clarke could be a game-changer.
She remained on the bench, but the exciting cameo came two weeks later in Clones when Clarke came on in the Ulster final and quickly rattled the woodwork after a brilliant burst down the left. This was someone we could look forward to seeing more of in the future.
Even with skipper Kelly Mallon and last season’s joint Armagh Player of the Year Catherine Marley missing the start of the current campaign through injury, there is fierce competition for forward places in Ronan Murphy’s team.
McConville and Harps skipper Fionnuala McKenna are back in the mix this season while the unlucky Niamh Reel of Silverbridge is determined to regain her place, but Clarke has started all four Armagh matches so far in 2020 after making her full debut in the season opener.
Even more impressively, the 19-year-old is second in the Orchard scoring charts this season and has accumulated 2-6 from play, a tally which compares favourably to the only player ahead of her, All Ireland Player of the Year Aimee Mackin, who has hit 0-14.
After four fixtures this season, Aimee Mackin leads the way with 2-25 including two penalty goals and 11 frees, with the only other frees registered being one each by her younger sibling Blaithin Mackin and McKenna.
Uncharacteristically scoreless against Monaghan in the Ulster quarter-final, Aoife McCoy comes next behind Clarke with 2-3 followed by McKenna’s six points and Blaithin Mackin’s 1-3, with Caroline O’Hanlon’s four points putting her in sixth place.
Aoibhinn Henderson, Eve Lavery and Tiarna Grimes have contributed two points each with one point apiece courtesy of McConville, Niamh Coleman and Shauna Grey all adding up to a combined tally of 7-56 by Armagh in four matches.