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Jamie Clarke talks 'growing as a person' in New York and his upcoming fashion label

The 2017 All-Star nominee recently returned to the Armagh fold.

JAMIE CLARKE’S RED card in Armagh’s Division 2 draw with Clare was his second dismissal of the season.

Jamie Clarke Jamie Clarke has returned to the Armagh fold this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Crossmaglen ace was also sent-off on two yellows in the McKenna Cup against Monaghan in January. His red against the Banner was particularly frustrating. Clarke was dismissed for swinging back into the chest of a Clare defender, who went down holding his face.

The one-game suspension was appealed to the Central Hearings Committee, but to no avail. Armagh’s star forward sat out their defeat to Meath on Sunday, an experience he found difficult.

“You’d love to be out playing, especially when you know you can have an effect and help the team. You train a lot, so to be missing games, there’s not too many of them, you want to be involved,” he said at the launch of Bodibro Sportswear’s new 2019 GAA range.

“I think it’s part of my game just to hand-off a player and I think I just made contact with him (in the chest). The fact that he went down holding his face was probably the scary part, from a GAA point of view that.

I hope this isn’t going to be part of our game now. But yeah listen, you can’t lift your hand, it’s in the rulebook, so I couldn’t get off with it.”

Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan was criticised on Sunday for failing to the ground after being pushed in the chest by Ultan Harney. Clarke feels simulation is an issue that’s creeping into the game.

“I don’t like brandishing any players or any teams but there are aspects where teams do things to maybe win the game, it’s just that bit of cuteness.

“Personally, I probably don’t do enough of it myself, but yeah, there are aspects of the game where referees should be a little bit more clued into it. You can see it from a mile away.”

Jamie Clarke and Conor Morrison Clarke brushes off the tackle of Donegal's Conor Morrison. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Despite failing to win any of their opening three games, the 29-year-old is confident the Orchard County are on the right track. He lists out the reasons: “the work we’re putting in, the friendship in the group, the trust, the style of football we’re playing, the way we’re playing, the chances we’re creating.”

It’s interesting to hear Clarke use the friendship within the squad as one of their main assets. He believes it’s “probably one of the most important things for us.” 

“We see each other five or six times a week, you see your family, you see your teammates, it’s kind of, all the one at this stage,” he says, expanding on his point.

We rely on each other a lot, even off the pitch – I think it’s important that we are best mates, I think it’s a natural thing between us, it’s not forced, whether it’s going out together, going for coffee or hanging out, we get on well with each other.

A crop of youngsters have started to emerge, as the Orchard Academy set up a number of years ago begins to harvest talent. Ryan Owens, Ross McQuillan, Jason Duffy, Rian O’Neill and Jarlath Og Burns all look capable of becoming key men this summer.

“What’s great about them guys is that they have a confidence,” he explains, “just that edge that they’re not afraid to do things or try things, the confidence in their own ability.”

People are waiting for them to explode and it’s just about us making that happen now.”

His clubmate O’Neill is regarded as one of the brightest prospects to breakthrough under Kieran McGeeney. They’re not playing together long, but Clarke feels the pair have an understanding borne out of their Crossmaglen upbringing. 

“There’s that telepathicness there where we know. We have our own language, where we can communicate, which is great. For me and Rian, I just try to get him to communicate on the field a lot more. That goes for us all, it’s an important part of the game now is just talking, talking, talking. 

Caolan Ward and Rian O'Neill Rian O'Neill is one of the top prospects in Armagh. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

“It could be that or it could just be an understanding. It’s just there within you and a lot of us have that on the pitch. You get to the stage where we have adapted our system and we just need to let the shackles off and go and play football.

“Even Rian coming through now, he has that swagger about him. Obviously, he’s got that from Cross. It allows him to perform, once he gets on the big stage, and for it not to faze him.

He’s really starting to come into his own now. He has big career ahead of him. Even in the next couple of games. You’ll start to see him progress because he’s starting to get comfortable playing 70 minutes at inter-county level.”

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to Clarke than matters on the field. The 2017 All-Star nominee spent time in Melbourne, before decamping to New York in December. He returned to the Big Apple (where he also spent most of 2016) to pursue two of his passions: fashion and coffee.

He worked as an intern with a fashion agency and took some shifts in a bar to keep himself ticking over. 

“It’s my second home at this stage. It’s not that far, you can jump on a flight to New York now for €200. You’re over there for a couple of days, come back. Once the opportunity arises, I’ll get over there on a two or three-day trip. Obviously, with work, hopefully that opportunity comes up. 

For me, doing that and even doing it again last year, I really don’t regret it because it adds a lot of characteristics to your own personality, whether it’s humility… you’re just growing as a person.

“It maybe makes you realise what’s important, finding those things out about yourself because you are on your own. It’s not always about New York, the bright lights, it can be difficult too, but it’s just what’s needed sometimes too.”

Bodibro New Season Launch 2019 Jamie Clarke was at Bodibro's High Performance Sportswear 2019 GAA range. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Armed with the various contacts and ideas he built up Stateside, Clarke is back, based in Dundalk, and working on the launch of his upcoming brand. 

“I’m working on my own fashion label which I’m hoping will come out autumn or winter. There’s a lot of work gone into it. It’s exciting. I don’t really want to talk too much about it because there’s the whole launch and that.

It’s going to be premium menswear. I don’t think there’s any in Ireland at the minute, any premium menswear label. It’s a market I’m going to tap into and hopefully take it to Europe and America.”

Kanye West once declared the fashion industry to be “the hardest high school I ever entered”, but Clarke remains unfazed. “I was always into it,” he says. “I was just trying to figure out what part of the industry I wanted to work in, whether it was for a company or in styling or in visual merchandise, ultimately, it’s your own personal touch on it.

Again it goes back to the football, it’s about believing you can do something that’s going to have an impact. That’s why I want to make clothes that are contemporary but still classic – that I can wear that you can wear, that’s really current and cool, so again with good quality.

“It’s something I’m passionate about, whether it’s colour or style. It’s something that reflects who I am – it’s an interesting, exciting time and hopefully it reflects who I am off the pitch as well.

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“It’s about that quality and you putting on something that means something as well. It is difficult not to just stick a zip on the side of a jumper. 

“From my point of view, I want to strip all that down and keep it simple and classic, but contemporary.”

He kicked some ball in New York too. The Exiles came agonisingly short to achieving a first-ever victory over Leitrim in the Connacht SFC last May. Former Roscommon full-back Neil Collins was team-mate and the pair bonded off the field over mutual interests in the fashion world.

“Myself and Neil clicked. We got on really well. We do have similar interests. Personality wise, we got it. We got New York and we got why we were there. We had the same kind of reasons for being there.

Neil’s a great guy and he knows what he wants now outside of football. I know there are times where he’d love to still be part of it but he knows what right for him.

“Ultimately in life something has to give sometimes. Neil’s flying and we do keep in regular contact. Any time I’m over, I’d always touch base with him.”

As enjoyable as life in New York was, the pull of football eventually brought Clarke home.

“Absolutely, that’s why I’m back. It’s ultimately because of football and that love for Armagh. Over there, it was great. You get to play but when you’re seeing the lads togging out, you know ‘That’s what I represented and all I grew up dreaming.’ You want to be back playing for Armagh.

“There is that (sense) that you don’t want the regret and you want to keep going. I think I’ll stay now and see out my career, however long that might be.

Jamie Clarke celebrates scoring a goal Jamie Clarke celebrates scoring a goal in the 2017 championship. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Those young guys coming through. For me, I always wanted to be number one at that age; at 21 I always wanted to be the best at this game. Coming back from America, it’s kind of like my job is to get on well with my teammates.

“I’d prefer that now, it’s (about) what my teammates think of me, it’s what I’m doing for Armagh that’s important for me rather than trying to be number one. That just comes with age and growing up and really understanding what it’s about.

I think we all have our aspirations and where we want to go. I just always believed that I could be number one and that I was number one.

“You still kind of believe that but you don’t really think it out loud. You think different things, you think about what you can do for your mates, your teammates. That will all filter in afterwards.

“You can get a lot of things in the media, ‘Clarke was held scoreless.’ Sure if you told me at the start of the game, ‘You have one job: score one point and that’s all you have to do for the game,’ you’d do it.

“There’s different aspects to the game, you might have four or five assists and that’s more beneficial to your team.

“Obviously you try to get yourself into positions and you love scoring goals. I think when you score goals, most teams win games. Again, ultimately, it’s about the team and whatever my part there is, that’s what I’ll do.”

As for his aim with Armagh this season? 

“I think ultimately when we come to the end of the season that we’re still best mates and that we still have each other, that’s the most important thing.” 

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How the return of ‘one of the best players in Ireland’ could light a fire under Armagh’s season

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Kevin O'Brien

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