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'Jamie Clarke is a very good footballer, a very good lad and he's a great outlet for us in the forward line'

New York are hopeful Jamie Clarke can help them create Connacht SFC history this weekend.
May 1st 2018, 5:15 PM 12,367 11

IF NEW YORK claim first ever victory in the Connacht senior football championship  on Sunday, chances are Jamie Clarke will have played a major role in the success.

Jamie Clarke celebrates scoring a goal Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Clarke was nominated for an All-Star in 2017 after his stunning form during Armagh’s run to the All-Ireland quarter-final, but has since relocated to the Big Apple and is part of Justin O’Halloran’s squad to face Leitrim in Gaelic Park this weekend.

Given Clarke’s enormous talent, it’s little wonder there’s such optimism that history will be made in what is New York’s 20th season competing in Connacht.

“Jamie Clarke is a very good footballer, a very good lad and he’s a great outlet for us in the forward line,” said manager O’Halloran.

“He played very well against Corofin, so hopefully he can do it again next Sunday.

“Leitrim are going to have to pay a lot of attention to him and even if he doesn’t get a score, he’ll bring defenders out of the way for our other forwards and that should be a huge boost to us.

“But yeah, to hold Jamie Clarke scoreless would be a very tough job now.”

Clarke lived up to his billing when he picked up man-of-the-match honours as New York enjoyed a 1-20 to 1-7 win over All-Ireland club champions Corofin, albeit a weakened side, last weekend.

“I’ve marked him a few times now,” said former Mayo defender Tom Cunniffe, who’ll captain New York on Sunday.

Tom Cunniffe and David Kelly Cunniffe in action against Sligo last year. Source: Andy Marlin/INPHO

“Very impressed. The first time I met Jamie was when we played in a club game a few years ago, Castlebar Mitchels against Crossmaglen. He’s a top player.

“They’ll definitely have to keep an eye on him and everyone else just has to step up. We can’t just rely on one player.”

Former Westmeath player Keith Scally added: “Jamie was someone I would have looked up to and really admired when I saw him play with Armagh.

“Just getting to play with him and what he brings to the table both on and off the field, he’s a lovely lad and obviously he’s a fantastic footballer so he brings a huge amount to the panel.”

It’s possibly the strongest panel the Exiles have ever put together, with Cunniffe, former Roscommon full-back Neil Collins and ex-Meath attacker Dalton McDonagh among their high-profile players.

There have been a few close calls in recent seasons, with New York famously running Roscommon to within a single point two years ago. Last May, they took the lead against Sligo with 19 minutes to play before eventually falling short by eight points.

New York take to the field Source: Andy Marlin/INPHO

O’Halloran estimates they lost “seven or eight” from last year’s panel, while former Offaly midfielder Brian Connor hasn’t made the 26-man panel to play Leitrim as he continues to build his fitness after recovering from a cruciate injury.

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Although they’re rated by most as underdogs, one bookmakers have made New York 8/11 favourites to progress and the Exiles are in a confident mood as the biggest day on their calendar approaches.

“You’re always confident, no matter who the opposition is you have to be confident,” said Cavan native O’Halloran.

“But Leitrim are the best team on our schedule, so you have to be at your very best to beat them. If it comes off it comes off, if not there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Cunniffe echoed his manager: “We are confident in every game we play. We are under no illusions whatsoever. New York has never won a championship match, ever.”

Scally added: ”It doesn’t matter who we are playing, it’s the belief that has you training in that four-month block every year. It would be hard to keep coming up to Gaelic Park if you didn’t think you could win.

“Leitrim, you would be focusing on as your best chance in Connacht to get an upset. It’s a great group together this year that do believe they will get their first win.

“There is something special about a new group of lads coming together, trying to do something no one has done before. That’s the main draw, the first team to win a game over here.”

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