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24th Apr 2023

Jamie Clarke on the rise of Rian O’Neill and his best position on the pitch

Lee Costello

Rian O'Neill

“I prefer Rian out the field.”

Jamie Clarke opens up about his Crossmaglen teammate Rian O’Neill, his rise to prominence in the game, and where his best position on the pitch is.

O’Neill is undoubtedly the star of this Armagh team, and few will understand what that’s like better than Clarke, who carried that mantle for club and county for years.

Clarke was already an established member of the Crossmaglen team when O’Neill was just coming through the underage ranks, so he had a better view than most on his development.

Speaking exclusively on the latest episode of the GAA Hour, Clarke even reveals that despite popular opinion, he doesn’t think O’Neill should be playing on the inside close to goal.

Rian O'neill

“This is the thing about Rian, and a lot of people do like him in close to the goal, but I don’t, because over time I realise I was close to goal in a different era, and you want to be involved in the game, and you’re told to sit in, the game’s going by 20 minutes and you haven’t got involved.

“Now, I think I prefer Rian out the field, let him go up and down because he’s on the ball, he can deliver a pass in, and if he wants to go in full forward, if he’s tired and needs five minutes, he can send someone out.

“I suppose I always feel safe with Rian in a defensive position, because he’s so big, he’s good in the air, and he reads the game so well, and like when on Saturday evening (against Cavan) he positioned himself – I think he knew your man was going to shoot for goal, so he kind of leaned, stood back, waited for him to have the shot, and then just kind of fell into it.

“I think I prefer to see him out and around the middle of the field. I would start him at centre half forward and if he wants to go in full forward he can swap, but he can go back because he has a great engine and he can run all day.”

The obvious reason for playing him close to goal is that he can cause a lot of damage in there, but when you have the talent that Armagh have up front, O’Neill could be just as dangerous as the provider.

“He can play that long diagonal ball that Armagh can play on the counter attack. If you have Conor Turbitt up front, who is fast, Rian can play that 50/60 yard kick pass, and it’s on.

“Armagh are so versatile now, you have Andrew Murnin who can play full forward, he’s an unbelievable ball winner. You have Stefan Campbell who can run all day as well.

“It is one of these things where Armagh have that many players operating at that level now means they can alternate in and out.”

Rian O'Neill

Jamie Clarke on the rise of Rian O’Neill.

Clarke also spoke about the early days when the future Armagh captain was just a pup tagging along to training, and how he always knew he would play a big role in the future.

“It’s funny because around 2010-11, those All-Ireland winning teams with Cross, Rian and Oisin would have always been at training with us, and you would see them always kicking about, just observing, and you always knew that this is the next generation.

“They have younger brothers coming along too, so they will be coming in the next couple of years, but you kind of always knew that they were going to be stars for Cross and Armagh in the future.”

Clarke on how O’Neill likes to plays on the edge.

One criticism that is sometimes thrown in O’Neill’s direction, is his discipline. There’s no doubt the sharp shooter loves to get stuck in and get physical, but sometimes it can spill over.

“I think he’s clever like that, he always knows what to get away with, but he leaves his mark too, I’m sure he knows if you’re going to give it you’re going to get it back.

“He does play on the edge, which I like any way, it’s modern day football, so I like that side of his game, I wouldn’t take that away out of his game.”

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