“A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of a sheep”.
This is Jamie’s reply to haters on twitter who criticised his move away from GAA. They said things like he was lucky to be born with talent.
These comments aren’t backed by the hours of dedication Jamie has put in to the GAA. He has honed his skills from a young age. This led to 2 All Ireland victories with Crossmaglen. In the 2010/2011 All Ireland Club Championship he was man of the match in the county, provincial and All Ireland finals. He had brought the potential previously shown to the main stage. This form continued on for his club and county.
He made his opinions known in a documentary about his club Crossmaglen. The issues included the lack of enjoyment in the modern game, problems with alcohol in rural Ireland and the pressure of fitting in.
“The early days with Armagh were fun, the pressure was off. I was playing with guys I’d looked up to like Oisin and Stevie. I feel the pressure came on more when I surpassed these guys and was the no. 1 forward. I put pressure on myself as well by trying to chase Mickey Sheehey’s goal record. I was on eleven after my first couple of seasons with Armagh.”
The self-inflicted pressure of chasing Mickey’s record may have put an unnecessary strain on his game. A different kind of pressure came on with Donegal’s new system and approach to football put in place by Jim McGuinness.
“In the space of a couple of years Donegal had really changed football. Particularly with regard to what was expected and what could be achieved off the pitch. I feel these players were more comparable to rugby players in how they were built. I always had a different view of Gaelic Football having grown up playing street soccer, I would use this as a measuring stick instead of rugby. It was difficult to watch the calibre of gaelic footballer winning All Ireland’s at that stage. They were manufactured in the gym and not on the playing fields with the ball”.
The highly defensive tactics coming into the game forced corner forwards out the pitch in a desperate attempt to get on the ball and influence the game.
“I was tried out at left half back for a while with Armagh to try and get used to running from deep and adapt to this new type of opponent”.
In the 2014 championship after poor displays against Meath and Donegal Jamie questioned whether the enjoyment still outweighed the sacrifice.
“When I was 19 or 20 I assumed it was going to happen on the big stage for Armagh. As the years crept on this looked more unrealistic. I felt 2014 would be a big year and I was captaining the side. I had put a lot of pressure on myself. I scored big against Meath in the league with ten points and wanted to build on this in the championship. It was a horrible day and it didn’t happen for me. We still went on to win and then got Donegal. I thought this was the day for a big performance as well but space was limited and I didn’t get into it”. This marked a reasonable year for Armagh as they reached the Quarter Final.
Psychologically a reason Jamie may not have enjoyed the football as much is that growing up in Cross you become very used to winning.
“Because I was winning with Cross so much, the Armagh defeats were deflating”.
There’s an important point here. The constant winning mentality can do harm if winning becomes the be all and end all. Players should be encouraged at club level to enjoy the process and hitting personal performance goals on the way. The pressure of “winning all the time” has clearly effected Jamie and many others at the cost of enjoyment.
Another element he highlighted was the championship structure.
“There’s too much training versus actual game time. If there was a champions league structure with 4 groups of 8 it would mean more competitive matches. It would also put an end to teams getting easy provincial titles if the groups were seeded”.
Clarke felt like elements outside the game were also impinging on the fun factor. He thought the effort warranted payment.
“Your relationships outside of football are affected because of how much time you’re putting in. If you’re getting paid for something you put so much time into it’s different”.
His Cross teammate Paul Hearty also mentioned the difficulties of balancing football, family and work commitments during the documentary.
At this point we discussed whether Jamie thought the elite level of Gaelic games should emphasize enjoyment more.
“I think the enjoyment at the top level comes from a professional approach and getting the small details right like easy access to a dietitian and a sports psychologist. All these elements come together and make it fun to be involved”.
Positive reinforcement is another essential element to a good atmosphere.
“When Justin McNulty was involved in the Armagh set-up he would tell me ‘you’re the man Jamie!’ I responded well to this.”
Discussing the All Blacks dual leadership approach whereby players start to take responsibility for some training sessions moved us on to the current Armagh manager. Kieran McGeeney has brought a similar dual-management model whereby player input is encouraged.
“The problem is in order to do dual management you need guys with good spatial awareness and understanding of the game”.
Management also want players to hold each other accountable.
“The issue with open air team feedback is trust. Club mentality effects county team meetings. Some players will take advantage of this and it can stray from the point of improving the team and get personal”.
It’s not all doom and gloom, Clarke cites the need for quality leadership and how it can drive a team on. He gave different examples,
“I was always a lead by playing type of guy, never was one for a rousing speech. I remember in 2011 the Cross All Ireland winning captain was Paul McKeon and he said 1 thing all year and he meant it. It had a big impact! Aaron Kernan is a good speaker and contributes regularly in a calm manner.”
So with these fond memories of teammates why has he chosen to step away?
The Big Move
Jamie is a man who doesn’t fit the mould of his local area. He mentioned that “it’s not that I don’t fit in, it’s that I don’t want to fit in” during the recent documentary.
This brought us on to the limitations of rural life like the pub culture and pressure to conform.
“Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a drink but in Ireland it’s too much. In the early 2000’s if you weren’t playing football in Cross you were in one of the pubs instead.”
“When lads leave Football they should be given support from the local club and not an attitude of ‘if you don’t want to play then good riddance’. Often these players need help and support from club members not the cold shoulder”.
He elaborated also on what can be done by players to encourage moderate drinking in younger people.
“The problem with alcohol isn’t as bad as it was. If the GAA wanted to push moderate drinking it could be done. Not with a Croke Park campaign where players hold a banner for a photo shoot. The players themselves could be encouraged to get to schools and talk about moderate alcohol consumption.”
This is a great idea as young aspiring footballers listen to their role models. They are at an age where they are impressionable and drinking unfortunately has become linked to manhood. The more that the GAA senior players challenge this perception by talking to the youngsters, the better the situation will get. The tougher decision is often to say no to another drink.
“Most inter county players would not be interested in drinking mid championship”.
Moving away from Irish pub culture, Jamie tells us more about his interests. Being away from football gives him more of an opportunity to concentrate on these.
“I have the things that make me happy in my everyday life now like fashion, coffee and travel.”
These interests matched with a desire to travel and experience new cultures make it clear why he has moved to New York. He got the bug for travelling during his playing days with visits to Paris to see his girlfriend.
“I never got the chance to properly travel though, it’s always been about football. Getting to spend time between New York and Paris at the moment is great. I find I am being me a lot more”.
Getting to experience this new life seems bitter sweet,
“There was one week there I got to go to see the US Open and the Yankees vs. the Mets in the same week. That is the level of professionality I’d like to play to but I’m not going to get it from the GAA”.
“The major thing I’d miss from the football is the buzz of sharing moments with your teammates. Kevin Dyas came out to visit me during last summer and we got playing table tennis with a group of people. It was winner stays on and we were at the table all evening. We’d both be real serious about competition. This buzz with team mates and friends is hard to put a price on. That’s just how it is”.
“It has always been about football. I just need to get away from it for longer than a 3-6 month spell. I need to find stability from elsewhere in my life for a while.”
There is no doubt whatever he puts his mind to he’ll do it well. He is a coffee connoisseur with a barista qualification. He also tells me he could look to do something innovative within the fashion or craft beer industries. If he approaches it with the same desire, flair and bravery as his football there will be no stopping him!
(Picture by Press Eye)