Jamie Clarke to face boyhood hero Muldoon in semi-final

By Alvin McCaigBBC Sport NI
Jamie Clarke glides past St Brigid's opponent Darragh Sheehy in the All-Ireland final
Jamie Clarke glides past St Brigid's opponent Darragh Sheehy in the All-Ireland final

He's looks like a skinny, curly-haired kid more suited to a skateboard than the rough and tumble of top-tier football.

Crossmaglen forward Jamie Clarke is an anomaly among the muscle men in a modern game based on pace and power.

The 22-year-old's languid style, speed of thought and composure in front of goal are the attributes which have made him a key player for club and county.

A spectator at the comfortable Ulster club win over St Gall's even compared Clarke to Dutch master Johann Cruyff after his superb soccer-style goal against the Antrim side.

Cross continue their defence of the Ulster crown on Sunday with a semi-final clash against Derry kingpins Ballinderry at Casement Park.

And for Clarke it provides the chance to test his talents against a boyhood hero, who arguably is the closest thing to the Cross prodigy in the province.

Ballinderry's Enda Muldoon
Clarke has a high regard for Ballinderry and Derry star Enda Muldoon

"Enda Muldoon was one of my heroes when I was younger so playing against him is a big thing," said Clarke.

"To be compared with him is a compliment - what he can do with the ball is brilliant.

"He's a major threat to us although the Ballinderry team is littered with great players like Conleith Gilligan.

"They are a big, physical, strong team and they move the ball around quickly.

"We know it's going to be tougher than the St Gall's game and it is just a case of giving our all come Sunday."

Cross are also reigning All-Ireland champions and Clarke starred with a 1-3 tally in the victory over St Bridgid's of Roscommon in the Croke Park decider in March.

It was the Armagh club's fifth All-Ireland title to go along with eight Ulster triumphs in an amazing run of success since 1996.

Ballinderry basked in All-Ireland glory back in 2002 and they showed their pedigree in the quarter-finals by overcoming Dromore.

The last meeting between the sides came in the Ulster final of 2008, with Cross winning 0-12 to 1-4 in an ill-tempered replay.

Clarke, a marketing student at the University of Ulster, played in both games and he is among the new crop at St Oliver Plunkett Park to be instilled with the team's winning mentality.

The full-forward is quick to rubbish accusations that the club's dominance has not entirely been gained by fair means.

"We do not play dirty. We play fair and hit hard when we need to - it's part of Cross," he added.

"When there are 50/50 balls our boys just seem to be the hungrier for it.

"With the young players coming in we have the perfect balance of strength, pace and movement.

"We're still building as a team and we have so much to prove. We want to win, the people of Crossmaglen expect us to win all the time and we thrive on those expectations."

Cross full-back Paul Kernan will miss the semi-final after disclocating a shoulder in the St Gall's game.

There are also two quarter-final ties on Sunday - Roslea and Burren meet at Brewster Park while Ballybofey hosts the encounter between Latton and Glenswilly.