Gaelic football has at times been described as a routine type of sport, with movements and passages of play which contain very little invention, although Kerry’s Colm Cooper and players like Armagh’s Jamie Clarke will always strive to entertain.
Training ground drills have institutionalised the thinking of many club and county players, but under the watch of former Armagh managers Brian McAlinden and Brian Canavan the nineties’ were to unleash a new generation of Orchard County players who would create a glorious history.
At Davitt Park in the 1997 National Football League Armagh struck six goals against Antrim to announce their arrival on to the provincial stage. Playing on his home patch Clan na Gael player John Campbell, who had been recognised as one of the best club players in the county, received the man of the match award. In the midst of the virtuoso performance, Campbell following a long solo run, shortened his stride, took a look up and attempted to chip the Antrim keeper from 30 yards only to see his effort come back off the crossbar to the amazement of the gasping fans who in modern times only fleetingly witness such acts of genius.
John Campbell who at the time was described as “a maverick” may not have reached his full potential for the Clans or indeed Armagh, but his younger brother Stefan who says is “a different player“ than his older brother and is determined to cherish his playing career,and grab every single opportunity when it comes.
In an interview with the Mail, Stefan outlines his hopes for the future with both Clan na Gael and Armagh, he reveals the reasons for missing out on an All-Ireland Minor medal and believes the county can bounce back from their dismal performance against Tyrone in the Doctor McKenna Cup. It was inevitable that Stefan was going to be compered to his older brother, but how does he see it. “I don’t think we can be compared as players,” explained Stefan. “John is never done telling me how good he was. I prefer to do my talking on the pitch.”
Last season Armagh left the All-Ireland stage following a defeat against Galway in Salthill, on that occasion Stefan hit three late points despite starting the game on the bench, a scenario which despite the defeat he believes gave him confidence. “Although it was a pity about the result I certainly got confidence from my own performance. I had been doubting myself leading up to the qualifiers but the game against Galway showed that I was good enough to wear the jersey.”
Some supporters might suggest the Blues man has had a controversial start to his playing career, he missed an Armagh under-21 Championship semi-final in 2012 through suspension, a game which the Clans lost in extra time, and also missed out on the chance of winning an All-Ireland Minor medal in 2009 - a situation he says was taken out of his hands. “I have no regrets whatsoever, Paul McShane (Armagh Minor Manager) phoned me before Christmas and told me I was burned out which I felt was an odd call to make.
“I felt I could have started on the team, but when a manager does not fancy you as a player there is very little you can do. I didn’t loose any sleep over it.”
Another situation Stefan believes himself and his Armagh team mates can move on from is the recent heavy defeat against Tyrone.
“Off course we can move on - there are a lot of talented players in the squad, we are determined to ensure it never happens again,” he added. “Paul Grimley has given me a chance on the squad since I was nineteen. I was delighted when he decided to stay on. Geezer (Kieran McGeeney) is an inspirational figure, when he talks you listen and I believe it has been a huge boost for both the fans and the players he has returned.”
With Clan na Gael attempting to return to the top flight, a scenario which they enjoyed for many years, Stefan will be hoping to appear in the blue jersey as much as possible in 2014. “I have only missed a handful of club games in my three and a half years with Armagh, you are always going to miss the odd one and to be honest I am looking forward to getting back to the club this season and try and push for promotion.”
It has been suggested The Lurgan blues would have received a major boost on their road to recovery had they won an All County under 21 championship, which they were well capable of doing over the past number of years, it was achievable stressed the blues player. “It’s true. We could have won an under 21 Championship. We were unlucky on several occasions but knowing the lads as well as I do some of them might have retired after winning a championship. “There is plenty of potential at the club, some of the lads want to push on and are beginning to believe they are good enough to play senior football.”
St. Peter’s, Wolfe Tones, St. Paul’s, Clann Eireann, Clan na Gael and Eire Og will all be involved in local derbies this season, and Armagh’s rising star is looking forward to all the twists and turns of the new season.
“I am looking forward to all the local derbies this season and in particular our Championship game with St. Paul’s. I would know a lot of the lads around Teghnevan and I think our friendships will have to be put on hold for the summer.”