GAA Football

Armagh driven on by hurt of loss to Down in Ulster Championship says Ethan Rafferty

Armagh wing-back Paul Hughes drives forward against Tipperary Picture: Columba O'Hare
Andy Watters

LOSING to Down in Newry must have hurt because, even after three Qualifier wins, Ethan Rafferty says it’s still not out of Armagh’s system.

Defeat at the hands of their neighbours was a bitter pill to swallow and the Armagh players left the field shell-shocked. Grange clubman Rafferty says the memory of that day at Pairc Esler has driven the Orchardmen on to victories over Fermanagh, Westmeath and Tipperary.

“It was a hurtful one on the 4th of June and it’s not fully out of our system yet,” said Rafferty after last Saturday’s win in Thurles.

“It’s something that has to drive you on. We didn’t do ourselves justice that day, we didn’t do the management justice, we didn’t do Armagh justice at all and that’s something that we want to improve on.

“We want to make the right steps to correct that. We’ve got three wins on-the-trot, we’re going well and there’s a good buzz about the camp as there always is when you’re winning. We want to keep that going.”

Next up for Armagh is losing Leinster finalists Kildare at Croke Park in round four of the Qualifiers on July 29. Beating Kildare would put that Down loss to bed once and for all and Rafferty has no doubt that the Lilywhites will be Armagh’s toughest test to date.

“If you’re still standing at this time of year the opposition is always going to be tough,” he said.

“We’re playing a provincial loser and they’re a wounded animal, they’ve played in a big game and they’ve been in a situation where it’s been tough so it’s going to be a hard game for us.

“We’ve no game next week but we’ve an important few days to get the recovery done, then we’ll have a couple of hard sessions next week and refocus.”

He added: “It’s great to see Armagh back at Croke Park

“That’s what you want to be doing, you want to be playing in these big places like Semple Stadium. You want to be in Dublin, you want to be playing football there and winning there.”

Having scored the goal that sank Westmeath the week before, it’s easy to understand that Rafferty was “gutted” not to make the starting line-up against Tipp. But like Stefan Campbell, Ciaran McKeever and Joe McElroy, he came on to add impetus to Orchard effort in the second half as the home side wilted in the evening sun.

“From a personal point of view, I was gutted I didn’t make the 15,” he said.

“But you know you’re going to get a chance, you know you’ll have to come on and do something. We can come on and do our bit – ‘Soupy’ (Campbell) came on and was phenomenal, he kicked a point and took them on and really made them think – so we know our bench is strong.

“We have quality players and you have that chip on your shoulder that you want to prove something, you want to push the team on. It’s important to fit in when you come on and the boys have done that – we know our roles and if you’re having to come in at full-forward, half-forward, midfield, or whatever you know your worth and you can fit in quickly.”

Last Saturday Armagh went in at half-time two points down and then had to recover from a Michael Quinlivan goal early in the second half. Quinlivan had also found their net in the final League match to deny Armagh promotion from Division Three.

“There was obviously a lot behind it given what happened in the League,” said Rafferty.

“But we tried not to think about it too much – at the end of the day this is the All-Ireland Qualifiers, it’s got nothing to do with a League match.

“We’ve been in those situations like today (going four points behind) before and we didn’t come out the right end of them but we’ve been learning and trying to improve.

“We always knew that if we were in there near the end we’d have a chance. We’ve done 10 months’ training, we’ve been pushing ourselves so we know not to drop our heads. We knew there would be an end game.

“That’s two tough wins we’ve ground out two weeks’ in-a-row and we’ll push on to the next one now.”

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