GAA Football

Armagh spearhead Ethan Rafferty sees Orchardmen to top of Division Three

Armagh's Ethan Rafferty scored 1-3 in the Division Three opener against Sligo
Andy Watters

TWO games played, four points on the board and Ethan Rafferty has contributed 1-9 to Armagh’s aggregate of 4-34 in Division Three.

The Orchardmen began 2018 without some high-profile personnel, but Rafferty, a substitute last year, is one of several fringe players who have grabbed their opportunities to start and to impress.

The towering Grange clubman has a blacksmith’s strength and nonchalantly fisted a ball on Sunday as far as many in the stand at Mullingar could have kicked it.

Lighter and quicker these days, he was at the head of the pack in pre-season sprints and his scores against Sligo (1-3) and Westmeath (0-6) are spearheading Armagh’s promotion drive.

“I had to get my head down and do a lot of work in the off-season,” said Rafferty.

“I’ve set a target of staying injury-free because I was tortured with injuries.

“There are spaces there in the team up for grabs, it’s well documented that we have a few boys missing and some of the boys are flying.

“The boys are taking their chances and they’re showing what the jersey means to them and that they want to have it come the 19th of May (against Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship). It’s a good sign and it’s about us pushing ourselves.

“Geezer (Kieran McGeeney) gives everybody ample chances and if they want the jersey they’ll get it but they have to show that they want it.”

Armagh manager McGeeney was delighted with his team’s clinical response after Westmeath rallied to briefly take the lead in Mullingar on Sunday. From a point down with 20 minutes to go, the Orchardmen were nine ahead and cruising by the final whistle.

“We knew what to expect coming down here,” said Rafferty.

“It’s a nice tight pitch and Westmeath have a lot of big men in around the middle so it’s always going to be a battle ground in there. Charlie (Vernon) had a very good tussle and we had Aaron Findon and Ben Crealey coming on too. The boys battled very hard, there was a lot of hard work to keep them at bay and get the ball forward.

“They put in Trojan work in that middle third.”

When James Dolan found the back of their net, Armagh’s players knew that they needed to raise their game or risk losing a match they had dominated.

“Any time any team gets a goal against you, you have to start working,” said Rafferty.

“Once they got the goal the boys knew that we were going to have to start working extra hard. We said after the match that when they got ahead we kicked into gear again and pushed back. It was a good sign that the boys were able to go for it.”

As well as scoring six points, Rafferty set up a first half goal for Armagh after they had sent six shots wide over 19 scoreless first half minutes.

“It was frustrating in the first half but I knew that if the ball was kicked in I could at least do something with it – I could break it down and Ronan Lappin’s goal came off a high ball in,” said Rafferty.

“It’s doing the simple things well – getting it and giving it off.

“I’m happy with the finishes I got but it’s down to the boys working hard and getting the ball in.

He added: “When it’s going well it’s hard not to enjoy it.

“When the ball is being kicked in and you have space to manoeuvre it’s dead on. But even last week when Sligo had men back there were a lot of boys working well off each other – Ryan McShane, Mark Shields, Rory Grugan…

“In a packed defence you can’t do it all on your own and the fact that boys are moving and supporting each other makes everyone’s job easier.”

Next up for Armagh are Longford at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday. Denis Connerton’s well-drilled outfit also has two wins out of two in the League this year.

“It’s going to be no easy task,” said Rafferty.

“Games are coming thick and fast and it’s about keeping injury free and keeping fresh. Today is over and now it’s about looking at Longford.”

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