Liam Rafferty's time is now with Tyrone, reckons Mickey Harte
TAKING time and getting time. The number being talked about afterwards was ‘2’ – two points for Tyrone and two points from Liam Rafferty. The player was happy about the former, but more concerned about the figure 70-plus as regards himself.
Responding to the suggestion that this was his best game for Tyrone, the Galbally lad modestly replied: “I’m not too sure about that, but getting a full game was a big thing. Getting the 70 minutes under the belt really helped the fitness there, going into next week. Hopefully I’ll keep my place.”
You never know with Mickey Harte’s team selections, given the range of options available to him, but the boss man did agree that Rafferty appears to be getting better with every game.
Harte was happy that a patient approach was paying off with the 22-year-old, having only given him two full games in League and Championship last year, against Cavan in Division One and at home to Dublin in the Super Eights ‘dead rubber’, as well as halves against Kerry, Monaghan, and then Donegal in the Ulster Championship.
“That’s why sometimes you have to invest in players and I think we invested in Liam last year,” said Harte. “He probably didn’t get as much game-time as he’d have liked but I think it certainly brought him on a lot.
“He’s now matured into a really good player and he’s shown that new sense of belief in himself. We knew from watching club football, and last year as well, that he had serious ability and it’s nice that he’s able to produce it now in front of the home crowd.”
The low winter sun wasn’t the only reason Tyrone-Meath was hard to watch at times but Rafferty’s performance was undoubtedly an enjoyable bright spot for the hosts.
The student teacher at St Mary’s in Belfast wasn’t among Tyrone’s 26 scorers in League and Championship last season but broke his duck just before the break against Meath and then added a second in the second half after a long solo run.
His forays forwards from wing-back were a feature of the game, but he put praise elsewhere:
“As the game went on, it started to open up a bit. I suppose Meath started to get tired and we had that bit of fitness under our belt from the training that we’re doing with Jonny Davis, and we were able to push on near the end.
“Also, we had a few men coming in – Kyle [Coney], Mark Bradley, Ben McDonnell, and ‘DD’ [David Mulgrew]. They all added a bit of freshness and helped to open it up.
“Coming up the field, the movement of Mark Bradley was great, and I was able to find him each time. Anybody was able to find him, he really brought a spark up there.” No pun intended.
As for Davis, the new man in charge of the fitness of Tyrone’s footballers has impressed Rafferty and his colleagues:
“This is only my second year in the panel so I only had a year with Peter Donnelly. Peter was brilliant in terms of football coaching and strength and conditioning.
“But now, with Jonny Davis coming from an Ulster Rugby background, a professional background, he has brought that in to Tyrone, and I think it’s starting to benefit a lot of lads, including myself.
“Everyone is buying in, and I think that’s important, it’s about getting that fitness in the legs at this level. You have to keep driving and driving.”
Liam Rafferty certainly seems to be headed in the right direction. There’s little doubt that his game-time numbers will increase this season.