Red Hand Rafferty setting sights on topping League
TYRONE prospect Liam Rafferty is setting his sights on the National Football League title if the Red Hands return to action as planned in October.
Mickey Harte's men were thrashed by Division One leaders Galway in round four but bounced back to defeat All-Ireland Champions Dublin and sit in third spot, two points behind the Tribesmen and one behind Kerry.
There'll not be a divisional final this year but the Galbally lad believes Tyrone can finish in top spot, even if they probably need to win away to both Donegal and relegation-threatened Mayo to have a chance of achieving that.
“I think we might have a chance of winning the League. We had more of a chance of getting to the final but now you have to finish first to win the League.
Manager Harte always wants to win every competition and Rafferty confirmed: “It's the same with the players – and you'll want to impress to get that start in the Championship as well.
“At least we have these two League games to get our system going again, to get back into the flow, and – hopefully – for the likes of myself, to secure a place on the Championship team.”
The Red Hands are set to return to competitive action in mid-October away to their fiercest Ulster rivals of recent years, Donegal – who are also their opponents in the Ulster SFC quarter-final set for Hallowe'en.
Donegal won the last encounter, in the provincial semi-final, en route to retaining the Anglo-Celt Cup, and Rafferty acknowledges Tyrone will be seeking revenge: “I played last year against them, played the first half, and they beat us well. We've a bit of a chip on our shoulder from that one. We'll have to try to put that one right.”
The last time National League games were played in the autumn the 22-year-old was a toddler but he doesn't reckon the pace of the modern game will drop off too much despite the unusual timing of inter-county matches:
“You could see a difference with the fitness, it could be hard for teams to get up to the levels they were at, but everyone's on the same level playing field, I suppose.
“There's plenty of time to get up to speed, to be honest. I'm looking forward to getting back into Tyrone training because it's such a high standard.
“The competition is unbelievable – one bad training session and you mightn't get playing. But it's brilliant, that's what you want, it drives everyone on. I'm just looking forward to getting back into it.
“When you're training with the county team you're flying, playing with and marking the best players in the county. I hope we'll have enough preparation for our first [National] League game with Donegal anyway.”
He and his county colleagues have been kept ticking over by training schedules from Tyrone's strength and conditioning coach Jonny Davis, who “would have sent out four-week programmes. We didn't know when things were going to come back so it was every four weeks, each one building on the last one.
“It was great, I felt like a professional athlete. Sure, we'd nothing else to be at, just train. I was training most mornings. It was hard on your own but then I was able to group up with fellow club-mates, we still stuck to the social distancing.”
Although Davis's background is in the winter sport of rugby union with Ulster, Rafferty doesn't believe there will be any advantage for Tyrone in that – nor even any red hands due to the weather:
“I don't know – everyone's talking about snow at the All-Ireland Final, but when you look back December doesn't tend to be a bad month for weather, it's more January and February. With the club we played our Championship final in October and it was brilliant weather.
“I don't know that there'll be much difference and, with the county games, you're going to be playing on top quality grounds, it's not like it's going to be Sigerson football down in some training field, or the Ulster Club League.”