Michael Rafferty ready for his second U20 final in three years

The current Tyrone skipper was a member of the panel which captured Ulster and All-Ireland success in 2022

Derry v Tyrone U20s
Tyrone skipper Michael Rafferty (right) is keen to get his hands on a second Ulster U20 medal but knows Derry will offer a fierce test in Wednesday's final (Oliver McVeigh)

TYRONE U20 captain Michael Rafferty knows what success tastes like, and he has an appetite for more.

He was a member of the Red Hand side that won the All-Ireland U20 title two years ago, and a third season at this level has taken him to another provincial final.

A shock first-round defeat to Down last season scuppered hopes of retaining the title, but they’re back on course for a second in three years.

Gavin Potter and Ruairi McHugh are the other survivors from the 2022 team, providing leadership and experience that could be crucial in tonight’s final against Derry at the Box-It Athletic Grounds.

“The likes of Cormac Devlin, Shea O’Hare, they all have experience too,” said Rafferty.

“And the younger boys, the likes of Ruairi McCullagh, Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, we can count on them.

“It’s great for the management and players to get to an Ulster final, but to win one would be extra special.

“All the boys will put their foot to the pedal and see where it gets us.”

Centre-back Rafferty has been forewarned from the round robin meeting with Derry that his side will face a well-organised defensive set-up.

At Celtic Park, they snatched a late point to shade a tight contest. Equally resilient opponents Down and Monaghan have forced the Red Hands to work hard on their strategy in breaking down packed rearguards.

“We like moving the ball slick through the hands, and I think that’s what we’ll have to do against Derry, because they’re a serious outfit, and we’ll have to throw everything at them,” said Rafferty.

Both finalists came through their semi-final encounters with just a point to spare. Tyrone’s opponents Monaghan had succumbed to a 28-point hammering when the sides met earlier in the series, but proved to be a much tougher proposition when it came to the knock-out stage.

“We knew to expect that, because after our last performance against Monaghan, we knew they weren’t full-out against us,” said Rafferty.

“There were a lot of fires to put out for our team, and thankfully we just about got over the line.

“The defensive shape they set up was hard to break down.

“We needed runners coming at different angles, and luckily enough, our two goals, we got them at important times in the game.

“Monaghan were always chasing the game and the goals gave us that wee bit of an advantage on them but in fairness, they never lay down and they were always hunting after us and putting pressure on us.”

Tyrone will look to a talented attacking unit to power them to victory tonight and back into the All-Ireland series, but a defiant defence has been a critical element in their progression to the provincial final, particularly in resisting Monaghan’s late surge at O’Neills Healy Park.

“I thought our two man-marking roles were carried out very well by Joey Clarke and Ben Hughes, and full credit to them,” said Rafferty.

“I don’t think any forward in our team likes marking Ben. He’s a serious man-marker, incredibly sticky.”