GAA Football

Liam Rafferty goes back to earn place in Tyrone team

Tyrone's Liam Rafferty moves away from Armagh's Rory Grugan during their recent Division One meeting.
Pic Philip Walsh
Francis Mooney

Versatility can be the making of a footballer, but Tyrone's Liam Rafferty has discovered that it equally has the capacity to become an impediment to development and expression.

An accomplished performer either in defence or attack, the 24-year-old found himself caught somewhere in between, searching for an identity to reflect his greatest strengths.

But he believes he has reached accommodation with managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher that could help him realise his full potential.

The Red Hand bosses sought to develop Rafferty's attacking qualities, but the player has convinced them otherwise.

"Brian and Feargal saw me as a half forward last year. I don't feel that was a good position for me, especially trying to make the team, because you're up against the likes of Conor Meyler, Kieran McGeary, Player of the Year nominations.

"I felt that the team was very difficult to make in the forward line," he said.

"I would be quite versatile. I do feel that I'm a better defender than a forward, I can offer more as a defender for Tyrone than being a forward.

"I spoke to Brian and Feargal, and sorta persuaded them to move me back into the back line, to give me a go at it. Well, it has been going all-right so far."

A regular under Mickey Harte in 2020, the Galbally man struggled to nail down a place in the team moulded by Dooher and Logan.

He didn't make a single starting fifteen during last season's run to the All-Ireland title, but this year has been selected at corner back for both NFL ties to date.

"I had been playing corner back for Tyrone, and then Brian and Feargal came in and moved me to half forward.

"I think I struggled to adjust to that. It's a different game, you need seriously high fitness levels, and you're working all the time.

"It took me a while to adjust to that. I did eventually adjust to it, but I feel that I'm better coming on to the ball.

"I would have played a lot of my university football in the full back line, marking the marquee forwards in Sigerson and that.

"It's just a position I felt I was probably better at, but it's still something that I want to keep improving, the defensive aspect of my game."

Rafferty's offensive talents continue to form key aspects of his game, and his appetite for pressing forward from the back feeds perfectly into Tyrone's style of play.

"I would be a defender, but I do enjoy getting up the field for a score.

"I would play forward for my club, but I'm probably a better defender coming on to the ball.

"Over the years with Tyrone, sometimes I have been lucky to have a nice role in being able to come out the field a little bit more in some games, and I would enjoy that role.

"I didn't really know where my best position was, because I would be playing corner back for Tyrone, and then the next week with Galbally, I would be playing corner forward.

"It was difficult to manage that, but there were pros and cons to it, because when I go to being a forward, I would know what a defender hates."

Without a win from their opening two League games, the Red Hands are under pressure going into this weekend's clash with Kildare, their forces diminished by suspensions to key players.

Rafferty feels it's time to start displaying the qualities that carried them to Sam Maguire Cup glory last September.

"It's a must-win game, we haven't won a game yet this year, and we need to get off the bottom of the table, we're second from bottom.

"We had a poor performance against Armagh, and we need to put that right against Kildare."

Defeat to Armagh last time out exacerbated the early season difficulties, but there were encouraging signs in the second half as the Red Hands pressed high up the field, trimming an eleven points deficit back to four.

"We did try and press high in the first half, and it didn't work out at all," Rafferty reflected.

"They were getting their short kick-outs away too easily, and they were killing us with runners over the top.

"We had pressed up the whole game, but I think in the second half the high press worked a lot better.

"We got a lot better at it, we were covering their kick-out, forcing them to go long.

"It worked for us, because we usually won the 50-50 ball around the middle."

Ends

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GAA Football