Rafferty determined to keep good times rolling

By Alan Rodgers

ONE of the most dramatic finales ever enjoyed by a Tyrone team has whetted the appetite for more of the same from the county’s u-20s as their season continues with a final step on the All-Ireland stage beckoning them this weekend.

Team captain Michael Rafferty will lead out the Red Hands against Roscommon in the semi-final in Cavan on Saturday evening, and the countdown is beginning in earnest for what’s certain to be an intriguing encounter.

The young Killyclogher player could only watch as that nerve-wrecking penalty shoot-out developed in the Ulster final against Derry.

But the victory that followed was special and has left both him and the rest of the players and management anxious to maintain the momentum.

It’s another opportunity for the Red Hands to seal success in a grade that has often provided them with moments to remember. Four titles in six years and All-Ireland glory in 2022 are the big highlights and there are high hopes of adding to that tally as this 2024 campaign reaches its climax.

Rafferty, though, is well aware of the task ahead of them. Roscommon were impressive in their win over Galway in the Connacht final last week. Suffice to say, that there will be absolutely no complacency as the race for All-Ireland honours approaches a critical stage.

“This Tyrone team has always prided itself on hard work and making the most of our opportunities. We never let up all night in the Ulster final without always playing to our best and I know that we’ll be ready for the challenge in the All-Ireland semi,” he said.

“Obviously we’re looking forward to playing Roscommon. It’s a case of meeting the challenges that are ahead. That’s what this team did against Derry in the Ulster final, we showed good character and hopefully will do so again.”

Tyrone’s penalty-shoot out victory against Derry was just a second since the method of finishing games on the night was introduced a few years ago, although they did lose an Ulster minor semi-final on spot kicks to Monaghan last term.

The first success was an Ulster semi-final at minor level against Donegal – and while the format has its critics, there was no doubting the delight of the Paul Devlin-managed team last Wednesday night.

Roscommon defeated Galway in the Connacht final last week and will bring a strong challenge and a large attendance to Kingspan Breffni Park for this Saturday evening clash.

This Tyrone team has form. In 2021 they lost the All-Ireland Minor final to Meath.

Incidentally, the two counties could be poised to meet in the decider again, with the Royals due to meet Kerry in the second semi-final.

But there’s nobody within the Red Hand camp looking any further than this weekend’s penultimate stage.

“The games week-on-week do build up momentum and you definitely get better over time as well. The team gels more, and hopefully the next day out we can improve again,” added Rafferty.

“Roscommon are a serious county, and you’d expect nothing different for them. We just have to be at our best to get over the line.

“It’s good to be looking forward to big games like this. We’re there competing and us boys don’t want this campaign to end. That was shown against Derry and we’re now looking forward to the All-Ireland semi-final.”

Now, as the management and players conclude their preparations at Garvaghey, the prospect of reaching an All-Ireland final and maybe going one step further than was the case three years ago is providing the perfect incentive.

One more step is all that’s needed and this Tyrone team is ready and willing to give their all in a latest quest for All-Ireland glory.

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