By Niall Gartland
ROME wasn’t built in a day and Galbally star Liam Rafferty has been on quite the journey with his club since he was a pupil at St Joseph’s Primary School.
Rafferty was part of the trail-blazing Pearses team that won their first ever Tyrone u-21 Championship title back in 2017 alongside a who’s who list of his current teammates – Ronan Nugent, who bagged a hat-trick in their All-Ireland semi-final win over Dunmore, their hugely influential attacker Daniel Kerr, midfielder Enda McGarrity, Cormac Donaghy, Conor Quinn and more.
Pardon the cliché, but they really are a band of brothers, and now they stand on the cusp of All-Ireland Intermediate glory. It’s been some journey.
“It’s been brilliant,” said Rafferty. “I’ve played with most of this team since I was at Primary School, we’re a very close-knit bunch who won a lot of titles coming up through youth level.
“It’s been good to prove ourselves at adult level as well. We were very disappointed we got relegated last year, it never should have happened but what’s done is done and we’re glad to have bounced back.”
Something evident throughout their championship run has been their vociferous support. Countless excitable youngsters staged a pitch invasion after their All-Ireland semi-final victory last weekend, and Rafferty says it really does rub off on the players.
“We’ve had great support from the very first round in Tyrone – the children, the flares, all the singing. It’s a real lift, they’re our 16th man really. I remember the roar from the crowd in the big moments in matches and it gives us an extra lease of life.”
It’s one thing having the talent, but Galbally have also shown serious bottle when they’ve found themselves in a spot of bother. It’s hard to believe they didn’t score for the opening 20 minutes of their first-round clash against Pomeroy, but this is a side that refuses to wave the white flag.
Rafferty said: “How we’ve controlled games has worked in our favour. We’ve been able to settle the play when we’ve needed to. Against Pomeroy, young Barry Carberry came on and got us a goal that got us back into the game. When we were behind in the county final against Edendork we kept at it, and it was the same in the semi-final on Saturday.
“We’ve always felt we’ve the ability to come back. Good communication has helped as well, we’ve spotted things and fixed them on the field. If some thing’s not working, we’re good at trying an alternative approach.”
Galbally only have a week to prepare for their date with Rathmore in the final, a team that can call upon Paul Murphy, who captained the Kingdom to All-Ireland honours in 2014 and Kerry’s first-choice goalkeeper Shane Ryan. Rafferty isn’t expecting a claustrophobic affair.
“[We’re expecting] a game of football. They’ll not be playing defensively I imagine, we’re expecting them to kick the ball in early and long. They’ve a lot of quality, experienced players so we’ll need to up our game. They’ve beaten teams by a fair amount so we’re going to have to see where they’re getting their scores from and hopefully curb the influence of their bigger players.”
Analysing the Kerry team will be the job of their management team, spearheaded by Paddy Crozier and Joe McMahon, two men who need no introduction.
“It’s great to have lads like that helping out and there’s an excellent backroom team as well. Joe’s a brilliant coach, training has been unbelievable, it’s always different every night. It keeps everyone engaged, they’re two great men and we’re delighted to have them on board.”
Rafferty climbed the Hogan Stand steps to hold aloft the Sam Maguire with his Tyrone teammate Conor Quinn in 2021. Now he has the opportunity to do so with his club, something potentially just as special.
“Playing in Croke Park with your club is the stuff of dreams to be honest. It’s probably not something we’ve ever thought about much. It’s great to get playing at Croke Park but it’d be even better to win an All-Ireland with Galbally.”