Rafferty’s resistance will be test for Tyrone
The grave concerns surrounding the fitness of Damien Rafferty in the lead up to Down’s championship clash with Donegal last month underlined his undoubted value to the side.
In the event, Rafferty was passed fit at the eleventh hour and proved to be one of the Mourne county’s heroes in the extra-time win over their hosts at Ballybofey.
Today Rafferty, who is a relative newcomer to the Down side but plays with all the calm assurance of a veteran, will be allotted the task of marking either Owen Mulligan or Stephen O’Neill and manager James McCartan is more than happy to have him at the heart of his defence.
“While there has been a lot of talk about sweeper systems and defensive alignment since the start of the Championship it is a fact that man-to-man marking is still the only feasible way of curbing an opponent,” points out McCartan.
“At one stage shortly before our game against Donegal we were in danger of being without our entire full-back line as Daniel McCartan was suspended and Brendan McArdle and Damien Rafferty were injured.
“Thankfully they both recovered and played very well on that occasion.
“Now we have to face up to the task of trying to restrict the scoring potential of this Tyrone attack.”
Rafferty’s tigerish marking allied to his ability to break forward means he has an added dimension to his play that could serve his team well today.
The stocky corner back acknowledges that Tyrone form the biggest barrier Down have faced in any competition to date this year.
“They are the reigning Ulster champions, they have plenty of experienced players and they have the kind of forwards who can do a lot of damage,” said Rafferty.
“We have belief in our own ability — that win over Donegal perked us up again after we had lost to Armagh in the Division Two final at Croke Park.”
James Colgan is likely to again be the Down sweeper and will be deployed in front of Stephen O’Neill in order to cut out the supply lines to the Clan na gael club dynamo.
O’Neill marked his return to action against Antrim by registering three points and is well capable of inflicting even more damage on Down today.
While Colgan looks set to be the ‘free man’, Rafferty’s clever covering ability will certainly be required in abundance if O’Neill and co. are to be reined in and the player himself is up for the task.
“We have come up against some good forwards so far this year and while boys like Stephen O’Neill, Owen Mulligan and Brian Dooher are all class acts along with Sean Cavanagh it’s up to us to prove ourselves against them,” said Rafferty.
“It does not really matter what a team has achieved or not achieved in the National League as long as they can go out and do themselves justice in the Championship.”
That’s the kind of defiance that Tyrone will not find easy to overcome this evening.