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Scoring points is ‘just bread-and-butter’ to Armagh’s roaming Ethan Rafferty

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Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty on the charge during his side's win over Tyrone. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty on the charge during his side's win over Tyrone. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty on the charge during his side's win over Tyrone. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

When you have been an outfield player all your life and even scored your first championship goal nine years ago, it’s safe to say that the challenge facing Ethan Rafferty this season was not a straightforward one.

Fancy a run between the posts? Well, maybe not quite between them.

“There was a right bit of debating!” Rafferty confirms, reflecting on Kieran McGeeney’s suggestion earlier this year that he become the Armagh guinea pig in a goalkeeping experiment.

“It was a tough enough decision. I was coming back after a cruciate, and I got back after the cruciate in seven months – I was delighted how well I was doing on the rehab and recovery.

“But it was hard getting back in, and Kieran had come to me and said maybe give this a go and see what it’s like. I was toing and froing, but I’m happy enough to give it a go.

“If it means that we’re one or two per cent better – or it’s a different set-up, say if we are chasing games, that I can come in and do that – I’m happy enough to maybe see us over the line.

“But it’s slippery days too. I was out here and I slipped on my hole and David Clifford made a tube of me! Look, it’s swings and roundabouts.”

Fair to say, the gambit didn’t cover itself in glory on that March day in the Athletic Grounds as Armagh’s poacher-turned-keeper lost his balance and tumbled even before Kerry’s chief assassin pulled the trigger.

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It was his third league game since taking over the No 1 jersey – and his next two starts, both ending in defeat to Donegal, would mean that Armagh had lost four out of five with the roaming Rafferty guarding goal in between doubling as an auxiliary outfielder.

But Sunday bequeathed not alone a priceless ‘back door’ victory to send Tyrone crashing out of the championship, but it was a ringing vindication of McGeeney’s big gamble.

Rafferty is no stranger to hitting the target – he has been doing so for Armagh as far back as 2013, coming off the bench to fire a goal past Cavan even as they exited that year’s Ulster SFC. But that pales in comparison to Sunday’s achievement.

Tyrone’s Niall Morgan and Monaghan’s Rory Beggan may have shown the way when it comes to points from play … but has any goalkeeper ever done it twice in the same game, and in a must-win contest to boot? We doubt it.

Moreover, they were both wonder scores – even if Rafferty himself wasn’t convinced by his outside-of-the-boot strike, from 45 metres, for his opening point.

“I near scuffed the first one!” the 28-year-old demurred. “But, definitely, I’m happy to be scoring.

“It’s all right doing that maybe if you are an outfielder, but you’ll have a bit more on your case if you miss them, so I was delighted they went over.

“If you get inside the top of that ‘D’, the second one, it’s just bread-and-butter. I was glad to get past the Tyrone fella (Michael O’Neill) and just clip it over.”

More generally, on the risk-reward of playing a sweeper-keeper, Rafferty surmised: “Obviously it can work,
it’s good in transitions, maybe getting out of defence quickly.” Sunday’s
six-point triumph has reignited Armagh’s season and one more qualifier victory – against their Ulster nemesis, Donegal, this weekend – would secure a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

“It’s been a long six weeks – we didn’t do ourselves justice at all (in Ballybofey),” admitted Rafferty, whose father Peter also donned the orange of Armagh.

“So, to get a big win like that there … it was brilliant. These things can kick-start a season – but at the end of the day it’s still 70 minutes, and 70 minutes now gone, and we’ve another 70 minutes coming.”

Any hopes for more scoring glory?

“I’ll be happy enough for a clean sheet for the rest of the year!”


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