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U20 Footballers Target Championship Opener

By Jason Havlin Wed 28th Feb

U20 Footballers Target Championship Opener
U20 Footballers Target Championship Opener

With just a fortnight to go until the start of the U20 football season, we took the time to talk the newly named captain for the squad, Killyclogher’s Michael Rafferty. 

Now in his 3rd season as an U20, including an All-Ireland win in 2022, Rafferty now has the honour of captaining the side as they prepare for a new look U20 format.

In fourteen days time, the squad will begin their campaign against Antrim in Corrigan Park. The new format also sees the side take on Down, Derry and Monaghan, in a group stage, before hopefully advancing to the Ulster semi-finals, and then the All-Ireland series.

This new format has been met with mixed reviews as there is no league to warm up with and for 5 Ulster counties the season will be over after just 4 competitive games. 

“It’ll be nice to get into championship intensity from the start as it is a big step up from the league games” is what Michael had to say about the new format.

He also noted “It is a bit different this season with round robin games meaning you’ll have a more condensed schedule, but everything has been really enjoyable so far”.

When asked about what being named captain for the upcoming season, Michael said he was “Very proud and honoured”. 

He summed it up by saying it is “a huge privilege to captain a special group of lads. Obviously when Paul (Devlin) broke the news to me I was delighted, and it just goes to show the hard work you put in over the years pays off”.

This is not Michael’s first experience in a captain role, as he was the leader of the Dean Maguirc College which won the Markey Cup last year. This campaign also saw the Killyclogher man collect a Danske Bank Ulster Schools All-Star, an award which is handed to the top performing players across all three levels of Ulster post-primary football.

Although the opening game is still two weeks away, the team have been training for quite some time to ensure they come into the game as prepared as they can be. “Preparation and training has been going really good- hard work and honesty is what we pride ourselves on.”

This years panel is the same age group as the minor side that got all the way to the All-Ireland final in 2021, before being pipped in agonising fashion to a very good Meath side. Hoping to go one step further this year and repeat the feat of the U20 side of two years ago, Michael said; “This team is a lot different from the 2021 minor team. Lads make progression at different stages in their career and therefore new faces are in the team this year,”

“There is a really good buzz and vibe in the squad and they are determined lads to do their best and who knows where it will take us” he added.

The side is coached by MacRory cup winning manager, Diarmuid McNulty, who will have worked with a lot of the panel before throughout the two previous MacRory cup campaigns with Omagh CBS.

A key figure in the Killyclogher side, Michael is also a minor champion, after winning the Grade 1 championship in 2019, a side captained by his brother John. In reference to his personal goals for the season, Michael said: “To be as successful as I can. Any competition that I’m in, I’m in it to win it”. 

The side will be looking to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing campaign last year, after falling in the Ulster quarter-final to eventual Ulster champions Down. The side finish their round robin games on 10th April against Monaghan in O’Neill’s Healy Park, after a home game against Down and a trip to Derry.

Under 20 Football Fixtures – 

R1 – Saturday 9th March – Antrim v Tyrone – Davitt Park, Belfast @ 2.00pm

R2 – Wednesday 20th March – Tyrone v Down – O’Neills Healy Park @ 7.30pm

R3 – Wednesday 27th March – Derry v Tyrone – Owenbeg @ 7.30pm

R5 – Wednesday 10th April – Tyrone v Monaghan – O’Neills Healy Park @ 7.30pm

By Jason Havlin Wed 28th Feb

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