By Michael McMullan
DUNGANNON Clarkes manager Christopher Rafferty isn’t convinced the split season is ‘completely fantastic’ for clubs.
Rafferty, now in his fifth season as manager, steered the Clarkes to their 2020 and are unbeaten in the Ulster league so far this year.
After a win over Erne Gaels, they drew with Coleraine and beat Ballinascreen on Sunday.
Early May has been pencilled in for the start of league football and when you put it in the context of the Ulster league, it leaves a ‘vacuum’.
Antrim’s leagues begin this weekend, with Derry and Donegal to follow at the start of April. Fermanagh’s will depend on inter-county progress, but April 23 has been offered as a possible date.
From the end of the Ulster league until May is a long time without competitive football for Rafferty. He mentions the improving weather, the stretch in the evenings and the pep in a player’s step.
“It’s the time you should be back playing football. I am not certain the split season is completely fantastic for clubs because you have a long time when you don’t have anything to look forward to.
“Last year the club football was very difficult. We played right up until the end of July and I don’t think anybody played anything until after the All-Ireland. That created a vacuum and you go from notihng to a 100 miles an hour, which isn’t ideal either.”
He is happy with the Ulster league, an organised run of games. When James Slater and Ciaran McRory won a title in the recent past, it was the club’s first taste of success in years.
“We have stuck to that formula,” Rafferty state. He likes the games against strange teams, away from the dog eat dog local rivalry.
“It allows us to keep our powder try and experiment, something you are not able to do if you are playing somebody local.”
Rafferty is joined on the management team by Terry Loughran and Collie Holmes. They’ve lost Mattie Walsh and Kiefer Morgan, now working in England.
Pádraig McNulty’s injury in Saturday’s defeat to Donegal casts a shadow over his season.
At the other end Patrick McKearney and Sean Cowan are a year more experiences after making their debuts last season.
“We have, James Quinn coming through from the minors, so we have a bit of freshness.”
Like many other managers across the club scene, Rafferty is looking forward to a regular season. Two years ago, Dungannon delivered the O’Neill Cup in a dramatic condensed season in the eye of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year was slightly more normal, but it wasn’t ‘the real world’ and Rafferty is looking ahead.
“The year that we won it, it was a very compacted season so we are looking forward to the full experience now.”
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