Cushendall ace Arron Graffin urges team-mates to seize day
All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship final:
Ruairi Og, Cushendall (Antrim) v Na Piarsaigh (Limerick)
ARRON GRAFFIN has urged his Ruairi Og team-mates to seize the moment in Croke Park on Thursday as the north Antrim men face Munster kingpins Na Piarsaigh in their first-ever All-Ireland final.
Neither Cushendall or Na Piarsaigh have reached this lofty stage before with the Antrim champions losing eight previous semi-finals to Na Piarsaigh’s two. Graffin, who has played in three All-Ireland semi-finals and is one of the leaders in the Ruairi Ogs line-up, is hoping the younger members of the squad take this historic chance with both hands.
“I’ve played in three All-Ireland semi-finals,” he said.
“I played against Loughrea in 2006 - I was 18 - and I played against De La Salle a couple of years later when I was 20. We’re trying to drum into the younger boys that this doesn’t come around too often. I’m now 27, so that's a long chunk of your career over.
“A few of the boys are lucky in terms of their age: Ryan McCambridge is 20, Eoghan Campbell is 21, David Kearney is the same age. They’re young lads and they’re going to play in an All-Ireland final.”
Despite semi-final heartache in previous seasons, Graffin dreamed of reaching the biggest stage with his club: “It’s the stuff you dream of,” said the teak-tough defender.
“You believe you can. You believe that the team is good enough. I remember in 2009 when we played De La Salle when we should have beaten them - but it was should’ve, could’ve - but as this year has gone on we were getting stronger and we believed we could reach an All-Ireland final. It was a dream to win that semi-final against Sarsfields, but the dream is not over yet. We’re hoping we get the fairytale ending that we’re looking for.”
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Only last season the Ruairi Ogs were licking their wounds from suffering a surprise loss to Down champions Portaferry in the Ulster final: “That was heartbreaking defeat,” Graffin recalled.
“They blew us out of the water. They did to us what we wanted to do to them. That winter was tough. So it was great to win Ulster again. Slaughtneil was a massive battle, a huge game for us and we came through it.
“We’ve been behind in all of our games, apart from the Sarsfield's game. I didn’t play in the St John’s game, I played in the Loughgiel games and the Ballycastle game when we came from behind.
“But for the full 60 minutes-plus the most satisfying would have to be that Slaughtneil game. It was a great one to come through and we came through the semi-final well and we’re going into this final full of confidence. Na Piarsaigh have never been to this stage either.”
Graffin has been nursing a troublesome knee injury for most of the season and while he had it heavily strapped in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Sarsfield's, he says he’s 100 per cent fit and has benefited greatly from the five-week gap between the semi-final and Thursday’s final.
“It was strapped up more for peace of mind but all the rehab was done and I felt 100 per cent during the semi-final. I did a lot of work over the winter and even the break between the semi-final and the final has given me more time. I feel grand, I feel fit and excited.”
Graffin says the highlight of his career was hearing the final whistle in Navan on February 6 after Cushendall had qualified for their first-ever All-Ireland final: “Somebody asked me what was it like at the final whistle after the semi-final, I could only describe it as the best day in my life and the next best day is coming up on St Patrick’s Day.
"It just meant so much to the club and trying to get to a final so many times; it meant so much to the parish, the club, the supporters, the players." I couldn’t believe when we arrived in Cushendall that night. The wind was blowing and the crowd that was there was something that I’d never seen, even after winning county championships.
"We had a great couple of days but we were back down to earth – we were back in training on the Thursday. We’re in territory we’ve never been in before but it’s a good place to be at."