Hurling and camogie

Antrim ace Arron Graffin prioritises Cushendall after claiming his sixth county title

The Ruairi Og players celebrate winning the Volunteer Cup after defeating Loughgiel in the Antrim SHC final on Sunday Picture Seamus Loughran.

ARRON Graffin is likely to put his county hurling career on hold due to club commitments and a persistent knee injury that will need surgery.

Celebrating his sixth county title following their win over Loughgiel Shamrocks on Sunday, the Cushendall defender had his knee heavily strapped throughout the final.

Amid the Ruairi Og celebrations, Graffin said his focus would be in trying to win an Ulster title with his club.

The Antrim champions face Down champions Ballycran after their outstanding Ulster semi-final win over Slaughtneil at the weekend.

“I’ll probably need knee surgery, which would leave me out for a year. That can be put off until Cushendall’s season is finished, whenever that may be, so I’ll concentrate on that first and see how that goes.”

Graffin was rock-like at the heart of the Cushendall defence in the second half of Sunday’s enthralling decider in Ballycastle.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words. It’s euphoria,” he said.

“Any time you get to the top of the county, it’s hard to get there. Somebody told me a stat that we’d been in 12 finals in 14 years; out of those 12 we’ve won six. That’s a 50 per cent success rate.

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“You want to win every single one and it doesn’t always happen. Over the last couple of years we’ve let ourselves down a wee bit.”

Goals either side of half-time from Paddy Burke and Conor Carson were the key scores for Cushendall as they claimed their 14th county title.

“We hadn’t beaten Loughgiel in a county final in 10 years,” Graffin noted.

“They beat us in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016. We’ve beaten them in semi-finals but not in a county final. So thank God we got the win.

“And last year we were in a good position at half-time and Dunloy came out and blitzed us. But this is a special group. There are five or six lads who have come through from minor and they’ve bought a bit of buzz back to it and there’s a good blend of youth and experience. It’s a super team. We didn’t want to leave it behind us.”

While a raft of young players have given the Ruairi Og seniors a boost this year, Sunday’s win probably wouldn’t have been achieved without the leadership of Neil McManus.

The county star hit four points, won a stack of breaking ball and his distribution into Cushendall’s full-forward line was of the highest order.

“McManus consistently performs at the highest level day in, day out. The bigger the occasion, the better game he has. He just oozes confidence.

“He is four days older than me, we were christened on the same day. We played together right through the development squads, at university, Antrim, club, Ulster teams – and you expect that from him day in, day out.”

After reaching the 2016 All-Ireland final, where they lost heavily to Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh, Cushendall struggled to scale the heights on the domestic scene.

With a managerial void at the club at the beginning of this season, Graffin and Neil McManus persuaded Eamonn Gillan to assume the reins

“We knew the previous management team were stepping away from it,” Graffin explained.

“If you talk to Eamonn, he’s a very intelligent man. He’s a successful businessman and we thought he could bring a new edge to us. A few of the senior boys got together and thought about who could bring us to the next level and his name just kept coming up.

“We went to see him and we knew he was interested right away. He’s got the right men around him too and it’s proved the right decision.”

Gillan, of course, is a Loughgiel native and lost back-to-back county finals with the Shamrocks in 2003 and '04.

 

He's been living in Cushendall for the last 35 years and his son Eoin keeps goal for the Ruairi Ogs. In his first season in charge, he's delivered a county championship.

With a provincial decider scheduled for November 11, Graffin is already looking forward to facing one of his former club-mates who is currently lining out for Ballycran.

“Ulster is very, very difficult. We know that from previous years,” said Graffin.

“It’ll be some craic as Cormac McAllister from our club is playing for Ballycran. He’s living down there. It’ll be interesting challenge.”

In terms of county medal hauls, Graffin joked that he was now level pegging with his wife and brilliant Clonduff camog Sarah-Louise Carr.

“I was actually joking with my wife before the game, she’s won six with Clonduff camogs and that’s my sixth. So I’ve caught up with her today!”

 

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