Slaughtneil star Shannon Graham switches from Antrim to Derry
FORMER Antrim All-Ireland medallist Shannon Graham is set to line out for Derry in the upcoming Ulster camogie championship after joining up with the Oak Leaf squad for training in the last week.
Graham was marked down as a star of the future as she came through the under-age ranks in Antrim winning Ulster titles at the under 14, 16 and minor grades as well as All-Ireland Minor and Junior titles a decade ago.
She continued to wear Saffron until four years ago when she switched allegiance at club level from Creggan Kickham’s in the south-west of the county to play alongside her cousins in Slaughtneil.
Since that move her camogie career has soared once again with the Emmett’s winning the last three Ulster and All-Ireland senior club titles.
Shannon’s dynamic all-action style of play in the midfield engine-room has been one of the driving forces behind the Slaughtneil success and she was awarded Player of the Match and the Ulster GAA Writers’ Award for their breakthrough All-Ireland final win over Galway’s Sarsfields in Croke Park in March 2017.
She also made a midfield slot her own on the AIB Team of the Year for the last three campaigns and was the Ulster GAA Writers’ choice again for Player of the Month back in January following Slaughtneil’s dramatic second half into the wind performance against Ardrahan in the All-Ireland semi-final in Ashbourne.
Shannon is one of just four Slaughtneil players who have hitched up with the county for the championship season. The others are her cousins, Aoife and Bróna Ní Chaiside both experienced inter-county players and Therese Mellon who, like Graham, will be new to the set-up.
The Ulster championship starts with a repeat of last year’s final against Down on the last weekend of May where Derry will hope to avenge defeat to the Mourne girls in Pairc Esler. The Ulster final is the following week and then it is straight into the All-Ireland Intermediate championship with a home game against Laois, the first of six group games.
Derry manager, John O’Dwyer, is in his second year in charge and was hoping to involve more from the triple All-Ireland club champions.
“Yes, I would have been thinking in terms of maybe half the Slaughtneil team, but two or three are going travelling. I know that the club campaigns running through to March each year have been very demanding on them.
“Mentally and physically it is difficult to throw yourself into the Derry set up immediately. We have given them a bit of time and we are pleased to have four available.
“At county level you want the best players available and Shannon Graham is one of the best players in Ulster. So I am really looking forward to working with her and the others coming into the panel at this time.”
In the absence of the Slaughtneil girls Derry won all their games in their league group, but were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by eventual champions Tipperary.
O’Dwyer, who coincidentally is a native of Tipperary, was keen to emphasise that the new panellists will have to fight for team places.
“The league panel did very well and we were not far off the mark when the knock-out stages came around. So we are in a good place coming into the championship.
“Apart from the four Slaughtneil girls already training with us, Céat McEldowney (another from Slaughtneil) will link up after her exams and we have Karen Kielt coming back into contention after missing a full year with a knee injury.
“Looking at the panel in its entirety, there is a lot of experience there that maybe wasn’t about last year.
“I know the players there during the league have worked hard and want to remain in the team. Those who have just joined us will have to work to win a starting jersey and I don’t think they would expect anything else.”