Monday 22 April 2019

Graham bringing perpetual motion to Slaughtneil machine

Donegal will ply their trade in Division 3A next year (stock image)
Donegal will ply their trade in Division 3A next year (stock image)

Daragh Ó Conchúir

It is difficult to describe what you think her role might be without someone interpreting it as an insult, to the team or the player herself, or both. Shannon Graham seems a sort of free spirit within a Slaughtneil side founded upon the Spartan ideals of ferocious workrate and having your fellow warrior's back.

That is too simplistic, however. For it suggests a lack of discipline on her part, and a rigidity and suspicion of the unpredictable within the Slaughtneil panel and management. Nothing could be further from the truth. Graham has a natural athleticism, and a love of fitness, that lends itself to an all-action role.

She is a game-changer, breaking up attacks around her own area and notching up vital scores at the other. The catalogue of individual awards collected as Slaughtneil have established themselves as the premier club camogie team in the land, on the brink of a third straight AIB All-Ireland senior title, are testament to her consistent brilliance.

There is no reason why selflessness and X-factor cannot co-exist in the individual; and there is nothing undisciplined about Graham's roaming.

"We do have a formation and people know we often play a sweeper," she explains. "But that isn't always the case. You can't set up for all games in the same way. You need to assess many things. A skill set in itself is reading the game."

She adds, modestly and inaccurately: "I think I am one of those Jill of all trades and master of none. I normally feature in midfield due to my energy levels and inability to keep still. I enjoy keeping fit cycling, running and crossfitting when I am not playing camogie. I completed my first duathlon over 56km in November to raise money for a local cancer charity."

For many years, Graham played with her local team Creggan, in the small parish outside Randalstown in Antrim. As the team began to struggle for numbers, she moved over the border to Derry, to her mother's home place. Her uncle Thomas Cassidy was joint-manager of the Slaughtneil camogie team that won county honours in 2016, but passed away after a long battle with cancer the week of the Ulster final. His daughters Aoife, Eilís and Bróna also play on the team.

"The decision to move was difficult but necessary in order to play a sport I love and at a level that would challenge me," Graham explains. "And to have that opportunity to line out on a pitch with your cousins means everything."

A senior physiotherapist in Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt, Graham is looking forward to today's battle with St Martin's.

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