By Niall Gartland
IT doesn’t get any easier for Down as they face heavyweights Galway on Saturday (3pm Páirc Esler), but Sara Louise Graffin isn’t complaining about being pitted in a textbook ‘group of death’.
It’s their third and final group stage clash and in all likelihood they’ll have to take part in the relegation play-off series following their previous defeats to Cork and Clare.
But there’s something to be said for giving it a lash against the very best in the business, so Down stalwart Graffin is enjoying the experience.
Their opponents Galway won the All-Ireland crown as recently as 2021 and are piping hot favourites to win Saturday’s game in Newry, but Graffin says there’s no point in being defeatist.
“Going into the championship, we were thinking if we avoided certain teams, we stood a great chance of progressing.
“But unfortunately we were pitted in what you could definitely call the group of death as Cork, Clare and Galway are three of the best teams in the country.
“It’s still great to be playing these teams, that’s why you’re in the senior championship in the first place and we have been competitive. The Cork scoreline didn’t reflect what the game was like, they ran away with it at the end, and we were two or three points ahead of a very good Clare side heading into the final ten minutes, so we definitely let that one slide.
“It shows how far we’ve come that we were disappointed to lose to a side like Clare. It’s a building process and we just have to stick at it.”
Graffin missed much of last season as she had a child, but she returned to play a pivotal role in her club Clonduff’s run to All-Ireland Intermediate honours. She also got a taste of the coaching life at Down.
“I’d a wee girl last May so I wasn’t really available for Down. I was in the backroom team helping with the coaching for a well. It was good but it was definitely different, it’s harder in a way because you really have very little control over what happens on the pitch.
“Playing is probably a bit easier in that you can try to do something to affect the outcome. I came back for the club championships and that ended up as a great success for us.”
Maybe she’s being modest but Graffin says that Down are arguably ‘punching above their weight’ by plying their trade in the senior ranks. But that said, there’s some good youthful talent coming down the tracks so she’s hopeful about the future.
“Progress was slow enough for a few years, we probably left things behind us for a combination of reasons, retirees and so on. But we’re there now and probably punching above our weight. There’s a lot of work going on in the county at the moment but things had probably fallen by the wayside for a few years. Hopefully we can hold our own and stay there as there’s great work being done behind the scenes and hopefully some of those underage players will come through to senior level.”