Arron Graffin back from injury and travels to focus on final push
To look at Arron Graffin sitting on a stretcher by the side of the pitch after Ruairi Óg Cushendall had secured the Ulster club hurling title with victory over Ballycran, you would think he hadn't a care in the world.
But the look of grave concern from his wife, Sarah Louise and those that knew this weekend's All-Ireland semi-final would arrive in a flash would say different.
Graffin had been enjoying a fabulous game of hurling when he dislocated his left kneecap. Things could have been a lot worse only for the help of Ballycran's Andy Bell who is a doctor and the several physios and nurses present.
"Pretty much, the kneecap just submerges and goes out behind the knee, it stretches your ligaments and does a bit of damage to it," the 30-year-old states.
"Twice it has gone back in by itself and twice I have had to get it put back in by medical professionals. It is not a nice experience and it is one of those things unfortunately."
He continues: "I have done my knee before so it was pretty much the routine of heading off on an ambulance to hospital. But for whatever reason that day the ambulance was delayed so I was sitting in the changing room on a stretcher at that stage and the pain had subdued.
"I was just anxious to know what the craic was and thankfully we won that match and got over the line.
"The chairman Aidan McAteer asked me if I wanted to go back out so the boys grabbed the stretcher and lifted me out and I got to see the lads lift the cup. It was great that way but I was aware I was sitting on a stretcher - do you know what I mean?"
He and Sarah Louise had already delayed going on their honeymoon until their sporting commitments were taken care of. She is a daughter of Ross Carr, the man who led had Down's run to the All-Ireland Intermediate final and, more recently, Clonduff's progression to the All-Ireland club Intermediate final against Gailltir against Waterford next month.
Back at home, Graffin lived on the edge of the Irish Sea.
"You can see the Mull of Kintyre when you look out the window on a nice, clear day," he explains.
Now, it's the heart of the Mourne mountains they have made their home.
Living in Hilltown, Graffin has been roped in to do his bit for the camogs and he sees the effort up close.
"It's unbelievable. Clonduff camogs have put in serious, serious work. Not just this year but over the last number of years since I have been coming down. There is a sleeping giant there, certainly an All-Ireland within them and we have been talking about this for years," he says.
"I would be called in the odd time to take training and you get to see things. A lot of the time you don't get to see what goes on behind the scenes in a club like that because you are not involved.
"But I was asked to come in and when you are involved a wee bit, you see what it means to them as well."
Once the Ulster club campaigns were finished, it was time for the delayed honeymoon. Across the Bolivia salt flats, up to the Christ The Redeemer statue and the Copacabana beach in Rio, they hit all the main spots in a few south American countries, all the while rehabilitating his damaged knee and getting the odd bit of stick work in.
"We pretty much trekked about and enjoyed ourselves. It was a great part of the world to see. Great to get away and chill out and relax," he says.
"Whenever you do a bit of travelling you catch the bug and want to do a wee bit more. So it is good to see new places and see new things and do different things.
"You put that much into it during the year, the nights you are out training and matches and everything, you need some down time."
For the last month, it's been full-on. St Thomas' of Galway dethroned Loughgiel as All-Ireland champions in a semi-final replay in Clones. Back then, former Antrim manager Dinny Cahill was coaching the Galway team. Recently, he has been helping out Ruairi Óg.
When they do battle in Parnell Park today, they know they have prepared incredibly well with a series of tough challenge matches.
"Three years ago it was great to beat Sarsfields in the semi-final, but the final came and went," recalls Graffin.
"Na Piarsaigh had not bother with us but I would just love to get back there and have a crack at it and try to right the wrongs from that day."
Their panel is ever-evolving. They no longer have the services of Shane McNaughton ("Probably the most talented hurler I have ever played with") as he pursues his acting career in New York.
But one man who could make a flying visit is former Antrim captain, Conor Carson. He is currently doing a Cadetship to become an Aer Lingus pilot. The training is intense.
"He was home at Christmas and doing a bit of training," says Graffin.
"He showed us the programme he is on and he is in the classroom from nine to five and he has tests and stuff. He will be home on the big day and he will be part of the panel without a doubt."
One last big push for another St Patrick's Day in Croke Park.