Graham, a former captain of CIT Football Club, graduated in 2003 with an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering, is the present Cork Senior Football Captain. He has represented Ireland in the International Rules Series on seven series, captaining the 2003 team. He was chosen as player of the series on three occasions. He was a recipient of a CIT Bursary for 1999-2003 during which time he played in 5 Sigerson Football campaigns
Graham has been playing for Cork since 1997 – played 2 years Cork Minor, 3 years Cork U21 with very little to show, winning only one Munster U21 championship against Limerick in 2001. He made his Senior Championship Debut against Limerick in 2000 and he has been a regular on the side since. Graham is the holder of 4 Senior Munster Medals – 2 National Leagues and had the honour of captaining Cork to All Ireland Senior Success in 2010. Graham won a Senior County Championship with Bantry in 1998. – He is the holder of 3 All Stars awards and has played on numerous occasions for Munster in the Railway Cup.
The Compromise Rules Experience.
Do you consider it an honour to be selected on the Irish Compromise Rules Team?.
The short answer is yes. Like all athletes, amateur or professional, to represent your country in any sport at any level is very satisfying. For my own club ,Bantry Blues, it is both a recognition and an honour.
In what years have you played?.
My first selection was in 2001, and again in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2008. I missed the 2006 season due to a cruciate injury. The 2007 series was shelved due to the violence of the 2006 series.
Did being captain of the Irish Team create any extra pressures?.
Unlike being a County Captain with it’s gradual increase in interest and pressure as the season develops, the Compromise Rules Series is contracted into a two week period. With media attention and sponsorship work the whole situation tends to be more intense. Once you know what to expect , you can prepare properly for these extra demands.
Does playing with players from other counties with different styles present a problem?.
Not really, as I have played Railway Cup and Sigerson , I am well used to mixing with players from other counties. Most players are a little quiet and diffident at the start, but the initial one or two tough training sessions tend to break down these barriers. The Friday and Saturday get to-gethers help to build both comradery and a good team spirit. One can then enjoy and value the whole experience.
Can motivation after a long County or Club season be a problem?.
Losing an All Ireland Final or indeed a Semi Final, can be a devastating experience and it is hard to find the heart or the interest to immediately start training and preparing with the Irish panel. Having a few other Cork team mates involved helped to share the disappointment. When on the first night’s training one encounters the excitement and enthusiasm of the management and the team panel the motivation kicks in.
Did the preparation and training differ from the usual Gaelic Football routines?.
Yes, the drills we performed placed heavy emphasis on the tackle. There is no comparable aspect in Gaelic Football. Being tackled and wrestled to the ground comes as a shock to most Gaelic players. This can lead to problems with discipline and also a turnover of the ball to the opposition. To counteract these problems, the physical coach of Welsh Rugby Team The Neath Ospreys, Mike McGurn was introduced to the coaching set-up. We found his training systems and methods of hugh benefit. Former Irish Rugby International Trevor Brennan also took us for a session. All in all we were well prepared for the physical and tactical aspects of the game before we arrived in Perth for the first International.
How about the training and preparation on your arrival in Australia?.
As the first Test takes place within one week of arrival, when time is allowed for the problems of jet lag, fatigue and acclimatisation, very little time is left for any further intensive training. Light sessions were held to allow time to mentally focus on the first Test. The key to success is the quality of the preparation done prior to leaving Ireland.
The series has been plagued with outbursts of violence in the past, why was 2008 so different ?.
I feel 2008 was a watershed for the series. A repeat of the scenes of 2005 and 2006 which led to the shelving of the 2007 series, would have caused the cessation of all future competition. Great efforts were made into an understanding of the rational behind the Compromise Rules. Both panels, in the presence of the match referees studied videos of previous Compromise Rules matches. We all fully understood what was allowed and what was deemed foul play and also the consequences of breaking these rules. Both Association’s management and players bought into the process and hence we had an exciting and competitive series played in the correct spirit.
What are the main differences between Gaelic Football and The Compromise Rules game?.
Obviously the tackle which we have discussed. The interchange of players also takes a little getting used to. In GAA if you are replaced it normally means that your game time is finished.In Compromise Rules it’s only a time out process, so the replaced player must remain focused as he will be returning to the game.
Could we in the GAA learn anything from the AFL?.
Of course we can always learn and improve. I think the mark could be introduced into GAA, initially confined to the kick outs with the proviso that the kick out travel beyond the 45 metre line. This would encourage and reward clean high fielding around the middle of the field. It might also put an end to the congestion and fouling which is prevalent in this area of the pitch. I would also allow a direct pick up from the ground, again with the proviso that both feet are standing on the ground while doing so. In Irish weather conditions it can be very difficult for players to execute and referees to interpret the traditional toe pick. The direct pick up should also speed the game up and prevent rucks forming. It seems to work well in Ladies Football. An attempt at these modifications could be introduced for a trial period in the National League.
How does been treated as a full time professional while in Australia with the Irish Team differ from your County amateur experience?.
There is a hugh difference. Obviously an amateur has time restraints due to work or study commitments. As a professional, one has greater time to prepare both physically and mentally for the sport. Also it allows plenty of time to rest, thus niggling or worrying injuries are given time to heal or can be treated immediately, and so prevent the development of further or more serious injuries later.
Would you be worried about recruitment of young GAA players to the AFL?.
Honestly, I would not be overly concerned. At best it offers an opportunity to earn a living as a professional athlete in an allied sport. Players who experience this opportunity and then return to the GAA will surely have benefited in a personal and sporting manner, and hopefully will bring these benefits to the game of Gaelic Foorball. If the GAA presents its games in a sensible and attractive fashion to young people, it has nothing to fear from any other sport. The introduction of under age development squads with emphasis on skills, discipline, health, diet etc. would benefit players, schools, clubs, and Irish society in general. Graham has represented Ireland in the Compromise Rules Series on six occasions, captaining the 2003 team. He was chosen as player of the series on three occasions.