By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Two of the county’s greats were to the fore once more as Down retained their senior status and sent Offaly down the intermediate grade as a result of their well-deserved victory in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie championship relegation play-off at the National Games Development Centre in Abbotstown.
Sara-Louise Graffin and Niamh Mallon have been representing the red and black for more a quarter of a century between them, enjoying a number of highs and plenty lows in that time.
It is 17 years since Graffin joined her sister Fionnuala Carr on the county panel and she returned to the panel this year after missing last season due to giving birth to her daughter.
Seven months later, she was giving a player-of-the-match performance as Clonduff won the All-Ireland intermediate club title and the legendary goal sneak was at it again in Dublin, scoring 1-4 in the county colours.
Mallon is one of the most skilful and glittering attackers in the country and she weighed in with seven points, five from play, with Saoirse Sands providing the only other score for Down in their 1-12 to 0-6 triumph.
Offaly lacked a similar threat and Clodagh Healy was their leading scorer with four points, three from frees. Only Faye Mulrooney and Labhaoise Glynn added points.
Down had moved ahead by three points after ten minutes, Graffin making her first mark after just ten seconds and Mallon splitting the posts a couple of times.
Leahy got Offaly off the mark but the goal arrived five minutes later, Graffin and Mallon exchanging passes before the former provided the usual convincing finish.
Paul Donnelly’s crew wasted a few chances too but led by 1-7 to 0-2 at the break and with scores harder to come by as the cascading made constructive play more difficult after the resumption, Down were always doing enough to cement their place in the top rank.
It was a tough conclusion to a difficult campaign for Offaly, who are managed by former Tipperary All-Ireland winner Noelle Kennedy and also endured relegation to the third tier of the League. They will hope that their rebuilding process will be easier in calmer waters next year.
Meanwhile, the Nancy Murray Cup semi-finals were also held and as a result, it will be Mayo and Wicklow that will play in the decider at the NGDC in Abbotstown on July 29.
Mayo turned around the result of the Division 4 Very League final with a convincing 3-5 to 0-3 over last year’s champions at O’Neills Healy Park, while 2022 runners-up Wicklow were comfortable winners against Louth, emerging from the Mattock Rangers grounds by 5-11 to 0-6.