UL claim clash of the superpowers

UL Huskies 93 Team Montenotte Hotel Cork 78
The post-game interview lasted no longer than two and a half minutes, but a barely audible Glanmire coach Andrea Congreaves used the word ‘disappointed’ six times.

While her dejection was as understandable as it was evident, it was excessive. Certainly none of the neutrals left disappointed.

When the top two teams in Women’s Superleague go at it — and for once the Super is appropriate — there are no honourable draws, just crushing defeats. On Saturday night at Upper Glanmire Community Centre, the laurels went home in the visiting team’s coach.

And rightly so. In Rachael Vanderwal, the UL Huskies have the pre-eminent women’s basketball talent in the country, a box-office talent if women’s sport had a box office. Thirty eight (38) points on Saturday night in a team display that had the whiff of point-to-prove about it. James Weldon’s side had racked up 45 straight successes before Glanmire came to Limerick before Christmas and inflicted a 13-point loss on them. It wasn’t just payback on Limerick minds. Before Saturday, the sides were locked atop the SuperLeague with three games remaining and the 15-point win should guarantee UL top seeding for the play-offs.

Though that mightn’t seem critical, in the rarified atmosphere that these two sides inhabit, it’s psychologically very important. Glanmire had a big and noisy local support on Saturday, but when these two sides collide, basketball’s wider community of coaches, players and anoraks come along to gape.

The on-court intensity was stunning, the pace and ferocity of collisions shuddering. Glanmire and UL share an elevated plateau not just in women’s basketball in Ireland, but in women’s sport.

Not that any of that lessened Congreaves’ depression after the exhibition: “Disappointed is the only word I can think of. We didn’t play anything like we’ve been playing all season.

“Emotions are a bit high at the moment and I don’t want to say something I’ll regret. I’ll look at the tape. This club wanted to achieve a lot of things this year and we’ve managed some of those but....”

On the opposite bench, James Weldon was marvelling at his team’s focus since their Cup success last month. “Our best practice of the season was Thursday night and I just felt very confident we would click here in Cork. We’ve trained better in the last two weeks than we did before the Cup.

Vanderwal, the Team GB Olympian who lives in Cork, showed a hot hand from the off and had ten of her side’s first 12 points. UL led 27-16 at the end of the first quarter, but Glanmire did what Glanmire do — they hung in there and slowly reeled UL in. A three from Amanda O’Regan made it 28-33 with 5.03 left in the half, and two more from Tomica Bacic made it a one score game. However Vanderwal was unstoppable. Three threes from the Canadian eased Limerick 50-34 ahead at the half.

“She’s something else,” agreed Weldon. “I was worried she would be flat, because I had her down in Limerick helping me with national (under-age) stuff the last few days. She’s an exceptional player. (Munster’s) Paul O’Connell was talking to us at international training and pointing out how an average player can become a good player if they’re fit. And a good player can become a great player if they’re super fit. Nobody trains as hard as her, she trains twice a day.”

And what pleased Weldon more than anything? “It’s great to play in front of a crowd. The players in both squads deserve that, but too often they don’t get it.”

In truth, UL — with Vanderwal playing every minute — held Glanmire at arm’s length in the second period. Gráinne and Niamh Dwyer kept the hosts in touch, but it never got tight enough for the home crowd to spook UL. Limerick centre Michelle Fahy bagged 17 and her back-up Aoife McDermott picked up 14 off fast breaks as Glanmire got desperate down the stretch. The fifteen-point margin was significant in the sense that UL will prevail in the head to head with Glanmire if they lose one of their two remaining games — and next weekend’s trip to Waterford is hardly a gimme.

UL scorers: R Vanderwal 38, M Fahy 17, A. McDermott 14, R Clancy 10, L Galvin 8, K Fahy 4, S. McGorry 2.

Glanmire scorers: G. Dwyer 25, N Dwyer 24, A O’Regan 15, T Bacic 8, M. Breen 4, A. McKenna 2.

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