By Brendan Mooney
ABRAKEBABRA Tigers are top of the pile in basketball’s Southern Conference — but watch out for Limerick Lions, who are on a high after their seven-point weekend victory over Mardyke UCC Demons in Cork.
It put them second in the Nivea for Men SuperLeague table, just two points behind Tigers.
"Now we are exactly where I hoped we'd be going into the Christmas break top two or three in the SuperLeague and we are in the quarter finals of the cup as well," coach Tom Hehir stated.
"We have been showing real battling qualities in recent weeks. We had a really tough game against UCD in the cup after they had beaten us a week earlier, while on Friday night, Demons led us by 15 points at one stage and came back to lead again in the third quarter.
"This is a very young team and we don't have a real star player. Every night someone will step up and do something special.
"We had our young Canadian, Liam Farrell (21), at the weekend and Stephen King had a fine game at 18.
"But they all have defining roles and they are learning all the time. We are now in a situation where we are getting everybody to understand their role we can start anyone on the night and that's a situation that we have never been in before.
"I would say there has not been a game yet where everybody has played to his full potential. We always have somebody struggling but someone else will always step up.
"We have two home games leading up to the Christmas break Merry Monk next weekend and then Hoops and neither will be easy. But this is a team I would like to have together for a few years. It is a team with lots of potential."
Ironically, it's a team built out of desperation. Hehir had all-but stepped down last summer until he was persuaded to come back.
He returned without a sponsor but the Limerick basketball fans have rallied round and the players have responded in the best possible fashion.
The Cork clubs, Neptune and Demons, will face each other in another local derby at Neptune Stadium next Friday licking wounds after weekend reverses Neptune were unlucky to go down by three points against Tigers in Tralee on Saturday.
However the up side for coach Jim Nugent was the display of his veteran guard, Stephen McCarthy. 'Stodser' has been one of the top players in Irish basketball for 15 years and his 28 points on Saturday underlined his continuing value to the Cork club.
Neptune are the only team to have beaten Tigers in Tralee over the past couple of seasons and for a time it appeared as if they might just steal another win. Tigers were five up after the first quarter and led by only three at half time after McCarthy hit them with four three-pointers.
Tigers were five up again at the end of the third quarter and it was nip and tuck when Daveeno Hines was fouled out with four minutes. Ultimately, Tralee's Chris Craig and Luke O'Hea stepped up to hit two free throws apiece and clinch the home victory.
Mike Quirke turned in another MVP performance for the home side, with 24 points.
Merry Monk Ballina provided further misery for MDS Star in the form of an 89-76 home victory to get themselves back on track with Americans Lawrence Young (34pts) and Josh Lewis on fire, assisted by Ronan McGarrity, and Deora March making a welcome return from injury, even if his time was limited.
It was the start of a great weekend for McGarrity who went on to play a starring role for Ballina Stephenites in the Connacht club football championship final yesterday.
Roma St Vincent's kept up their pursuit of DART Killester in the Northern Conference with an eight -point win over UCD at a packed UCD Sports Centre.
Indeed, it appeared at times as if it might be something of a rout for Roma, who enjoyed a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter, with Cedric Peoples keeping UCD in touch. At the start of the third quarter they went 16 points clear and this gave them the cushion they needed.