Dublin’s National Arena will play host to a crosstown city derby in the final of the Men’s National Cup on January 27. Killester guard Ciaran Roe delivered a 34-point masterclass at the Mardyke Arena tonight to hold off a game Tralee comeback and tee up a decider against reigning champions UCD Marian in a fortnight.
“He was off the charts,” admitted frustrated Tralee coach Pat Price afterwards. And he had plenty to be frustrated about. Right out of the gate the Kerry side were behind the eight-ball, continuing their unwelcome habit of first-half struggles.
In the end of the affair, they forced a frantic finale out of a Killester side looking for the finishing line – as a side without a Cup success since 2010 might be.
But it would have been larcenous for Tralee to nick it at the death. In the battle of the guards, the form horse Paul Dick had to play a poor second to Killester’s Roe, who added five assists to his 34 for an MVP night.
The game started 20 minutes late to to queues outside the Mardyke Arena, but it wasn’t just the Tralee fans struggling to get into the game. Their Warriors opened static on offence and blindsided too often by Roe’s backdoor vision in the opening two quarters.
Where Tralee were reliant on individual improvisation on offence, Roe was knitting the Killester offence together sublimely, bagging 12 points of his own in the first quarter.
It didn’t help Tralee’s cause that the defence mobility looked well shy of the gold standard. Only when the Latvian Janis Dumbars was introduced in the second quarter did Tralee’s D begin to get parity under their own board. Roe though put the icing on a near perfect first quarter with a no-look backdoor to Kieran O’Brien for an emphatic 29-13 lead. That proved decisive right there. Tralee outscored Killester in each of the remaining three quarters, but couldn’t reel in a 16-point deficit.
Roe’s hot streak might have been unsustainable, but the 25-year-old still made a stab at it. As Tralee put a run together close to half time, it was a Roe two and then a reverse pass to Garcia that gave the Dubliners their 43-32 half time lead.
All things considered, that wasn’t a bad bag to bring to the locker room for Tralee coach Pat Price. The Warriors, with both Americans playing hurt, never got any offensive continuity going in the first half. With 6 mins left in the half, guard Andrew McKeever hit a three to stretch Killester’s lead to a yawning 21 points (38-17), even if Paul Dick responded in kind. Dick, regarded by good judges as the Superleague’s form guard, was trying too hard, if anything, to fire Tralee’s offence, but a big conversion from outside by Jordan Evans and a stuff from Keith Jumper offered the huge travelling support from Kerry a thread to hang onto. Suddenly it was 39-32 Killester, but Roe came back in to frank a stunning 18-point, three-assist halt to restore the 11-point interval advantage.
There was little in the third quarter’s early exchanges to indicate Tralee were revving up a revival. But then it came. Paddy Sullivan nailed a three to ease Killester 14 in front, but Eoin Quigley triggered some fun with three of his own, then a lay-up before Fergal O’Sullivan hit three more to turn momentum on its head with 4.53 left in the third. Suddenly it was down to eight (50-42). Killester were within reach. It was still that margin entering the fourth quarter, 56-48, but Tralee – still playing nowhere near their A game – got some forward momentum from Jordan Evans and powerful defence from Donaghy to narrow the gap to four with 8.50 left (56-52).
Fergal O’Sullivan got it to a one score game (58-55) but then went shot crazy in the pandemonium. He wasn’t alone, and for their coach Pat Price, it was like one stop forward, two steps back.
Two points (72-70) was as close at they would get to their maiden cup final. An unusual half court time violation by Roe led to a three from Tralee’s Paul Dick for 68-63 Killester, but the next two series summed up Tralee’s unimpressive evening. Forced shots on both occasions from Evans, one tipped off, gave Killester’s Williams the fast break lay-up for 70-65 with 1.06 remaining. Tralee kept trying, Eoin Quigley slaloming in for two, but Roe – who else? – iced four successive free throws with a desperate Tralee in the penalty, to seal the deal.
Killester top scorers: Ciaran Roe (34), Luis Garcia Hoyos (13), Royce Williams (11)
Tralee top scorers: Paul Dick (15), Jordan Evans (12), Eoin Quigley (11), Keith Jumper (10)