By John Coughlan
Five derby games dominate the opening weekend of basketball’s Men’s Superleague with the renewal of the Cork rivalry between Neptune and UCC Demons topping the bill at Neptune Stadium.
Demons have been decimated in recent years with the loss of key players and will go into this game as long-odds underdogs.
American Lehmon Colbert who donned Demons colours for four years changed clubs over the summer and surprisingly, Neptune was the club he hooked up with.
Many of the Demons faithful were shocked at Colbert’s decision but the American explained himself yesterday: “I trained hard over the summer and was ready to commit to a fifth season but it became clear I wasn’t in the plans of Demons’ coach.”
Neptune didn’t take too long dithering over a move for Colbert and tomorrow he will be coming up against players whom he had forged a great relationship during a successful era with UCC Demons.
“I am looking forward to helping the young lads at Neptune getting up to the pace of the Superleague and, hopefully, I can help them win this crucial derby game.”
The mood in the Demons camp is positive despite being written off in many quarters with the loss of talents such as Adrian O’Sullivan to the British Superleague.
Said Demons player/coach Colin O’Reilly: “We have lost players for various reasons, but at the end of the day they will have their reasons and I have to respect them, as people make decisions what’s best for them. My job is getting an inexperienced side ready for a game that’s probably coming too soon for both clubs but we will play the hand we are dealt and do our best. The season does not depend on winning this game alone.”
Coach O’Reilly signed 6’ 4” American Brandon Watts and this will be a tough baptism as he only arrived in Ireland last week.
The Sunday’s Well club have also signed Latvian Girts Lazdans, a 6’ 8” forward and he should give them more scoring options.
Neptune head coach, Paul Kelleher stated: “It’s an exciting time for the club to be back at Superleague level. It’s also great for Cork basketball.
“It’s taken a while, but we would like to believe we have done our business right and have earned the right to be back here. It is an extremely difficult start to the season for us playing against a team with so much firepower and a winning
culture, with experienced players who know how to be successful at this level, so you would have to say Demons are the favourites going into this game. We have to be prepared to match their intelligence, they will have the physical edge but we have to find a way to get our strengths ahead of theirs if we are to have any chance.”
The biggest crowd of the weekend may be in the Tralee Sports Complex for the Kerry derby as Garvey’s Tralee Warriors host Keane’s SuperValu Killorglin.
The Warriors surprisingly axed American coach Mark Bernsen at the end of last season with former UCC Demons and Neptune coach Pat Price stepping into the hot-seat.
Killorglin were promoted after winning the Men’s Division One league last season and coach Ignas Sijianus is looking forward to this intriguing clash.
“We are very excited for the coming Superleague season and are really looking to build on the fantastic campaign we had last year. Saturday is a baptism of fire especially with the big crowd there but my players will be ready.”
Kieran Donaghy, who recently retired from intercounty football, will line-out for the Warriors, but will be part of the Austin Stacks side playing in the Kerry SFC quarter-final at 6pm before dashing up to the Complex.
UCD Marian have lost Dan James but have signed Aidan Dunne, the former Eanna guard as they get ready to welcome DCU Saints — who have brought in ex-Templeogue stalwart Mike Bonaparte.
The talking team of the summer has been Belfast Star who have added real depth to their roster with a number of new signings but newly-appointed coach Adrian Fulton will be under no illusions when he takes his side to play Templeogue.
Griffith Swords Thunder have the nucleus of the same squad from last season and their clash with Pyrobel Killester at the Alsaa will not be for the faint hearted.
It’s also derby day in Galway, with Moycullen preparing to host Maree in the Kingfisher, NUIG: “We’re obviously looking forward to the game,” said Moycullen head coach John Cunningham.
“Maree have two Division One college imports this season which makes them a very different team. We played them at the weekend in the Donie Greene tournament, and while we came out on top, we saw enough to know Saturday will be a whole different challenge.”
In the Men’s Division One meanwhile, there are a number of big fixtures ahead, including two top-of-the-table clashes, one in each conference.
In the northern conference, newcomers Bad Bobs Tolka Rovers will be hoping that they can keep their winning streak intact as they travel across the Liffey to DBS Éanna who are also unbeaten.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Éanna this weekend,” said Tolka’s Emmet Geoghegan.
“These are the types of games you want to be involved in. Éanna have been very efficient in their play so far, they are shooting a great percentage, particularly from behind the arc. Heading into their gym, with them playing so well, will be an interesting challenge.
“We’ve started slowly in our opening games, and have only played to our potential in periods. If we can address this some way this weekend, I hope it will put us in a good position. Either way, I’m expecting an exciting and tough game.”
In the southern conference, Tradehouse Central, Ballincollig and Limerick Celtics will go head-to-head in Cork, with both teams sitting 4-0 after the opening few weeks of the season.
Said Ballincollig boss, Kieran O’Sullivan. “It’s important that we come out with intensity from the start, we are expecting a big crowd so it should be interesting.”
Another Limerick derby is also in store this weekend, this time with LIT hosting UL Sports Eagles on Saturday evening.