Tony Leen looks at what we've learned from an action-packed weekend of basketball in Cork.
Five clubs went into Final Four weekend in Cork with three shots of a Cup final appearance, but only one emerged with its hat-trick bid intact.
Mark Ingle’s DCU Mercy program, with Damien Sealy coaching the U18s and Tiffany Corselli the 20’s looked infallible in Cork, but there’s devil in the detail - in their underage successes, they faced a Portlaoise roster minus the considerable (and injured) talents of internationals Claire Melia and Maeve Phelan.
The senior final in three weeks between five-in-a-row chasing Glanmire and the Superleague leaders should provide one of the high points of the biggest hoops weekend of the year.
If Mark Scannell wants to make history with his Cork side, what a way to complete it.
The clubs will also meet in the U18 final, with DCU the defending champions, fancied with the inside threat of Maeve O’Seaghdha and Bronagh Power-Cassidy. Brunell will provide DCU with the U20 final obstacle.
UCC Demons gave their all in attempting to curtail the strength in depth of Templeogue in the Men’s National Cup semi-final Saturday at the Mardyke, but was their ultimate failure symptomatic of a wider trend – that of men’s basketball in transition in Cork?
Neptune’s Under 18 semi winners may think otherwise, but Demons are Leeside’s only Superleague side these days, and a mid-table side at that.
The loss of Liam Chandler (RIP), Sean Jenkins and Adam Drummond to American high schools and Cian Heaphy to long-term injury, has interrupted the resurgence of Neptune, who look likely to spend another season in Division 1.
Ballincollig’s time may come, Fr Mathews too, but for the moment, basketball’s power base rests in the capital.
Brunell head coach Francis O’Sullivan was quick to laud the Irish core of their Cup semi conquerors Glanmire Saturday – but “uncomfortable” at the sequence of events that put recent American recruit Ashley Prim on the champions’ roster against them.
Glanmire’s been at odds with the sport’s governing body in recent weeks over the eligibility of their American player Adily Martucci with O’Sullivan annoyed Brunell didn’t know whether they were facing Prim or Martucci, who had been deemed ineligible prior to the quarter-final.
“I am very uncomfortable with what has happened in Irish basketball in the last couple of weeks,” O’Sullivam said, “over whether (Glanmire’s) American and the rules governing that. We have let down our sport and I am not sure (who’s fault) that is, but as someone who is invested in Irish basketball I am uncomfortable with the mess over Category 1 or Category 2 (players), who was playing against us in the semi – and who wasn’t”.
O’Sullivan insisted it wasn’t sour grapes. “It’s unacceptable at this stage of the season to have this situation. I am putting this at the Superleague Women’s committee’s (door), Glanmire’s door, and the ownership of the league, which is Basketball Ireland’s. Not knowing what Americans we were playing or preparing to face in the semi is wrong – it’s January, it’s not pre-season.”
Glanmire won the Cork derby 77-66, with Prim netting 18.
With 20 games across two venues over three days, unfortunate fixture clashes were inevitable, but most of the local grousing was the Saturday night program which slated UCC Demons’ Cup semi with Templeogue on at the same time as Ballincollig’s President’s Cup semi against Killarney at Neptune Stadium.
Whatever legitimacy the general punter had, it had nothing on Francis O’Sullivan who had one son (Ciarán) playing in Neptune with Ballincollig and another (Adrian) at the Mardyke with Demons.
The O’Sullivans have some practice at this – earlier Saturday, Ciarán sat in the Mardyke for the Women’s Cup semi with his dad coaching Brunell and his girlfriend Claire Rockall starring for Glanmire.
Who you shouting for, we asked?
“No-one,” was the response.
If wily Gaelic football coaches aren’t all over Basketball’s National Cup semi final weekends, they’re missing a trick.
Award for for most insanely athletic star of the weekend must go to Templeogue’s Lorcan Murphy, whom coach Mark Keenan revealed is a former Leinster high jump champion.
Maybe Jim Gavin doesn’t need much help, but Templeogue-Synge Street surely could do with a look? Ballincollig GAA club have hardly forgotten the pace, agility and athleticism that Adrian O’Sullivan brings to UCC Demons.
After all, he helped the club with a Minor football county title six years ago against Douglas in the final.
Don’t be surprised when the hoops season’s done, if he gets a call to help his local GAA team.
As intriguing as the action on the floor is the number of coaches spotting nascent talent on such hoops heavy weekends.
Moycullen’s Paul Kelly came into the weekend with a reputation, and he delivered a 25-point performance as the Galway lads crushed Neptune’s U20s.
The Cork nursery has produced many talents down through the years, and though a couple have been cherry-picked by American schools of late, the likes of U18 starlets Darragh O’Sullivan (son of 80s sharpshooter Tom) and David Murray underline the wellbeing of the club’s youth system.
Though Cork may be looking at a dip in Men’s Superleague fortunes, Leeside will have a representative in three of the four under age finals on Jan 26-28 – Neptune in Men’s U18, Glanmire in Women’s U18, Brunell in Women’s U20 – and Ballincollig and Blue Demons in the President’s and NICC Cup finals respectively.
A cursory glance at the Men’s Division One table underlines what a President’s Cup final awaits in three weeks with the meeting of Killorglin (13-0) and Ballincollig (11-2).
The Kerry side eked out a semi win over Neptune Friday night, and whatever happens in the blue riband in Tallaght, they look a good thing to be playing Superleague basketball next season.
Whether they’ll have Lithuanian Daniel Jakubaitis in their locker room is a moot point.
That the coach, Ignas Sijanis is a compatriot will help, but any Superleague coach present on Friday night must have been thinking of a close season swoop on Puck.
Not only his 28 points, but his work at both ends of the court suggests the Lithuanian will be a wanted man this summer.
“I know he is special, and I hope he wants to stay,” Sijanis remarked.
Apols in advance if it’s deemed politically incorrect to label Brunell’s U20 girls ballsy, but they certainly showed the right stuff in the weekend’s swansong today, a come-from-behind 73-65 semi success over Killester at Neptune Stadium.
Ballsy because many of the same players suffered a meltdown of sorts in the weekend opener on Friday, frittering away a 15-point lead with 6.30 left in the U18 semi against rivals Glanmire to lose by three.
It was a glorious smash and grab for Ronan O’Sullivan’s side and hardly a coincidence that Glanmire have now fashioned comeback Cup wins against Liffey Celtics, Fr Mathews and Ulster Elks.
But for Brunell, it reeked of a lost opportunity so hat-tip to them and the key U20 add-ons, Amy Murphy, Alex Macheta and MVP Andrea Moynihan (19 pts) for turning things around yesterday.
A boost too for coach Danielle O’Leary - after the senior defeat on Saturday it could have collapsed to a disastrous 0-3 weekend for the northside club in Cork city.