No, it’s not okay to lose your first final, insists Brunell coach

Brunell has already made club history by reaching a first National Cup final, but the trophy is of greater interest to coach Tim O'Halloran than the occasion

Brunell coach Tim O’Halloran threw up at work this week but it’s nothing compared to how sick he’s going to feel if his side doesn’t go the final mile and create history at the National Arena tomorrow.

O’Halloran savoured the high-octane rush of cup final weekend on 10 separate occasions as player and coach, so he has zero tolerance for the notion that it’s okay for Brunell to come up short on their maiden final appearance against the country’s best team tomorrow.

And his Brunell players have been told that.

“There’s no point trying to tell the girls it’s just another game, because it’s not really,” O’Halloran says, now recovered from his 24-hour bug.

“It is the cup final, and though I was lucky enough to be involved in a lot of them, I reminded myself in the dressing room before the first one that I might never be back. You have to enjoy it, but you don’t want to be loaded with regrets coming off the floor. For every final, the occasion can either get to you or inspire you,” he added.

We don’t know what it’s going to do, but after the semi-final win over Fr Mathews, the way the girls stepped up on the big occasion, I’d be confident.

“Honestly? I wouldn’t swap my squad for the other team.”

Except that the other team is Liffey Celtics, 10-0 in the Superleague with two of the country’s free-est scoring Americans and a trio of Irish internationals to boot.

“They are favourites, but I think we have the talent to match them and I know we have the heart and the determination to push on. I don’t subscribe to that you have to win one to lose one,” says the former Blue Demon. “That’s not a cliche I particularly like. We train three nights a week to be involved at this stage of the cup. Who is going to know in five years time even who came second?”

Brunell are no mugs themselves in the Superleague, and after a progress campaign last year under Francis O’Sullivan, they’re 6-5 this season in League fare this time around. However, victory tomorrow evening would still have a sense of fairytale about it. The club is steeped in Cork city’s northside and was only founded in 1984. Though this is O’Halloran’s first coaching foray into the club, his sister Ann Foley is the chairperson. That in itself cranked up the pressure a notch.

It would mean so much to so many people. I saw that after the semi-final, the feelgood sense spread right across the club, from the underage to the senior committee. For myself, it would mean a lot too, because I was under pressure coming into the post, with my sister being the chairperson etc. There was a lot of pressure on Ann as well. People talk, but you have to try and ignore that.

O’Halloran worked hard on the players’ fitness pre-season, and retaining American Maddie Ganser was a boost. She had an outstanding semi-final on defence, shutting down Grainne Dwyer at key moments. Riding shotgun was Latvian Linda Rubene, but there were a number of eye-catching semi-final step-ups - not least from their Victory Scholar (college import) Tricia Byrne - but particularly from true Nellies’ Danielle O’Leary and Amy Waters. The rush of underage talent in Brunell has already broken through in the form of Simone O’Shea, and there’s plenty more bubbling underneath.

“I would have been a supporter of the club rather than being directly involved over the years but I was hearing stuff about them – they weren’t fit enough was a common one - so that was no my No 1 goal before this season: If we lost a game there was no one going to say we did so because of a lack of fitness,” the head coach says.

“We had a pre-season that I reckon no-one else would have committed to – we were going four days a week from the end of July through August and September. Every Saturday morning, the girls were in the Kingsley Hotel on ‘Speedflex’, a really strong cardio programme that doesn’t put a heavy load on physically. The first Superleague game was October 6 and we had nine weeks done at that stage.”

Liffey Celtics have been to the Parochial Hall and seen off Brunell 62-46, but the Cork side is coming off a surge in form, beating DCU Mercy last weekend.

“We’ve been putting in a game plan for this final, which is different to the norm in itself. In the Superleague, it’s hard to be working a different game plan every single week. Besides, you can’t go away from the stuff you are working on either. But with a once off cup final, you can work on a specific plan. The girls know it’s a huge occasion.

“They are a great bunch of girls. At the start of the season, we had 14 trying out, but one of the young girls was doing her Leaving, so we went with 13, thinking there would always be one or two missing or injured - but it hasn’t happened. They’ve been there week in, week out.” If tomorrow’s televised final (TG4, 5.30pm) is a shoot-out, Brunell may struggle, but the Arena’s notorious rings make that unlikely. Brunell hasn’t had the comfort of a shooting session in Tallaght before the final — “they are the toughest rings in the country for shooters” — but it’s not going to be an excuse either way, O’Halloran insists.

He has an interesting take too on the club’s DNA and the internal debate on whether Brunell needs to expand beyond its Gurranabraher home.

There’s huge underage talent in the club, and that’s nearly all local, but the aim of Brunell should be to be the best women’s basketball club in Cork. In that scenario, you are attracting good players anyway, from different parts. And what club wants to turn away good players? But you need to ensure you’re not rinsing out your own identity either.

“Glanmire dominated for a while but the top club in Cork is up for grabs again now. Brunell needs to grab that now. It’s up to the club then.”

An historic first National Cup win tomorrow would be some launchpad for those ambitions.

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