Winning the focus amid Neptune celebrations

NEPTUNE STADIUM, the arena that revolutionised Irish basketball and which is, to many, still the spiritual home of the game on this island, is 25 years old this weekend and it is fitting that the home team should host their long-time arch rivals, DCU Saints, in the Nivea for Men SuperLeague to tip off the celebrations this afternoon (4 pm).

In a couple of weeks time the semi-finals of the National Cup will be staged there – headlined by the derby clash between Neptune and UCC Demons – but Neptune coach Pat Price is looking no further than today’s clash.

Riding high on the crest of a wave at the moment and coming off a huge turnaround against the Northern Conference leaders, Killester, the fans will be expecting something special.

“We are delighted to be hosting DCU Saints to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Neptune Stadium,” Price said. “But, at the end of the day, the points are what’s important.

“Any team with Emmet Donnelly at the point is going to be competitive. The Saints have demonstrated that they can play with the best teams in the league, primarily because of their scoring balance. With 10 players averaging between four and 11 points per game, our perimeter defence will need to be focused and aggressive.”

Saints have a number of selection problems, with Martins Provizors unable to make the trip to Cork due to work commitments, Pat Glover nursing a sprained ankle and Joey McGuirk also ruled out with a thumb injury.

“Missing these three will leave us undersized against a big Neptune team who have found form lately,” Saints’ point guard, Emmet Donnelly, admitted. “We are working hard in training trying to get ourselves out of this rut that we’re in at the moment. Given the form of both sides we’ll have to be at our best to give ourselves a chance.”

UCC Demons have gone for a new American since falling victim to UL Eagles a couple of weeks ago, and they will officially unveil Tyronne Beale at Moycullen tomorrow evening (6pm).

The 6’8” forward should not have any difficulty fitting into their programme as he played under Demons’ coach, Luke D’Alessio, at Bowie College where he averaged 21.4 points and 11 rebounds.

Moycullen, with three consecutive wins behind them, appear to have found their footing in the SuperLeague and will provide the perfect introduction.

“Their team has vastly improved since we played them last and we expect a challenging match all around,” said D’Alessio.

“We must focus on rebounding on both ends of the court and limit our turnovers,. We must contain Nathaniel Fritsch and Cian Nihill, both excellent players.”

The previous contest between the sides in October proved a much closer affair than anyone had predicted. In just their second ever SuperLeague outing they held the champions to 10 points in a game that hung in the balance until late in the fourth quarter.

Tony Hehir’s UL Eagles put the icing on the Christmas cake with a big win over Demons last time out and their clash away to Hoops tomorrow would be a foregone conclusion were it not for the fact that Hoops also hold wins over Demons and Killester who, incidentally, have beaten Eagles twice this season.

“We are in a good position in the league due to our efforts before Christmas,” Hehir said.

“But we now need to consolidate this and get our 2010 game going straight away. There are no easy games coming at us so I will be urging our lads to get into the game early against Hoops and work hard at both ends of the court.

“Hoops have shown good form in beating Killester last day out and we will need to find our top game to take anything away from Dublin.”

Hehir has taken Eagles to the top of the conference, with the loss to Killester – who also defeated them in the cup – the only blot on their SuperLeague record, but he is anxiously awaiting a fitness test on Glenn Wong ahead of the trip to Dublin.

Hoops will once again be relying on their US star, Carlton Aaron, who is averaging 26 points per game this season – the second best scoring average in the league.

UCD/Marian are hoping to have Luke McCrone back in their ranks ahead of Sunday’s clash with Belfast Star.

Marian currently occupy fourth spot in the Northern Conference but they signed off 2009 with a much-needed win over Dublin rivals DCU Saints to keep their hopes of reaching the play-off’s intact.

A win for Star on Sunday would see Danny Fulton’s side narrow the gap on leaders Killester to just two points but their hopes have been hampered by the loss of Matthew McKillop who has work commitments.

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