Killester aiming for redemption

DEFENDING champions, 11890 Killester, will be red hot favourites going into Sunday’s NIVEA for MEN SuperLeague final at the National Basketball Arena but coach, Mark Keenan, has been around long enough to realise there are no foregone conclusions in this type of situation and Bord Gáis Neptune, he reckons, are not ones to be taken lightly.

The Cork side’s Pat Price would appear to have a discreet ‘ignore us at our peril’ message for the champions but the astute American who has savoured more glory than most since first arriving in Ireland back in the 1990’s is the first to admit that even he is a little taken aback by the fact that this Neptune side has made such huge advances at such an early stage in the project.

He has had his problems, however, with injuries, illness and all the niggly things that can upset coaching preparations but he has been fortunate in recent weeks to have a full bench at his disposal and, almost immediately, the results came.

“What we found was that when we got the full line-up together we were able to show a bit of consistency in our approach and our rate of improvement began increasing day and day,” said Price.

“We have really had good preparation for Sunday by virtue of who we have played over the last four or five weeks — Killester, DCU Saints, Belfast Star — preparation comes in many ways but ours came through who we have been playing. They are all well coached physical teams who are bigger than us. Our guys have already faced every kind of challenge they are going to face.”

He admitted, however, that there is always pressure from within the club for success based on the historical factor that Neptune are the most decorated team in the SuperLeague. They have won the title 11 times but one has to go back to 2003 for their last taste of success.

While the emphasis over the past two seasons has been on youth, there is a nice sprinkling of experience in the side. Ger Noonan has been playing the basketball of his career while Michael Bonaparte, an ex-Killester player, and Phil Taylor are the epitome of consistency.

For 11890 Killester, the game represents an opportunity to end the season on a high after their treble hopes were dashed by UCD Marian in January with defeat in the National Cup. They have two victories over Neptune already this season but Coach Mark Keenan is prepared to leave those memories in the locker room.

“Neptune have showed over the last three weeks just how good they are,” he admitted. “They managed to beat Star in Belfast, DCU Saints in their quarter-final in Dublin, and then beating UL Eagles in Limerick on Saturday night in their semi-final. Beating UL on their home patch is a very difficult thing to do. We must come on Sunday with the right mindset.”

In the Women’s SuperLeague final Team Montenotte Hotel Cork face UL and though the Cork side could well have been written off at the start of the season with so much movement among the bench, Coach Mark Scannell always seems to come up with the answers.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone could have coped with the losses that we have had this season and still done so well. We have some wonderful talent overseas but we haven’t dwelt on what could have been and instead focused on what we have.”

Now they are just one game away from retaining the league title they won in style last season but, once more, they face a mammoth task against an in-form UL who are back in the final after a four year absence.

UL coach, James Weldon, has an exciting squad that includes Rachel Vanderwal (Great Britain), Natalie Taylor (former New Zealand Olympian) and Irish international Michelle Fahy, as well as Fiona Scally and Louise Galvin.

But their only defeat in the SuperLeague was a 58-55 loss to Montenotte last November and while they avenged that with an 87-52 drubbing they will tread warily.

“We have set ourselves certain targets and our main goal is to perform on Sunday and hopefully bring the trophy back to UL,” said Coach James Weldon.

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