O’Byrne: Five-year wait for senior return

Secretary general of Basketball Ireland, Bernard O’Byrne, revealed it will be another five years before the green singlet returns to the senior international stage.

Irish squads at all age-groups were disbanded in early 2010 as the association faced a crippling debt crisis of €1.2 million and O’Byrne admitted it could be as late as 2018 before the senior team is reformed.

Ireland sent both a boys and girls squad to the recent European U16 championships, but O’Byrne pointed to the association’s continued financial troubles as the main stumbling block to participation at senior level.

“We are starting from the bottom up and we will be meeting within the next month to see how we will proceed on the international stage over the next two years,” said the former FAI chief executive.

“We need to have a measured re-entry at international level to make sure it is sustainable. The last thing we want to do is to go back for two years and then have to pull them out again. The target is to get the senior teams back out on the court as soon as possible, but realistically it will be four or five years.

“If we got a major sponsor this year we could have a senior team back on the court in six months. In sport, everything boils down to finance.

“There is an appetite to get the senior teams back on the court and it is important a plan is put in place as players will get discouraged if they see that a senior international team isn’t a real probability.”

The domestic scene, no longer bearing the ‘Superleague’ title, returns to action on Saturday week, but a replacement has yet to be sourced for long-time sponsors Nivea, who ended its ties with the sport earlier this year.

O’Byrne denied the loss of Nivea will hamper the association’s annual debt repayment of €200,000, on top of their outstanding FIBA Europe loan.

“Losing Nivea isn’t a major factor in our debt situation. We have a seven year financial plan and we are three and a half years into that. We have reached all the targets set out so far.

“We are trying to convince corporate and commercial entities around the country that basketball is a national sport waiting to be accessed. When you haven’t got a proactive image, the bad news sticks with you. We had our financial meltdown, we dealt with it and moved on. We need to get across the positive aspects of the association, that we are number the one indoor sport in the country, that we are the number one sport for girls at U18 level.”

On top of Basketball Ireland’s exclusion from the Sports Capital Programme imposed earlier in the year, a grant of €500,000 provisionally awarded in 2008 to help towards important structural renewal work at the National Basketball Arena was withdrawn.

“We have made considerable improvements to the arena, but it has been bit by bit, piece by piece, we have had to move slowly. We have repainted the arena, but we could do with €300,000 to do everything we want to do.”

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