The most mentioned basketballer in Cork this weekend isn’t here to quietly bask in her work. Not that Annette Forde ever basked. Not when she was hewn out of backyard battles with her sisters Miriam and Caroline.
But five of basketball’s National Cup semi-finals this weekend in the sport’s hometown will feature her proud children. Maybe that’s worth a bashful bask.
Annette’s premature death through illness last May at 47 crushed a family and left a basketball community to wonder how husband Paul Lenihan and their three sports-mad children would work through it all.
Hoops has helped.
In the Neptune Stadium and the Parochial Hall today and tomorrow, the healing continues. Dylan’s now 17 and his mother drove and drove him towards his ambition to make the Irish U18 squad. He’s already won a Men’s national cup last January with Neptune, a tinderbox moment of emotion for himself and his parents.
“We got bad news in January, but Annette was making sure she was there for the final against UL. We knew things weren’t going great but she was there for him. He’s got a video of her going out on the court afterwards,” Paul whispers. It’s a memory, like others, he is still struggling with.
“Their mother introduced them to basketball. Even though I played it, she did all the work out in the back garden with them. I didn’t see half of the stuff going on. Dylan was going from a GAA pitch to a basketball court, non-stop. Annette was a coach and a taxi service, like any mother. It’s bad that she’s not here now to see the result of her dedication.”
Last Tuesday night, Paul was back courtside, offering quiet guidance to the Glanmire U18’s that their daughter, Hayley (16), is a key component of. She’s also on U20 duty tomorrow and on the senior Glanmire roster for tonight’s women’s cup semi-final. Paul is assistant coach to Mark Scannell but she’s in capable hands anyway and earmarked to do big things.
Another Glanmire U18 and friend, Sarah Kenny, has the same weekend schedule. She’s the daughter of Bernie Lillis, a contemporary of Annette’s during the halcyon days of Blarney and Tralee’s pre-eminence in women’s basketball in this country. A new generation.
“Cup weekend is still special, even if it’s the semis now that are in Cork. We had great times back when Annette and the girls were there. Great memories. Being in Cork is extra special because it’s a basketball town. The Dublin players love coming down here.”
Stepping back in has been good for Paul. “It started with Mark (Scannell) asking me to give him a hand when really he was helping me. I went from 60 hours a week in Pfizer to being at home full time. They (Pfizer) have been really good to me.
“Annette was doing all the coaching, they are there now because of what she was doing with them out the back. I was working all the time. Going out the door in the morning, you thought you were going to hard work, but the real work was what you were leaving behind at home. Now I know that.”
Eli (11) is already showing his mother’s appetite for work on the court. With a rough Christmas out of the way, basketball promises better things in January for the Lenihan and Forde families.
Last Sunday night, Paul got a phone call from Dylan. He’d made the cut, the final 12, for the Irish U18’s. A dream fulfilled. His father drove to Galway to collect him, his heart, at once, bursting and breaking.
“He set his goal to make the Irish team,” Paul struggles. “There’s a picture of Dylan dunking into one of those little plastic rings when he was that high. Hayley was texting it out to everyone this week after making the Irish team with a ‘little did we think’ message.”
It’s week to week, and this is a good one. But the good ones are also the bad ones. Tomorrow, Paul tests the boundaries of bi-location as Hayley tips off her U20 semi at 10.30 in the Parochial Hall while Dylan does likewise with Neptune in the Stadium.
“You have ups and downs, we try to make the bright side of it, but it’s very hard. It’s good being busy and basketball helps, no doubt. The circle is small in Ireland. A lot of people, but a small circle. When Annette, Caroline, Sandy Fitzgibbon, Rose Breen and Bernie were playing in Tralee, we’d bring Dylan down in a buggy to watch. He was one of the first kids from that group. Now the parents are watching the kids. It’s full circle.”
Hayley, he says, doesn’t want to be her mother, but is inevitably shaped by Annette. “She’s very driven herself, and the girls here in Glanmire have given her confidence. Plus Mark Scannell, and his girls, Clodagh and Jessica have helped her confidence. They’re in a good set-up.”
It mightn’t be long then until Cork is dominating women’s Superleague basketball again, like Blarney once did. Sprinkled around the city with different clubs are talents like Edel Thornton, Kelly Diggin, Kate Leneghan, and the Glanmire girls in action this weekend. Maybe even the Scannell sisters down the road. Now that’s something Annette Forde could bask in.