Basketball’s Women’s European Championship for Small Countries will take place in UCC’s Mardyke Arena next summer, eight nations vieing over six days to succeed Malta as the best second tier nation in Europe. Ireland would be regarded as one of the favourites ever before yesterday’s confirmation it will host the 2018 event.
Basketball Ireland officials brought representatives from the European governing body, FIBA, to Cork recently to run the rule over the Mardyke and yesterday set the wheels in motion to have the facility primed from the June 26-July 1 event in 2018. Last year’s European U18 championships, which drew 23 nations to Dublin, provided the context for yesterday’s preparatory discussions with key Mardyke personnel.
“Often the key factors in ensuring such a big event runs smoothly are very mundane things, like provision of laundry, water and ice machines for the teams,” said Bernard O’Byrne, Basketball Ireland’s general secretary. “There are elements we might think are minor, but when the different countries arrive, these things are major items and if you haven’t planned for them, you have a major problem.
“You can get carried away with transport, accommodation, but you have to put your mind into a team manager or head coach’s thought process and see what’s important to them. It’s the players and the teams. We had a lot of learnings out of last summer’s Under 18 Euros in Dublin, and we produced a debrief which we’ve presented to the folk here at the Mardyke Arena on the things that went wrong — and therefore won’t go wrong this time. We are planning six months ahead.” So too is Ireland’s head coach Mark Scannell who is less engaged with the bunting and the balloons and more focused on getting the best possible Irish squad on the court next summer.
“We were silver medallists (in the European Small Nations) two years ago, which was our first season back in international competition (since 2009). It will ultimately come down to preparation and getting the right people on the floor next year,” he said.
“We will cast the net around the world. We have Jessica (Scannell) and Orla O’Reilly playing in Australia at the moment, Edel Thornton is in the American collegiate programme and doing very well, Fiona Dwyer is in Italy, so this ultimately comes down to funding and whether we are going to fly people home or not for the tournament.
“We will have a two day came in the Mardyke after Christmas, and invite who we feel are the best 18-19 players with aspirations to make the team. It won’t be an open trial, we have looked at a lot of players. But if someone is not invited in December, the door isn’t closed on them. However, we will look to get as many to the Arena in December as possible that have a realistic chance of making the team. That’s when we set out our stall.” Scannell will also be looking for a boost from Portlaoise talent Claire Melia, who underwent surgery on an ACL tear two weeks ago, and begins her rehab in the new year.
Scannell offered an assessment of where Ireland is at in the wake of our self-imposed exile from international basketball for seven seasons from 2009. “There are realistically 24 nations above us, the likes of Italy, France etc. We can compete with the Portugals, Estonia and we should be better prepared than we were for the European Small Nations in 2016 when we lost the final to Malta, having been 12 up at half time.
“The idea would be to go away at Easter and play some nations ranked above us, and get some good quality teams here in May and June for final preparation.”
Yesterday’s announcement is also a ringing endorsement of the facilities at UCC’s Mardyke Arena, with the facility’s general manager Patsy Ryan expressing his pride.
“It is a great endorsement of the world class facilities,” he said, with Scannell concurring: “Home advantage is very important, as was proven with the Under 18 girls in Dublin in August, and the Mardyke is as good as a home venue for us as we have trained and played there so often.”