‘While you’re brushing that up, keep going over there to the Demons bench and don’t stop until you reach the top’, gnarled one demonic Cork basketball wag to event staff.
Half in jest, presumably, but is it time to start talking about a period of transition for Cork basketball at the top table?
Player-coach Colin O’Reilly accepted as much a week ago with regard to an ailing Demons, and the Neptune surge back to the Superleague has been checked by the collegiate call from the US and an unforeseen tragedy. There are seven Superleague teams in Dublin now, and it looks like there’ll be more in the top flight from Kerry than Cork next season.
So what are we talking about here?
“I understand the question,” shrugged Adrian O’Sullivan, a Demon standout in Saturday’s chastening 21-point loss to Templeogue in the National Cup semi-final. “But whatever happens next year with this team, there is a lot of talent in Cork. Neptune are in a lot of Cup semis, Fr Mathews and Ballincollig are on the rise. We are still here.
“We were dominating, now we are not. It’s cyclical and you look at Irish teams the whole way up to senior level, and there’s always a strong Cork representation there. One or two clubs are declining but there are others on the way up.”
Hmm. Demons were Cup winners in 2015 and league champions a year later, but Saturday they looked an outfit raging — albeit, admirably on this occasion — against the onset of some down days. Lehmon Colbert produced his Cup best with 29 points and O’Sullivan, Colin O’Reilly and Kyle Hosford fought back the tide for long stages, but it’s a s hallow bench and the unpalatable truth is that Templeogue is a step ahead of anything the southern capital can offer these days. And Mark Keenan’s men may not even be the best side in Dublin — their decider against UCD Marian (who bested Killester 91-77 in a high tempo other semi) should be an offensive treat at the end of the month.
“We are strong in every position,” Keenan accepted, before cautioning that Superleague toppers UCD Marian can say the same.
“It is going to be tough for any defence against us — if they close us here, we have another option there. You generally find a team has three good scoring options but maybe…”
Keenan checked himself, but Adrian O’Sullivan finished the sentence for him. “Everyone knows they are deeper (on the bench) than anyone else, but when things got sticky, they stuck to their plan too. We made a bit of a run there in the third quarter, went four up. But they stuck to what they do. We have talent too, but Templeogue have a little bit more.”
The winners nailed 14 three-pointers and can rely on a range of outside options from Luke Thompson to Stephen James to the outrageously jet-heeled Lorcan Murphy, who finished with 22 points.
“Lorcan’s a former Leinster high jump champion, a great fella,” gushed Keenan, who is already eyeing up next Saturday’s Cup final dress rehearsal in the Superleague again Iaonnis Liapakis’s side.
“We can’t take the foot off next week, we want to win the league as well. And they won’t want to give up a game as well.”
Oh for such dilemmas if you’re in the UCC Demons locker-room Saturday night. “I have trust in Colin (O’Reilly) and Niall and the lads that we will pull together, that we will win our home games, and aim for a Champions Trophy spot,” Adrian O’Sullivan said.
“If I am at home in a Demons jersey and Colin, Lee, Kyle are on my team with the rest of the lads, then yes I believe we can beat anybody in the country.”
That’s a starting five for sure, but Demons only had nine players togged Saturday, and in terms of bench impact they were outscored 24-4 by Templeogue.
To their credit, Demons played for long periods like they believed. That they were only a point down at the interval (42-41) was a testament to their stubborn defiance in front of their homecourt support. They looked outmatched on defence, with Murphy high-jumping his way to a hat-trick of threes in the first quarter. Throw in Killeen (8), Summers (7), and Bonaparte on six, and it was no surprise Mark Keenan’s side had eased into a 35-26 lead with 6.44 left in the first half.
But Lehmon Colbert had come to play. The four-season Demons centre was unstoppable inside, nailing 19 first-half points.
A Hosford three kept Demons believing, but Neil Randolph drained from outside with 2.24 left to edge the favourites five in front, 40-35, with 1.35 left. Colin O’Reilly picked up a third personal foul but the momentum shot they required arrived from Colbert and Adrian O’Sullivan driving for buckets.
Third quarter, same narrative. Templeogue on top, with Randolph hitting two threes, 62-55, but the Cork side unwilling to accept their fate. A big three from Adrian O’Sullivan — who stepped up hugely in Q3 — made it tight again, and entering the last quarter, Templeogue were still only two up, 64-62.
Eventually, the dam burst, with Templeogue unleashing the outside accuracy of Luke Thompson who nailed a pair of threes and Killeen followed with a lay-up to push the Dubliners 77-66 up.
Demons called a time-out but to no avail, as the hits kept coming, Luke Thompson and Stephen James nailing five threes between them to make it a comfortable last few minutes for Keenan’s men.
Lorcan Murphy (22), Jason Killeen (20), Stephen James (17), Michael Bonaparte (15).
Lehmonn Colbert (29), Adrian O’Sullivan (18), Colin O’Reilly (15).