Dramatic finals weekend continues basketball's resurgence in Ireland

Basketball continued its resurgence in this country with a Cup final weekend sprinkled with

Dramatic finals weekend continues basketball's resurgence in Ireland

The Liapakis technical

It was Charlie Sheen who delivered one of college life’s great truisms in St Elmo’s Fire: ‘It’s never a party til something gets broken’.

Basketball Ireland could take a similarly jaunty view of their shop window weekend of the year. Like it ain’t a proper sporting thing without some sort of referee controversy, right?

Actually, not so much.

There was a cloud of suited displeasure around the Arena that poured from Saturday night into Sunday that the Men’s National Cup final, which Templeogue edged 68-62, should end in rancour and acrimony over a technical foul decision on UCD Marian head coach Ioannis Liapakis for encroaching a couple of feet onto the court with 15 seconds remaining.

What he was doing when official Emma Perry pinged him, was exhorting his players to shoot the three, but the common sense-less decision stopped the game’s climax in its tracks.

It also daubed a stain over Templeogue’s win, coach Mark Keenan accepted afterwards. Was Perry correct by the letter of the law? Yes. Should she have swallowed the whistle at that moment and let common sense prevail? Of course.

Reaction to the call was swift and septic.

“(UCD Marian) fought on their backs to give themselves a chance to tie the game and then to have it taken away like that is just unfair,” said Kieran Donaghy, one of the milder criticisms of the decision.

It didn’t pass unnoticed too that the official, who was also earmarked to handle the women’s final, did not take to the floor Sunday.

Glanmire’s graceful bow

It isn’t every night you get to chinwag with a legend over a double cheeseburger at a McDonald’s Drive Thru in South Tipperary.

And applaud her in person for a classy post-final reaction. People might say Gráinne Dwyer and Glanmire have enough silverware after seven Cups in eleven seasons, but the manner of their 72-71 loss to DCU Mercy had to sting.

Nevertheless, Dwyer made it her business, as a champion, to go around to all the Dublin players after Sunday’s shootout to congratulate them.

No airs and graces then and none later as she poured herself out of a car for a late-night takeaway.

The loss hurt, she said, but it’s probably good for women’s basketball as a whole.

Earlier coach Mark Scannell had used that word too – hurt – but as an incentive for the days and months ahead. Women’s basketball owes Dwyer and her Glanmire colleagues plenty. But don’t write their obits just yet.

The Ash-trey

Nice message from her proud dad, Mike, to Glanmire’s Ashley Prim on Facebook after the American’s win-it-all three-pointer rimmed out on the buzzer Sunday night.

DCU Mercy coach Mark Ingle agreed that Prim was a problem all night for the Dubliners, and she made five of seven three-point attempts.

Mark Scannell wasn’t lying when he said he’d have signed all day long for the ball in Prim’s hands to complete the historic five in a row. “She’s a really good shooter. I thought it was in the moment it left her hand.”

No surprise there. Another Facebook post from dad shows Prim using a shooting machine to practice her fifteen footers before heading for Europe last year. She nailed every one. Added Dad: “Ashley gave a great effort. Stayed focused, keep working. Luv u.”

Dublin dominance

We’ve mentioned this before, but it looks like the handover of basketball supremacy from Cork to Dublin is, if anything, accelerating.

DCU Mercy completed a Cup final treble over the weekend of Under 18, Under 20 and Senior behind the coaching ticket of Mark Ingle and Damien Sealy.

Given the number of under-age talent already in the DCU senior set-up, that project doesn’t look like a one-season wonder.

Indeed, Ingle reckoned after the senior win that they are a season, if not two, ahead of schedule. How much of it is down to proper, from-the-ground-up, coaching?

Templeogue completed a Men’s Senior and U18 double, with Jason Killeen and Puff Summers piloting the teenagers to success. And KUBS picked off Moycullen in the Men’s U20 final – that’s all six senior and under age titles in both grades staying in the capital. Hmmm.

Emma Gallagher, Fr Mathews, races up the court during the Senior Women’s Cup final against Meteors.
Emma Gallagher, Fr Mathews, races up the court during the Senior Women’s Cup final against Meteors.

Ballincollig’s long road

SO is Ballincollig ready to rise and take its place among the great nations of the earth? Or among Basketball’s Superleague elite at least?

That’s the next target for Kieran O’Sullivan’s crew after their epic President’s Cup win over Killorglin in one of the games of the weekend.

Cameron Clark might just have been the MVP of the weekend, never mind this final, the Texan pouring in 29 points from all points of the compass after shooting 39 in the semi-final.

They trail leaders Killorglin and Neptune by six points in Men’s Division One and host the Kerry side on Feb 17.

O’Sullivan said the club’s first national cup win must be a means to an end, and not a full stop in itself. If Clark stays around and the O’Sullivans stay healthy, they’ve got a chance.

Classy Culloty

If past pain sweetens the victory, then Liam Culloty enjoyed his Monday better than most.

The Kerry man, son of former coach Mike, had a couple of heart-breakers in 2013 and 2014 with Tralee Imperials but steered St Mary’s, Castleisland to one of the more impressive weekend Cup triumphs in the Women’s NICC final over Killester (71-54).

Culloty is also in charge of Ireland’s U17 Girls this season having previously coached the 18’s and his side delivered a sharply-drilled display in his first season in charge in the hoops hotbed of Castleisland.

Denise Dunlea and ladies Football All-Star Lorraine Scanlon stood out.

Coughlan’s catch

Nine National Cups. Seriously? When 39-year-old Shane Coughlan slipped off his gym shoes for the final time Saturday lunchtime, he did so as one of the most decorated basketball players in Irish history.

Six National Cups with Demons, a second Intermediate crown Saturday to go with an under-age victory way back when. No fanfare, no spotlight as they eased past Leixlip in the off-Broadway slot of 10am.

Just as he’d like it. It also gave the Demons club faithful something to latch onto at a time of big question about the future direction of the club, from Superleague down.

Passing the baton

Lee Strand, Tralee were honoured at half-time in the DCU Mercy-Glanmire epic Sunday - 25 years on from their Women’s National Cup victory over Naomh Mhuire.

That too had an epic end to it, with Naomh Mhuire’s Eilis ni Laoire missing a last second shot as they came up short to the Kerry girls, 59-57.

What struck over the weekend was how the Tralee women (with a little help from their ex-Blarney compadres) and many other former greats of the game, have passed on the bug to their kin.

Of that Tralee team, Rose Breen, Deirdre Twomey, Bernice Dowling, Caroline Forde and Annette Forde (RIP) all had sons or daughters involved in weekend cup finals.

Also, anyone who watched the three-point shooting of Neptune’s Darragh O’Sullivan in a gripping U18 Men’s decider against Templeogue couldn’t but be reminded of his father, Tom’s, mesmerising talent from outside the arc.

Tv or not tv

Much confused comment about the empty seats Sunday night for the televised women’s cup final.

Not least, because some hoops fans postponed planned trips to the Arena on the basis of the final day being officially ‘sold out’.

While 5.30pm on a Sunday isn’t the most attractive slot for those travelling, the regular culprit – the demands of live TG4 tv – can’t be blamed exclusively this time.

In fact, the final day session (sold as one all-day €17 ticket) was a sell-out, but supporters of KUBS and Moycullen, who faced off in the U20 final at 10am Sunday didn’t hang around all day. Understandably so.

It’s the perennial problem with scheduling on these weekends, complicated by the fact that DCU Mercy, with three teams, and Templeogue, with two finalists, had to be spaced out over the three days. Pity though.

The DCU Mercy-Glanmire final truly was a Super Sunday finale, even with all the GAA counter-attractions on the day.

The women’s final was the most watched of TG4’s hoops specials over the past few days, with an average of 21,000 individuals.

30% of the audience across the week was aged 15-44, ten points above the station average. Coverage of the National Cup reached 319,000 people in total across four broadcasts - including one repeat on Saturday morning.

It’s a market with a good demographic and rich potential.

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