So has the hunter become the hunted? When Killester lagged badly behind Glanmire in the opening quarter of Saturday’s Women’s National Cup semi-final, the prospect of a first Cup success in nearly two decades was as far off as you’d care to imagine.
But one gutsy fightback later, coupled with Brunell’s shock of the weekend in the second semi-final later means that Karl Kilbride’s Killester suddenly don the mantle of favourites for the blue riband at the National Arena in a fortnight.
If the manner of their fourth-quarter execution Saturday is a reliable indicator, Killester will handle that extra bit of final stress just fine. Aisling McCann had time to run down some clock in the dying embers at 79-77, but went for glory and made the killer three to put Kilbride’s girls 82-77 in front. And that’s the key, says Kilbride.
“Aisling leads the league in three-point shooting, that’s how we play,” Kilbride said after. “We like to play free, shoot the ball. When we went down in the fourth quarter, Christa Reed stepped up big, six points in a row. We got in foul trouble, but even then, to be able to play right and keep our hands to ourselves, I am really proud.”
Rightly so. If Glanmire’s (8-3 Superleague) first-ever Cup semi-final loss wasn’t a shock, it was certainly a surprise. Maybe there was something else driving some of the Killester (7-4) players too, hinted their coach.
“2016 was our last final, and we were young. We have had so much turnover, half the team left this year and everybody wrote us off but girls like Rebecca (Nagle), Aisling (McCann), Michelle Clarke stuck around. The girls were there five years ago when we got embarrassed on national TV (96-64 as Glanmire completed a hat-trick of cup successes). I am so happy that they stuck it out, and we have given ourselves a shot now in two weeks.”
On the law of averages, Mark Scannell was going to lose a semi at some stage, but he’ll wonder about the ifs and maybes had their giant American, Tatum Neubert, not rolled an ankle on an offensive drive, and missed more than a full quarter.
“Tatum going out put us out of sync, she was out for too long,” he said. “We had some good looks but didn’t make them. Shrita (Parker, 38 points) was awesome and down the stretch they converged on her and maybe we should have made a couple of better decisions, decoying with her and getting somebody else on the shot. Ultimately it still came down to a one-shot game.”
Yes, but Glanmire jumped out to a 22-4 lead, and with Parker on fire, it says plenty about Killester that they didn’t mentally pack their bags for home.
Said Kilbride: “I am so proud of our character, how we kept fighting. Parker was incredible and Neubert hurt us so bad in the first half, that was a big change in momentum and we really took advantage of her being out.
“We talked about it in the dressing room, we wanted to have no regrets. If we lost, we weren’t going to come away saying ‘I wish I’d done something different or better’. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. Could we be mentally switched on communicate, to rotate when we needed to and in the last 3-4 minutes? We did all that and more.”
If Parker was the game standout, former Vanderbilt starter Christa Reed (23 points) was the one who stepped up when Killester’s momentum stalled. “In my view she is technically the best American in the league — at both ends of the court,” said her coach.
“She can score, she can guard. The two Americans make my life so easy. All the squad are the same. I don’t have to do a awful lot, we give them the keys and they play freely throughout.”
Parker’s 10 points propelled Glanmire into an early 17-4 Q1 lead. Almost by stealth, the Dubliners played their way back into the half. Two scores from Randle-El and a big three from Aisling McCann made it 22-14. Six-foot guard Christa Reed added another, and from nowhere, it was a six-point game (22-16).
This would be a recurring theme. Glanmire in front, but never comfortable. With 3.48 left in the third quarter, Killester led for the first time and by its end, they had moved into a 62-56 lead.
For Scannell and his strapped up Neubert, it was now or never, and the American limped back into the game. It sparked something. Twelve seconds into the final quarter, she went in for two and even when Nagle nailed a big three for Killester, Parker went down the other end and did the same
Glanmire had a desperate late shot at salvation when Killester’s Reed was called for an offensive foul with 10 seconds left. However, Parker’s effort was high and wide.
Scorers for Killester: Reed (23), Randle-El (21), McCann (14), Nagle (12), Clarke (8), McCloskey (4).
Scorers for Glanmire: Parker (38), Neubert (18), Murphy (7), Grace (6), McKenna (5), Scannell (3), Wilkinson (1), Dooley (1).