At different ends of the hallway leading to the locker rooms at Neptune Stadium, there was a stark contrast in light and mood.
But winning DBS Eanna coach Darren McGovern and his vanquished counterpart from Tralee, Pat Price, were agreed on one thing.
This Cup semi-final belonged in a prison yard.
Between them, Superleague leaders Tralee and third-placed Eanna amassed a ghastly 50 points in an opening half to forget.
The beauty of defence, of course, was in the eye of the beholder.
“It feels amazing, but it was a war of attrition,” reflected McGovern afterward. “Our game-plan was to hang with them for the first half, be there or thereabouts and our fitness would come through in the second half.”
Tralee’s Price described it as a ‘rock fight’. The imagery speaks for itself. But behind the aesthetics, he recognised too that his Warrior outfit picked a bad Saturday to deliver its worst showing of the season. His players made less than 28% from the field and only 10 of 23 from the line (43.5%). Their two Americans combined for 13 points.
If Eanna’s strategy was to knock the favourites off their stride, it was delivered to the letter.
“The disappointment is massive,” Price admitted. “So many people are working behind the scenes in our club that nobody hears about. There was probably someone there on the second tier of seating who volunteered eight hours this week to the club, so it hurts knowing that. It stings.
“You represent something more than yourself. But a lot of our problems tonight were self-made.”
That the sides had met a week previous in Tralee in the Superleague (Warriors winning by three) turned out to be of greater benefit to the Rathfarnham-based outfit.
“We worked hard all week on figuring out how to get defensive rebounds against these guys — Tralee are a fantastic offensive rebounding team,” said McGovern. “We were figuring different situations — on the free-throw line, crashing on the three-point shots. In the second half, the luck we didn’t have down in Tralee (in the League) was there — plus we had a few outstanding individual performances, like Josh (Wilson, 24 pts) who really took the game over at times. On defence, he held Paul Dick to probably his lowest figure for a while — and Paul is the best Irish player I’ve seen in a long time.
“It was two of the top defensive teams in the league too remember. Individually too there are so many top-class defensive players there. I was hoping for (to limit it to) 15 points a quarter for Tralee, and we nearly managed that.”
That Eanna strategised defence-first will hardly have surprised Price. But he couldn’t have bargained for the must clearly expected better from his crew. “The two teams were physically throwing everything at each other, and what happens is the space you are accustomed to goes away and you end up forcing shots. Guys were hanging off each other, so points were so hard to come by. I said at half-time first to 50 wins – because the defence was so locked in on both sides.
“(Kieran) Donaghy said this was not about Xs and Os and dropping in magic plays. This was about shots and lay-ups and free throws. Usually we are up around 65 (points) two minutes into the fourth quarter — our offence just stalled. (Eanna) played a standard base defence, the old school ‘shell’ defence and if you don’t swing the ball, it plays right into what they wanted. It means every Tralee player that drives is going up against three of theirs. Our No 1 takeaway from last week was ball reversal and we didn’t do it, so we didn’t deserve to win.”
DBS Eanna rely heavily on overseas players, but McGovern says they are fully integrated into the club and its structures. “They are proper club people,” he explained. “They work with the club’s young players, they know everyone by first name. Josh and Stef (Zecevic) have done a Masters here, we have set them up with work, they are part of the community. And then (American) Paris Ballingar and (Serbian) Marko (Tomic) have come in this year and are doing their Masters as well. It’s been a bonanza for the club. I looked up at the crowd with a few seconds left when I knew we had it and every one of our supporters looked super proud of their club.”
Tralee got little from their Americans — Jonathan Lawton was 2 for 15 from the field while recent recruit Andre Berry sat out the final stages. But it would be one-eyed to blame the paid imports. Scarcely anyone in Warrior uniform showed up in Cork.
Daniel Jokubaitis started the fourth with a three (47-44) but that, oddly, was as good as it would get for Price and Tralee. Netsiyanwa made three and Marko Tomic repeated the dose to give Eanna a 59-47 advantage with 7.02 left, the biggest lead of the day.
DBS Eanna smelt blood.
Leading scorers for Eanna: Wilson (24), Zecevic (20), Reynolds (14), Tomic (7), Netsiyanwa (5).
Leading scorers for Tralee: Dick (16), Quigley (16), Jokubaitis (12), Lawton (7), Berry (6).