It was Mark Foley, Tim O’Halloran’s assistant, who threw the the idea there first.
Singleton’s SuperValu Brunell’s senior team had been hollowed out over the off-season. Players had retired, moved to Australia, switched clubs and, in the case of their overseas contingent, just moved on. They were desperate for new blood, and that was when Foley thought about Sinead O’Reilly.
Not so much new blood as vintage stock that that had been sitting on the shelf.
O’Reilly and twin sister Orla had spent four years together on a basketball scholarship at Binghamton University in New York but one went on to pursue a career in the sport that would take her to Spain and Australia while the other returned to Cork to study marketing.
That had been seven years before, in 2012, and O’Reilly hadn’t played since, her exposure to the game coming from afar and, in no small part, via the fortunes of her older brothers Niall and Colin, who were stars of hugely successful UCC Demons sides (Colin is now player/head coach at Killorglin).
O’Halloran knew all that, plus the fact O’Reilly had suffered a bad back injury since returning home, so the idea was dismissed before resurrecting itself some time later. The invite was duly made and accepted and now here they all are in tomorrow’s Hula Hoops National Cup final.
“Basically, I was doing a Masters when I came back, tipped away at that for a year or two, and then I injured my back,” O’Reilly explains. “I got a prolapsed disc in my back and I was being told to go on the bike and do a bit of weights but that was all I was going to be able to do.
“Timmy actually reached out to my brothers kind of out of the blue. There had been a few changes to the team from last year. The lads got back to him with my number but basically said, ‘you’ve no chance, she’s injured, we’ve tried already etc’.”
So, why did she bite? The timing was right. She was fed up with the injury’s restrictive hold on her so she said yes, and started off slowly with twice-weekly visits to the physio and regular diversions to the sea to salt legs weary from the unfamiliar grind.
It was, she says now, “a bit mental”. Getting fit to the level required was priority number one. That and making sure the back held up. Which it has. As for the on-court stuff, that’s still coming back to her. She admits as much herself, and O’Halloran understands this too.
“She would probably tell you this herself but I actually don’t think we’ll see the best of her until next season, if she continues to play on,” he said.
She hadn’t played in seven years. The game is different now to then, it’s night and day, but she has been brilliant for us.
O’Reilly’s leadership, discipline, and general professionalism have been key ingredients in a squad that was hastily dropped into the one big pot just a few months ago and a club that has had to promote youth and players who had few minutes last year into prominent roles.
How bad was the exodus? Biblical.
Amy Murphy and Simone O’Shea both decided that Fr Murphy’s would be a better fit for them this season, Kelly Diggin retired, Amy Waters emigrated to Australia, the American Maddie Ganser, and Linda Rubene, their Latvian out of Indiana University, moved on.
The effect of all that has been apparent in a league campaign which has delivered just two wins and 10 losses to date, many of them heavy, but they trumped all perceptions in the cup semi-final by taking down DCU Mercy on a scoreline of 75-69.
It was only the league leaders’ second defeat all season. But why? How?
“Not that I have been surprised by our league results, but when you are in training with the girls three times a week, you can see the talent,” says O’Reilly.
I don’t want to say we have been unlucky but we are such a new team that it has just taken us that little bit longer to click and gel, because we are working on our rotations, and everything else.
“I was in, we had our young girls in and our American girls coming in, so there wasn’t really a foundation there aside from Danielle (O’Leary) and Aoife (Dineen). It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has got us here but we had good games against Killester and Maree even before the cup and we just couldn’t get the W.”
O’Halloran said on the night defence and hunger that won it. It was certainly spirit that overcame what could have been the debilitating loss of O’Leary to an ankle injury and, cruelly, one that keeps her out of the decider too.
If Brunell are to win this they will have done it the hard way. Not only is O’Leary out but so is Katie Walsh, the underage Irish international who has been in the vanguard of fresh faces to step up to the plate in the team’s greatest hour of need.
Step back from all those intricacies and the wide-angled view is that of a Brunell team returning to the final a year on from their heavy defeat in this blue riband occasion to Liffey Celtics, with eight players missing from that 2019 roster and none of its starters from that night on hand.
A win would make for an unlikely rebound. For O’Reilly and for the team itself.