History gave Edel Thornton a nudge earlier this year. The way she told the story last week, it hasn’t quite registered just yet.
“I don’t know if it’ll ever sink in,” said Thornton.
“It’s taken its time anyway.”
In spring Quinnipiac, the small college in Connecticut where Thornton studies psychology - and plays basketball - made it to the promised land of American college sport, the Sweet Sixteen weekend.
"Little Quinnipiac’s arrival at the sharp end of the basketball season was such a surprise American news outlets had to run ‘who Quinnipiac are’ features.
Thornton, the first Irish player to make it to those rarefied heights, offered a more specifically Irish context in describing what it meant to the college. “It was great for the college, obviously.
“For me it was a bit like going to Dublin with my Dad for an All-Ireland. It was massive. The tournament itself, it’s so big - the different parts of the country it’s held in, that you travel to, different stadia, all of that.
“I definitely saw more of the States than I expected as we travelled around. We started off with games in Miami and the Sweet Sixteen itself was held in California, so we did a fair amount of travelling.”
The former Brunell player was confident ahead of the season, though.
“Going into the season our goal was the Sweet Sixteen, we knew we had the capability of doing that as long as we got the right match-ups, and thank God we did. People outside the group, outside the college, didn’t realise how good we were, but we knew ourselves we could do it.”
Thornton landed on the East Coast with a fair background as an Irish international. The quality of play is high in the US college scene, but she’s thrived at the altitude.
“Obviously the standard in the tournament is very high, but the standard within the college, even, is very good too. I feel if you play with a chip on the shoulder all the time . . . confidence never really came into it, knowing we had people behind us, supporting us, that if you messed up that someone would pick it up for you. That was the main thing. I’m definitely a lot stronger physically, from all the training, but I also feel a lot stronger mentally, in terms of general life.
"There’s a routine and a system you have to get used to, so I’d say the experience has definitely brought me on. My first year was tough enough, the basketball was something I adjusted to quicker than the lifestyle itself. It’s difficult to explain, the lifestyle is similar but is also very different, but one major thing is how professional the approach is to sport. It’s basically a job.”
Thornton was on her way to Paris when she spoke. Holidays have to be taken when they can, but it won’t be long before the games roll around again.
“I go back on August 25, the Friday before school starts. We’re not allowed to practice as a team until the end of October, then games start in November. More pressure?
"I wouldn’t say pressure, I’d say there’ll be an expectation, other teams in our league will be out to get us after what we did last year. In terms of ourselves, we always hold ourselves to a high standard, and we have high expectations for ourselves. I’m looking forward to getting back into it.”
Back on the court. Back in the thick of it, all over again
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