Basketball is no ‘minority’ sport.
The last membership figures put together by Basketball Ireland climbed towards 24,000, a figure that includes players, coaches referees and the like, though not schools. It’s a considerable number whatever way you cut it but it’s a code that retains the sense of a tight community at play.
Like all sports, the vast sea of humanity thins into a shallow pond the higher up you go and the National Cup finals played at the Arena in Tallaght this weekend paint perfectly a picture of tangled allegiances in this cheek-by-jowl pocket of society.
When Conor and Dan James take to the court for UCD Marian this evening they will face another brother, Stephen, who is captain of Templeogue. Stephen James’ skipper is Barry Drumm who is godfather to Puff Summer’s daughter. Summers togs out tonight with Templeogue.
Then there is Jason Killeen and Conor Meany.
Killeen is a veteran centre with Templeogue, Meany a point guard with UCD who has himself slipped into his thirties. Both of them are employed by Basketball Ireland. Not just that, their desks are actually positioned back-to-back, which seems fitting given the week that’s in it.
“We don’t walk down the stairs together this week,” Killeen laughs. “I keep my hand over my tea.”
Killeen is the coaching officer and the development officer in charge of the Leinster region. Meany joined the team as sponsorship and marketing manager in May. So, one sources the spondulas to develop the stars of the future who in turn attract more sponsorship.
It’s a virtuous circle, then. One that reinforces the tight bond that propels most of the small national governing bodies in this country and others. “We work closely together,” says Meany. “It’s impossible not to.” Today aside, obviously.
It’s a meeting that has generated no little mirth in the office this week.
When time has allowed, that is. Basketball Ireland lists just 25 professional staff on its website. A tight ship and it’s been a case of all hands on deck this last week – as it is every January – with wave after wave of Subway Schools Cup finals washing through the south Dublin venue.
The National Basketball Arena is badly in need of a makeover but its ability to generate an atmosphere remains as fresh as ever and never more so than in the week just gone. Imagine a schoolyard full of screaming kids and extend it through half a day and you have the idea.
Not a time for staff to slip away for a bit. Not even players facing into a cup final.
Added to the usual list of to-dos this year is the fact that it is the 25th anniversary of the first final played at the Arena. There’s an outside broadcast to be put out this morning and, oh, Patrick Baumann, FIBA secretary general, is in town too.
“It’s actually not that bad in that it’s a distraction,” Meany reasons. “I’m usually the type of person who would be obsessing about the game over and over. It’s nice not being able to do that, knowing I’ve other things to do and then I switch off a few hours before the game.”
He reckons it will be noon today before he gets to down tools and turn his attention to his own game, Killeen’s multi-tasking will only be getting going by then because, at 2pm, the Templeogue U18 team he coaches will begin their decider against Neptune.
“I miss my nap during the day,” he laughs.
It’s clearly a problem he’s happy to have but the emotional toll of such a workload before what is the biggest game in Irish men’s basketball shouldn’t be underestimated. Coaching a side can drain a body of energy just as much as playing for one.
“You can control the game a little bit when you’re playing. You know that when you mess up you can try and steady the ship a bit. When you’re standing on the side you just got to trust the players and what you did in practice.”
There are other strands besides where Killeen and Meany’s stories split.
Killeen is the wanderer who left Limerick at 16 to pursue his basketball dream and ended up playing in America, the UK, France and Malaysia. A 6’ 10” presence who had the map of Ireland tattooed on his arm and who has racked up leagues and cups with UL Eagles and his current club.
Meany is the one-club man. His father Paul helped found UCD Marian. His mum, whose name happens to be Marian, is another club stalwart.
Meany played in 2011 when the club broke a trophy drought stretching back to the 70s but they haven’t added to the haul since.
Yin and yang.
One different to the other and yet the same. Two veterans immersed in the game.
Both hoping to squeeze a few more drops out of their senior careers – and avoid the inevitable ribbing that awaits one of them when they face their colleagues again on Monday morning.
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