When you’re unbeaten for this long, the mind starts to play tricks. Games can become more about avoiding defeat than chasing victory.
UCC Demons went into last night’s Men’s National Cup semi-final 11 for 11 in the Premier League, as reigning cup champions and with a homecourt advantage against Swords Thunder. What wasn’t to like?
They’d won their eleven league games by an average of 20 points. Nobody had made them sweat - not even last night’s opponents, Swords, beaten by 15 in October.
And yet there was some twisted logic to the sense foreboding into the Mardkye last night if you
were of a Cork basketball persuasion. Swords Thunder have earned their place among the country’s basketball elite the hard way, and the home support quickly recognised the visitors weren’t fazed by the deck seemingly stacked against them. Right from the moment in fact when Thunder’s Michael Goj drained a second three-pointer to push the visitors into an early 12-4 lead.
Not until that remarkable athlete, Kyle Hosford, smashed home a dunk from the gods with 6.45 left in the first quarter did the healthy Arena crowd begin to feel they had their Demons playing
without that handbrake of anxiety. It wasn’t long before the country’s premier scoring machine,
Colin O’Reilly had his co-ordinates right, as he quickly galloped to ten first quarter points.
The trouble for Demons was at the other end — slack defence meant Thunder were still ten to the good (30-20) at the end of the first quarter, a Keith Anderson buzzer-beater keeping momentum with Dave Baker’s side.
Swords’ Spencer Mitchell helped himself to nine first half points, but on defence he had the virtually impossible mission of cooling Colin O’Reilly’s hot hand. The Demons player coach nailed a three with 5.50 remaining in the first half with a swagger that suggested there was more to come.
There was. O’Reilly and Ciaran O’Sullivan nailed twos to push Demons 37-34 in front. What was remarkable about this was the facility with which they had reeled in the country’s second best team - if league tables are to be believed. They’d trailed by 14 points early on.
And Ciaran O’Sullivan was just about getting hot. He stuck a three with 1.21 left in the half to push the Cork side 42-34 in front. Handbrake? What handbrake? It was 46-38 at half-time, and Ciaran O’Sullivan took up residence in three-point country to crush Swords’ spirit with a pair of from way out yonder in the opening two minutes of the third quarter. Suddenly it was a sixteen-point game (56-40), and the whiff of an upset was disappearing quicker than a Hosford fast break.
Soon it was a parade. Another three from Ciaran O’Sullivan took him to 14 points, and the same
from Colin O’Reilly took him to 25 points.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Demons had re-established the rhythm that has made
them this season’s untouchables — 65-45 they led, and the intensity on defence, lacking in the first half was there for all to see as Hosford raced back to steal possession.
The party tricks came out to play too. Adrian O’Sullivan put a super no-look pass through the
Swords defence to tee up Hosford for an easy two. Most of what remained of Swords’ defiance
came from 17-point Spencer Mitchell, but an offensive weapon like Colin O’Reilly will always keep
a comeback at arm’s length.
Only a catastrophe of epic proportions could prevent Demons reaching back to back finals as
we went to press on this early edition. UCD Marian await the winners in the final on Saturday night, January 25th, and unless the Dublin side produces a remarkable performance on the night, one can respectfully suggest only unforgivable complacency will cost O’Reilly’s crew successive National Cup for the first time since they achieved that feat themselves in 2004.
Lehmon Colbert helped himself to a fast eight point in the final quarter, easing Demons out to an 80-57 lead and giving him 16 for himself. Darragh O’Hanlon got in on the act too with a bucket, but by that stage Demons thoughts had long since moved forward two weeks.
Top scorers for Demons: Colin O’Reilly 30, Kyle Hosford 18, Lehmon Colbert 16, Ciaran O’Sullivan 14.
Top scorers for Swords: Spencer Mitchell 21, Juan Torres 14, Kevin Lacey 13.
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