Glanmire conditioned for the drive for five

Glanmire 77 Brunell 66: The sheets of post-match statistics don’t lie, but they don’t always capture the cut- through narrative of a ball game. 

Was Glanmire’s clear edge in fitness, their big-game intensity and want, the key differences in keeping the historic drive for five successive National Cup titles alive on Saturday at the Mardyke?

“’Want’ isn’t a word I like,” protested Brunell coach Francis O’Sullivan afterwards.

“I would call it being invested in your basketball career.” Which sounds like an eloquent way of saying his players are falling short, because they are not as physically tuned in as the top teams.

“We are getting better, but you are either interested or invested in your basketball career or you’re not. Glanmire won with an American (Ashley Prim) performing for five minutes. Their Irish girls have invested in their careers. What does that mean? It means living it for 12 months of the year, it’s a culture thing. They work hard at their game all the time and when push comes to shove in key moments, they have the capacity to go to another level that not all our girls can go to yet. Those Glanmire girls have all the trophies in the world but there’s a reason they have them - because they have invested in their basketball.”

Winning coach Mark Scannell wasn’t disagreeing that his players, especially team leaders Claire Rockall, Gráinne Dwyer and Áine McKenna, have an acquired, some would say innate, capacity to step up when the heat is on. It’s been drilled into them since they were teenagers.

“Claire, Gráinne and Áine, they have that inner belief that has evolved down through the years. It started off with the likes of Marie Breen and Donna Buckley, Niamh (Dwyer), Sinead Leahy. Then Michelle Fahy. Every year, there are leaders and now it’s the turn of that trio. It’s infectious. We lose matches of course, but when we do it’s because we are technically not good. We never lose because of our desire.”

Their historic push for an unprecedented fifth Cup in a row was incentive enough, but being knocked off their perch by local rivals was not an option. Under O’Sullivan, Brunell are asking more questions. That much is beyond dispute. They led 41-37 at the half, and in American pair, Breanna Bay (24 pts) and Victory Scholar Madelyn Ganser (18), they have a pair of formidable offensive threats, Bay a serious threat on the boards for someone who looks shy of the 6ft she’s credited with on the team-sheet. But therein lies the problem – the imports posted 42 of their 66 points – and Brunell’s homegrown players contributed a solitary point in the second half.

They could point to a contentious intentional foul called on Danielle O’Leary with 3.08 left in the first half that yielded five points for Glanmire, Katie Keating draining a three as the shot clock expired, shaving a 39-32 lead to two points.

But the Brunell coach wasn’t reaching for excuses.

“They are still a better team, let’s not fool ourselves,” O’Sullivan added. “We had two Americans on the floor for practically 40 minutes of the game. They were able to go with five Irish players most of the time. Glanmire are an exceptional standard of a team.”

However, it didn’t take binoculars to see Brunell were breathing heavy and had little by way of back-up to put the brakes on Glanmire when the champions upped the intensity in the third quarter. The champions outscored Brunell 13-0 off the bench, and when new American Prim (18 pts) nailed the three with 6.02 left in the third, Glanmire galloped for home.

And Brunell had no answer.

“These girls are very interested, most of them are, and I am not going to down them now in the press,” O’Sullivan mused. “Maybe we just need to teach them better as they go through their youth basketball that you must be fit, you must do strength and conditioning, you must buy into being an athlete for 12 months of the year if you want to win cup finals and be at that level.

“A couple of weeks of pre-season training doesn’t turn you into an athlete. It’s a thing you are doing from your teenage years and there are lessons for everyone in the league trying to catch Glanmire. Their first half a dozen players, they are athletes first, basketballers second. That’s why they can get to levels others are still aspiring to.”

With the scent of Cup final weekend in their nostrils, Dwyer, Rockall et al put the foot down in the fourth quarter, McKenna hitting the three with 6.26 remaining to ease Glanmire out to a 65-56 advantage. Brunell’s Bay kept them honest, but 13 points second half from Glanmire’s import Prim killed the challengers.

“Maybe our girls need to feel the hurt like this,” the Brunell coach added. “I don’t know what it will take (to change) but it’s something that has to be ingrained when you are very young.”

Scannell returns now to the familiar temporal rhythms of preparing for the last weekend of January, delighted to get a decent semi-final gut-check. “Our fitness levels and our depth down the stretch was the only difference, but give Francis credit, we came up against a good team. It’s difficult to get to one final, never mind five-in-a-row so there was a lot of pressure on us - and a lot of other stuff going on off the court in the last few weeks. How the players kept their focus over Christmas I don’t know - they just deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Top scorers for Glanmire:

Gráinne Dwyer (19), Ashley Prim (18), Claire Rockall (14), Áine McKenna (10).

Top scorers Brunell:

Breanna Bay (24), Madelyn Ganser (18), Danielle O’Leary (9), Amy Murphy (8), Amy Waters (7).

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