Ireland’s re-emergence as a player on the international basketball stage won a huge boost last year when the country’s Under 18 girls ranked second in the European Championships. Now the senior women’s squad look to build on that momentum in Cork this week.
Ahead of the FIBA Women’s European Championship for Small Countries, Tony Leen speaks to Ireland coach Mark Scannell.
Question: Ireland’s pool opponents are Norway, Luxembourg and Cyprus in that order of fixtures. What can you tell us?
Mark Scannell: There’s a huge emphasis on the first game (tonight) against Norway. Ideally, I would have liked to play Luxembourg first because I’ve the most knowledge and research done on them. We have a brilliant video review suite at the Mardkye and I have all the work done from the recent Poland trip and the Luxembourg stuff from three games against them last year. I could tell you what Luxembourg are having for their tea. But with Norway I have had to go and basically look at their roster and check where their individual players are based.”
Question: So what have you unearthed about the Norwegians?
Mark Scannell: “I thought it might be easier but apart from two of their quad at a club called Ullern, their roster is drawn from six or seven different set ups there. I have some clips of five of their girls, of which we think four are starters, so that’s something.”
Question: So how do you scout a team you’ve never seen?
Mark Scannell: “I have a good network of people around me. First off all you go the good old route of YouTube and hope you get lucky. But assistant coaches Paul Kelleher and Francis O’Sullivan, plus Ronan O’Sullivan, who was with me in Glanmire, would be very good. I basically tell them, ‘See what ye can find.’ We have to come out ready and hope that the homecourt advantage will tell, the girls are champing at the bit now, they want to play.”
Question: So if the eight nations involved were ranked, where would we figure?
Mark Scannell: Malta won the Euro Small Nations last time out, so they’d be No 1. Then ourselves and Luxembourg would be two and three. There’s never more than a couple of baskets between us. Norway are possibly fourth, Denmark fifth but Cyprus could be a dark horse. If we can take care of business against Norway, it doesn’t matter if we have to stay up all night, we then have video of the Luxembourg v Cyprus and that will help for the second and third games.”
Question: So everything hangs on the opener?
Mark Scannell: Ultimately, it’s about the win for Ireland. If we don’t win our first game, we put ourselves under pressure.
Our S&C with Colin O’Reilly has been second to none but we absolutely must benefit from home court advantage. What I don’t want is for the public to see how we go the first day and if we go well, then jump on the bandwagon. We haven’t time for that, because we have Norway on Tuesday and that’s the game.”
Question: How well did the girls play in the warm-up trip to Poland?
Mark Scannell: Asking how well we ‘played’ must be taken in the context that it was like Colchester playing Man Utd. The Poles could have moved into fourth gear when they wanted to. We did really well to hang in, and our goal was to keep the margin in the teens, but they were able to push it out to 30-point gaps if they wanted. Poland has eleven or twelve pros playing at the top level, and were in unbelievable shape. When the girls hit the floor against Norway though they will realise how valuable that trip to Poland was.”
Question: Three back to back games will scrutinise the girls’ fitness levels.
Mark Scannell: “This is a really unusual tournament. How many times does a team play back to back to back?
But the minute that’s over, we have to put it to bed and focus on Luxembourg. It’s easier with Cyprus, because we will see their games before we meet them in Game 3.”
Question: A lot of the public will be looking forward to seeing Edel Thornton back in a green top.
Mark Scannell: She’s been a breath of fresh air. We are using her as a point guard right now, which means she’s possibly playing a little bit out of position because she’s more of a 2, (but) we need her to score for us.
Francis and I were watching the girls scrimmaging the other night and she made two or three cuts that were very high level, little things that you wouldn’t notice just watching the game.”
Question: The trick is to win this and build on what the Under 18’s achieved in Europe’s A Division last year?
Mark Scannell: “In a perfect world, you’d be funnelling those U18’s into the senior cycle but it’s a year too early for a lot of that team. Six of them are still under age this year in the A Division and they are in France as we speak in a tournament. We would like to have four or five of them not necessarily in the squad but around it. The nucleus of a really good Irish squad is there over the next couple of years.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved