Mark Bernsen can’t say if Kieran Donaghy will or won’t play football for Kerry in 2017 but the Tralee Warriors coach is confident the cross-code star will be a regular presence for the new club as it begins life in Basketball Ireland’s rebranded Super League.
The Warriors’ admittance to the top tier of Irish men’s basketball means the Kerry town will be represented there for the first time since the Tigers disbanded seven years ago. Confirmation earlier this year Donaghy would be a key part of it has helped create an early buzz around the project.
The new club takes its first step courtside on Friday week with a daunting trip to the Mardyke Arena in Cork and a game against league and cup holders UCC Demons. The season could conceivably stretch up to the first few days of April.
The Warriors are a collaboration between local clubs Tralee Imperials and St Brendan’s. Donaghy played a handful of Intermediate Cup games for the latter last season and was named MVP for his role in that decider.
Playing 22 rounds of a Super League season is a much greater commitment though, and one that may not come to an end until the start of April. Kerry would be four months into the Gaelic football season themselves by then.
A four-time All-Ireland winner and three-time All Star, Donaghy lingered on the Croke Park pitch with daughter Lola Rose after their defeat to Dublin last month and speculation is rife he will be among a handful of Kerry veterans to call it a day this winter.
“He hasn’t shared that with me,” said Bernsen. “When we talk we talk about basketball. He will be a regular (for Warriors). He is a man who can juggle a lot of balls. He will be there. He loves basketball. He loves what we are doing and he will be a constant part, I think.”
Tralee’s return was one among a number of positives at yesterday’s season launch at the National Arena in Tallaght with Kappa signing a contract worth a ‘six-figure sum’ to supply the 12 Irish representative sides for the next three years.
The men’s and women’s leagues will welcome four new teams into the quartet of national divisions. Donegal and Sligo have returned to the basketball map and Basketball Ireland CEO Bernard O’Byrne welcomed Tralee’s return as a nod to a cherished past and a brighter future.
“It really is. It’s back to tradition. Back to roots. Kieran Donaghy is going to be a marquee player as well and I really hope that he brings plenty of media attention to the league as a whole as well as to himself and his team.”
Another nostalgic link between past and present is the decision to drop the short-lived moniker of ‘Premier League’ and return to the ‘Super League’ branding that has long been synonymous with basketball in this country.
The women’s top tier remains a nine-team pool but the men’s has been extended by two with Tralee and Raheny side KUBS both welcomed into the fold. Their arrivals bring to 12 the numbers of teams jockeying for points and positions.
It is a positive trend, given it isn’t so long since the top men’s table boasted only seven names. The fact that seven of the current list hail from Dublin isn’t ideal but the more pertinent issue is whether all dozen can stay afloat on and off the court.
Costs will be kept down by the commitment to play the extra games in the same period of time as before but it remains to be seen if there is enough strength in depth throughout the country for a 12-team division that proves competitive from top to bottom.
“Time will tell,” said O’Byrne, “but we held extensive interviews with the teams that came in and we walked through their financial plans and their player plans. What we don’t want is to appoint yo-yo clubs. We are very conscious of that. Time will tell but we have done as much homework as we can.”
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