Tim O’Halloran has been a familiar face around the Mardyke for over four years now but the facility’s head of maintenance fills a new brief tonight as he takes the reins from Colin O’Reilly as UCC Demons head coach.
O’Reilly’s loss to the Cheshire Phoenix in England wasn’t unexpected but it left a massive void. O’Halloran’s appointment, then, bore all the hallmarks of a smooth and smart transition.
O’Halloran spent nine years playing Super League with the Demons and another five turning out for the Division One side before his ailing back vetoed any more hardwood. He’d already turned to coaching by then.
Titles at underage levels and with the Division One brief followed, as did success as O’Reilly’s assistant with the seniors during one of the latter’s three seasons in charge. Now, after two decades’ service, he stands at the apex of the pyramid.
It looks like there’s no getting rid of him.
“Not unless I get fired,” he laughed. “That’s the only way now.”
The latest chapter starts tonight with the visit of the newly-formed Tralee Warriors on the Super League’s opening weekend but, for all his progression through the ranks, he didn’t necessarily see this coming.
Not now anyway.
“Basically, I took over the regional league team because I wanted to stay involved with the club and with basketball,” he explained. “I enjoyed it and we were successful. Then this opportunity arose out of it.
“That’s how it happened. It wasn’t planned. This came on fast, to be honest. When I started coaching it popped into my head once or twice I would like to do the senior team. I didn’t think it would be this fast.”
It’s a plum role, but one that could easily turn sour. Under O’Reilly, Demons claimed seven of the nine major trophies available. They went unbeaten in the 14/15 season, racked up a 91% win ratio and registered the most successful spell in the club’s half- century.
It makes for an enviable platform for any new coach.
It also places the bar staggeringly high.
“You definitely want to put your own stamp on it,” he said. “I have tweaked a few things but then you don’t want to tweak it too much either because there is nothing broken, as the man would say, with all the success.
“There is obviously a lot of pressure when you come into a job with the success of the last three years and to maintain it. That’s all I’m going to try and do and the level of professionalism won’t drop one bit.
“Not from my side anyway and I won’t let the players drop either. So I hope in three years time that people will be saying that this was part of the club’s most successful period in its history as well.”
The initial focus is all on D. The new boss wants the Demons to be known throughout the Super League as the team with the best defence and he intends to ally that with an up-tempo style of basketball.
His won’t be the only new face courtside. Five of last year’s title winners have disappeared from the roster, their three-year American Lehmon Colbert among them. That leaves adequate room for others, old and new, to earn bigger roles.
Chief among them will be Jacob Lawson who arrives via Purdue and Appalachian State. His importance can’t be overstated.
As O’Halloran points out: if you get your American wrong, you are in trouble from the get-go.
As little as possible has been left to chance. “YouTube is the man, really. You send it out to agents: the description of the kind of player you are looking for, the wages and the height and the position. We must have got about 50 or 60 fellas saying they were interested.
“At the end of the day, it is a lottery. Lehmon was there for the last three years and if he was to come back, we would know exactly what we were getting, but I just felt the team needed a bit of a change, just to get a buzz back in the place. You’re just hoping he doesn’t roll off the plane.”
An athletic, physical, 6’ 8” power forward with a reputation as a skilled shot blocker, Lawson seems the perfect fit for O’Halloran’s Demons ideal.
So, all’s changed with the champions, though they will hope some things stay the same.
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