DCU Mercy 72 Ambassador UCC Glanmire 71: “Good game sense in the last few minutes,” reckoned DCU Mercy coach Mark Ingle.
“A disgraceful call from the referees,” reckoned his Glanmire counterpart Mark Scannell.
If the respective coaches were wearing different coloured blinkers, both were in agreement that the country’s top two women’s basketball teams produced a piece of made-for-TV theatre at the National Arena last night.
With history, the balance of power and the small matter of the National Cup up for grabs, it was a night of absolutes and DCU Mercy finished it with the entire booty in their locker room; harsh on five-in-a-row chasing Glanmire, harder still with a key decision by officials going against the Cork girls with 1:35 left on the clock.
Scannell termed it “disgraceful”, American Ashley Prim called for an unsportsmanlike foul, as she reached in on her compatriot Alex Masaquel. DCU led 69-68 at the time, but it was hardly game-defining either. Claire Rockall and Prim had good looks at the basket in a frenzied last 30 seconds and both missed. Glanmire’s 28 from 80 attempts from the field was their ultimate undoing, a 35% strike rate when it should be mid-40s.
“If it was a foul, I’d say it was a foul,” protested Scannell. “I thought she (Ashley) got both hands on the ball. If it was a foul, it most definitely wasn’t an intentional. Saturday night, the referees decided the game, and you won’t say that here again, because credit must go to DCU, but there wasn’t one unsportsmanlike moment in the final and the refs call that — with the referee behind the play. Some day, someone is going to call out referees, because I am sick of it. I do my job, the girls bust their ass, then it comes down to stuff like that on the day? It’s not right.”
Scannell, a good friend of DCU coach Mark Ingle, accepted, though, that his history-chasing side missed a lot of ‘gimmes’ on the day.
“If you’d offered me, last night, Ashley with an open shot to win it, I’d have taken it,” the Glanmire coach reflected. “Claire [Rockall] had a good look before, too, and we missed a lot of gimmes, but that shouldn’t take away from DCU Mercy, they’ve had an unbelievable weekend.”
That they had. A hat-trick of U18, U20 and now National Cup titles, with Ingle admitting last night’s win had possibly come a year or two earlier than he had anticipated.
“We knew the only way to compete with Glanmire at this level was to rebuild and bring in the young players. That project started last year and they say it should take three years, so we are ahead of schedule. Glanmire have been a fantastic team and we showed good mentality to hold them off down the stretch. It’s small margins, though. We had an amazing quarter against Liffey Celtic that we won in the last minute. We mightn’t even have been here.”
For a live TV audience, it outstripped the men’s final for drama and quality, if not necessarily for controversy. Familiarity between the country’s top two sides bred nothing but brilliance.
“What a lot of people may not realise is that there’s no play we get easy, because Mark knows our game and we know his,” explained Ingle. “It probably came down to a couple of key shots. Ashley Prim got away from us a bit — Prim hit five of seven three-point attempts — but our American, Alex, delivered big too for someone that was in hospital for four weeks over Christmas [with a twisted intestine].”
Glanmire led 59-54 heading into the final quarter. With their experience, it’s a situation they’d have paid for, but Sarah Woods, the DCU captain, MVP-ed her side back into the driving seat when things got wild. Adily Martucci missed a key lay-up with 4:20 left in the game, but at 63-63, any error seemed vital at that juncture.
“We’ve been on the other side of these cliffhangers, so it’s probably a bit of payback,” shrugged Scannell. “I’ve nothing but good things to say about DCU and we’ve a bit of work to do now in the club to get us back to where we were, but we will get that done. The girls are relatively young and still hungry.”
With 2:42 left in the game, Prim hit the three to edge Glanmire 68-67 in front, but a crucial intervention was yet to come, and it was delivered by the officials, who called an unsportsmanlike foul on Prim with 1:35 left.
From the press seats at the other end of the court, it was a regular foul, at most, but it infuriated the Glanmire bench, who insisted Prim got both hands on the ball.
Masaquel made one of two from the line, but with possession to go with it, Glanmire were chasing the dream thereafter. They were not helped either by their leader Grainne Dwyer picking up a fourth foul with 8:40 left in the game. She was still there at the death, though, laying up to reduce the gap to two, 70-68 with 1:08 remaining.
At one point in the second quarter, a Woods-inspired DCU opened up an 11-point gap (35-24), but four years of producing when it mattered most hadn’t been parked on the side of the M7 up from Cork, and Glanmire would dig in and hold their Dublin rivals scoreless for the remaining 4:16 of the half.
It was hardly a surprise, given the swing in momentum, that Casey Grace converted from the baseline to complete a remarkable transformation for a 37- 35 half-time Glanmire lead.
Nip and tuck, and it would stay that way to the final shot, the final second.
Top scorers DCU Mercy:
Sarah Woods (21), Tiffany Corselli (15), Rachel Huijsdens (11), Aoife Maguire (7).
Top scorers Glanmire:
Grainne Dwyer (18), Ashley Prim (18), Adily Martucci (11), Miriam Byrne, Claire Rockall and Casey Grace (6 each).
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