Basketball is poised for its annual Cork extravaganza, as almost 500 players from across the country head south for the National Cup semi-finals weekend.

There will be a significant Cork flavour to proceedings, of course, including a pair of derbies between Ambassador UCC Glanmire and Singleton’s SuperValu Brunell to add extra spice to the action.

“Cork is one of the homes of basketball, it has always had a strong tradition and the cup semi-finals are becoming synonymous with Cork now,” says Basketball Ireland media manager Mary McGuire.

“In Cork, they don’t just come out to support their own teams, they come out to support basketball for the love of the game.

“The atmosphere is like you’ve never experienced before. It’s electric, a different atmosphere altogether.”

With the Mardyke Arena and Neptune Stadium playing hosts to the 20 games, McGuire says the venues couldn’t have been more accommodating.

“From basic fixture level the whole way through to media, streaming, even organising venues, it’s a huge undertaking. But we’ve been running it for years now and we’ve some really good staff behind it.

“It is a big operation but we’ve held it in Cork so many times, particularly in Neptune and we’re back in the Mardyke for the first time since 2016. Neptune are so used to us at this stage, they know what we need and how many people we need.

“Working with the three venues over the years in Cork, we don’t have the Parochial Hall this year but having worked with them in the past, they’ve just been super.

“You couldn’t ask for better venues or better people to work with.”

Basketball Ireland staff, including chief operations officer and “driving force” Louise O’Loughlin, development officers from the four provinces and Cork volunteers organised by the venues, will do remaining on-the-day work to ensure a slick event.

The Parochial Hall in Gurranabraher won’t host any games this year due to the absence of a wifi infrastructure at the venue — a decision taken to facilitate the expanded live streaming of games online.

“This is the first year we’re streaming all of the games. We normally just stream the four marquee games at semi-final stages, but this year we’ve increased our streaming every weekend in regular league games as it is, so I took the decision that people are expecting us to stream everything at this stage,” said McGuire.

“We looked at the Parochial Hall and, unfortunately, their wifi isn’t up to it at the moment. They are upgrading it and they’re definitely not ruled out as a venue for us in the future but, as our first year streaming all games, Neptune and the Mardyke have the capability to do it. It definitely wasn’t a decision we took lightly at all.”

The Mardyke will host those four marquee semi-finals tomorrow, something which gives all involved a valuable opportunity to assess the venue before the summer’s Women’s European Championship for Small Countries.

“It’s a good test run. It’s great for us to see where there may be any holes in terms of volunteers, access control, how members of the public move around the arena, are we going to need extra volunteers, how the teams access (the arena), is there a block up in parts of the entries, things like that.

“Having Glanmire and Demons both playing in their home court, the crowds are expected to be very big. Glanmire and Brunell is a Cork derby as well, and Templeogue always travel very strong. It’s all going to play heavily towards what way we set up for the Europeans.”

That spread of big events isn’t confined to Cork and Dublin either, with Division 1 play-offs scheduled for Waterford, having visited Letterkenny and Kilkenny previously.

“It’s massive and something our CEO Bernard O’Byrne always speaks about: getting the spread of games across the country.

“If you look at the men’s Division 1 this year, we’re up to 14 teams and the spread across the country is absolutely fantastic — there’s only one Dublin-based team.”

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