After Covid frustrations, basketball grasps its opportunity as league returns after 18 month hiatus

The national leagues will finally return after an 18-month hiatus this day next week when The Address UCC Glanmire host Team Garveys St Mary’s
After Covid frustrations, basketball grasps its opportunity as league returns after 18 month hiatus

Devin Gilmore of DBS Eanna at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght, Dublin yesterday at the launch of the new basketball sponsorship deal for men’s and women’s teams. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Basketball Ireland was the first Irish national governing body to bring the shutters down when Covid ‘happened’ early last year, and it stayed at the forefront of the conversation in asking Government when indoor sports could hope to roll them up again.

The national leagues will finally return after an 18-month hiatus this day next week when The Address UCC Glanmire host Team Garveys St Mary’s and the sense of renewal is heightened by a new three-year deal with CFM Group to sponsor the league and the National Cup.

Good times are here again but the spectre ushered in by the pandemic hasn’t been completely dispelled.

Capacitiy limits and other restrictions remain at all sporting venues for most of October and the relief and excitement palpable at yesterday’s season launch in Tallaght was accompanied by an understanding that caution must remain a watchword for the foreseeable.

In America, the dawning of a new NBA season has been overshadowed by the refusal of a small but high-profile number of players to be vaccinated in a league where the jab rate is over 90% and close to universal in the WNBA.

The issue of vaccinations has penetrated the English Premier League, where the uptake has been appalling, and the world of GAA where Tyrone manager Fergal Logan admitted to a concern that players might “go under” for a few weeks if they made an appointment with the needle.

“Covid has been in almost every discussion for the last 18 months,” said Griffith College Templeogue veteran Jason Killeen. “It all comes back to it.

“As far as the vaccine, we are firm believers that people have a choice and they get to make that choice based on their own belief and own knowledge but, from what I know, 90% of our team is vaccinated anyway.

In attendance at the National Basketball Arena for the National League launch and sponsorship announcement are, from left, Kate Black of Swords Thunder, A'Lexxus Davis of Trinity Meteors, Hannah Thorton of DCU Mercy and Haille Nickerson of Trinity Meteors at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
In attendance at the National Basketball Arena for the National League launch and sponsorship announcement are, from left, Kate Black of Swords Thunder, A'Lexxus Davis of Trinity Meteors, Hannah Thorton of DCU Mercy and Haille Nickerson of Trinity Meteors at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“It was more of a thing over the summer with the national team because we knew we were going to be in a bubble and we had people coming in from different countries all over Europe.

“The fact that Basketball Ireland were running the tournament, I think there was a bit of an onus on us all to be protected and to help the tournament go on without any unnecessary hitches.”

That it did.

By the time the European Championships for Small Countries ended in Dublin there had been just one positive Covid test thanks to the manner in which teams and officials embraced the need to isolate and used common sense for the duration.

Similar efforts were made by James Weldron’s Irish women’s team who paid for their own Covid tests throughout their Small Countries tournament in Cyprus, but the canvas is different in a domestic league where so many hold down day jobs.

Isolation is no longer the barrier it was to infection. Ireland has moved on from the long months of imposed restrictions to a point where society is reopening and bringing with it a checklist of decisions for sportspeople inhabiting the same dressing rooms.

Hannah Thornton was a member of that Ireland team in Nicosia and agrees that there is a large element of trust required among teammates.

That extends to her own decision to keep a distance from friends who have embraced the opportunity to hit the social scene.

In attendance at the National Basketball Arena for the National League launch and sponsorship announcement are Conor Quinn, right, and James Claar of Belfast Star, at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
In attendance at the National Basketball Arena for the National League launch and sponsorship announcement are Conor Quinn, right, and James Claar of Belfast Star, at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“It really puts things in perspective because you want to hang out with people you feel safe with. Like, there are groups of people that you might not necessarily hang around with because they are out every weekend.

“You have to understand what is a priority for you and for me at the minute that is having a season and playing basketball, so that means not hanging out with them. Covid has taught us... I think, to not be… not to be selfish, but to prioritise what’s important to you.

“If that means not hanging out with a group of people then that’s that and you can feel confident going into training that you are not putting anyone else at risk.”

Many of the restrictions governing sports will be removed come October 22, including formal requirements for mask-wearing, indoors or out, as well as certs of immunity or testing as prerequisites for access to, or engagement, in activities.

The need to be a team player will stay the same.

The men’s Super League and Division One will now be known as the InsureMyVan.ie Super League and InsureMyVan.ie Division One.

The women’s Super League and Division One will be named the MissQuote.ie Super League and MissQuote.ie Division One.

Basketball Ireland’s prestigious National Cup, is now called the InsureMyHouse.ie Cup, at all levels of the game.

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