Friday night was the highlight of the Irish Basketball calendar as both Cup titles went south to Cork. BiE’s Emmet Ryan was at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght to take in the action. Health and safety is a strange beast for sports organisations. The Arena is barely 25 years old yet its capacity has been more than halved over the years. Built as a gym to seat 3,000, the venue has come down to just 1,400 seats in the modern era. The din isn’t the same when its full as in the old days but it still gets loud when something special goes down. That’s what we got in the women’s Cup Final. The inelegantly named Team Montenotte Hotel Glanmire (TMH) were looking to avenge their loss to the UL Huskies in last year’s decider. The Limerick team has dominated the Irish game in recent years, taking every title on offer the past two seasons. This year however the league has turned into a real dogfight with most teams having both a US import and a Bosman. TMH’s import, Emilee Harmon, is a former Ohio State Buckeye but she was flat-out owned by UL’s Sligo born centre Aoife McDermott in the early going. The low-post was the only place the Huskies were in control early as TMH set a ludicrous pace from the off. Nailing 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first half certainly helped but far more important was the Glanmire side’s 10 seconds or less approach to offence. This pace did not suit the Huskies in the slightest and they were brutalised in transition in the first half. Save for McDermott’s one-woman show, the reigning champs would have been in a much bigger hole than the 52-40 deficit they faced at the break.
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Maintaining a hard pace with a squad of amateurs isn’t easy. Even with Harmon making her presence felt more in the game, complimenting the high-scoring displays from Grainne and Niamh Dwyer, TMH couldn’t keep the foot down in the third. A 26-13 quarter from UL, helped in no small part by Team GB’s Rachael Vanderwal, swung the game in their favour. It was only 66-65 entering the final frame but the move looked decisive. With the Huskies up by 8 midway through the fourth, the title looked all but certain. TMH however had an ace in the hole. Aine McKenna, injured for the guts of a month, scored 14 points in 15 minutes as the Glanmire club put the foot to the floor again. Even with the lead holding, UL looked in desperate need of a timeout to reset. Coach James Weldon eventually called one but their next possession was wasteful, ending with a shot clock violation. No matter the adjustment, the Huskies couldn’t slow the pace. TMH eventually drew level and had a shot to win it on the buzzer by Niamh Dwyer’s effort fell short.
Momentum is bunk but control isn’t and TMH had it now. They forced the pace again in overtime and kept up the bombardment. The scoring slowed slightly for the Glanmire club but UL’s offence evaporated. TMH held their nerve and ended UL’s reign with a 93-87 win.
The men’s final had a lot to live up to and hopes weren’t exactly high. Dublin Inter had enjoyed a Cinderella run to the final. In the first round they overcame a 10 point first leg deficit to knock out reigning league champions UL Eagles. Then in the semi-finals they went to Neptune’s home court in Cork and beat the defending cup holders. The team, comprised mostly of Lithuanian expats, now had a third upset in their sights as they sought to take down league leaders UCC Demons. Lehmon Colbert had no time for fairy tales. The Demons centre was a class above everyone on the floor. For a big guy, the former Plymouth Raider is pretty graceful getting into the lane. While Colin O’Reilly kept Inter honest with his outside game, it was Colbert doing the heavy lifting as he scored 21 points and snagged 13 boards in a MVP performance. Inter’s fans tried to rally their men and some solid shooting from deep, including Giedrius Trakauskas shooting 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, kept them in the game at the break but they kept slipping deeper into a hole.
Down 49-40 at the half, Inter came out swinging in the third quarter but their passing was too loose. Their attempt to push the pace carried the same risk as TMH’s in the women’s game but they didn’t get the result. By the time the final frame came around, it was only a question of how much UCC would win by. In the end the Cork side took the title on a 82-62 scoreline, Colbert got his golden ball, and now the focus shifts to maintaining their perfect record in the league. The treble is on but only the first leg is complete.
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