Ireland, still without any adult national teams, took a couple of baby steps back into international basketball this weekend.
A pair of emphatic routs gave Irish basketball fans a sweet taste of international ball but after one afternoon normal service resumed. Life without a vanguard returned. Two selections from the Irish Premier League slaughtered Wales in men’s and women’s games respectively. As these weren’t technically national sides they wore blue, not green. An immediate reminder that this generation of players will likely play their entire careers without the opportunity to represent their nation.
Money, naturally, is the issue and Basketball Ireland’s current administration inherited a situation where there wasn’t much to go around. Sanctions from the Irish Sports Council earlier this year related to that era, for using capital funding to cover day-to-day expenses, has left the sources of expenditure severely limited. Right now there simply isn’t the money to cover a national team and there is no indication that situation is likely to change in the foreseeable future.
It’s an understatement to say this is bad. Without a national side, there isn’t a single entity to drive attention locally. Former Ireland captain Conor Grace compared the issue this year to another sport fighting for attention. “From a cricketing perspective, I don’t know, if Lansdowne beat Sandycove I don’t care, but if Ireland are playing England, then I care,” Grace told our sister site.
A similar Irish league selection played a British Basketball League selection but it’s difficult to get the media to care for the mouthful that is the Irish Premier League All Stars. Attention isn’t the only issue. Most of Ireland’s better young players are multi-sport athletes, indeed many continue on doubling up in adult life. Louise Galvin of UL Huskies, the reigning champions of everything in the women’s game, plays Gaelic Football for Kerry. The men’s game has lost Michael Darragh MacAuley and Kieran Donaghy to Gaelic Football, where the duo are amongst the most recognisable names in the sport.
Grace is an odd exception, the son of an international rugby player he opted to go with hoops and hoops only from a young age. The path was clearer for an exceedingly tall Irishman back then. US colleges were an option, from there the pro game across Europe. It’s not a bad way to spend your 20s but the national team structure was at the backbone of Grace’s generation.
Now, once you leave the underage ranks there is no next level. Senior club ball is entertaining certainly but it doesn’t provide the elite competition required for late bloomers to catch attention. Worse, competing sports can give young players a grand stage on the local level earlier. Having a team in green jerseys playing against serious competition helped to make teenage players at the decisive point in their development think twice.
Yet still, it was impossible not to smile when seeing these quasi-national sides in action. Finally there was something, anything, for local players to step up to. The opposition likely would struggle against mid-tier club teams in the Premier League here but it was something.