It’s a clash of unbeatens at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght on Tuesday. Ireland and Great Britian do battle in a derby with high stakes. Emmet Ryan looks ahead to a clash between two sides gunning for promotion and looks at the broader implications for both sides for the rest of the tournament ahead
Rarely has a rest day looked so vital. While Ireland were far from tested in a facile win over Moldova on Sunday, the timing of the break for Tommy O’Mahony’s charges might prove hugely significant come the weekend. Having overcome the potential banana skin of the Slovak Republic with ease on Saturday, Sunday presented a different kind of difficulty for Ireland.
Moldova really aren’t up to this level. Several teams at B level, both male and female, have shown this summer that there’s an argument to contract the B grade and expand C, essentially giving these developing nations more meaningful games. Ireland were the third side to face this outmatched outfit and, for the third time, the century was reached with ease. The problem for O’Mahony was that there is no amount of preparation that can get a team ready for the errors that can sink in with such a foe. When victory comes so easily, so comprehensively, it’s only natural for players to err. Shots they wouldn’t take against a real test get forced, passes get wilder, defence becomes that touch too aggressive for comfort while watching the foul count.
Ireland needed a break because O’Mahony needed a day to give his team a better test in the form of one another. Monday’s practices are fundamental to fixing, well, the fundamentals. With their biggest test by some margin ahead of them on Tuesday evening, Ireland need to shake off any bad habits cultivated on Sunday evening.
Staring down Ireland on Tuesday evening is the auld enemy albeit not with quite the same flavour of rivalry as one normally associates with sport here. The relationship in hoops has essentially long been one of friendship not enmity. Instead it’s more of a personal rivalry between these two sets of players, having taken each other on many times across the age groups. These two sides have ample knowledge of one another, they know what each can deliver, and they know what is at stake on Tuesday.
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Irrespective of the result, both sides control their shot at progressing to the last eight but winning the group carries with it a clear advantage. Should Ireland take the W on Tuesday, they will have locked up top spot in the group as no series of results could deny them the advantage in tie-breakers. That would give O’Mahony far more options with his rotations against Ukraine a day later, enabling him to have one eye on a possible quarter-final on Friday. Defeat would make the Ukraine clash far more important as only a victory would guarantee a spot in the knockout stages.
Britain will have ample motivation too as while a win won’t guarantee top spot overall, it will give Ireland’s near neighbours one hand on the top seeding spot in the group. With it would come an opponent that, theoretically at least, would be more favourable in the knockout stages.
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There is a much bigger world beyond Group D. Germany have impressed and came to this tournament on the back of solid performances against France, while Belarus have romped past all opposition to date. Far sooner on the agenda could be Romania or Israel, the likely pair of sides that will face the two teams to emerge from Ireland and Britain’s group. Romania has yet to be tested while Israel has proved efficient enough. Neither can be discounted likely and both will see promotion as a real goal.
For O’Mahony, the old trope of taking it one game at a time will change no matter the result on Tuesday. While it behooves a coach to never speak about more than the next opponent, his eyes will be on what may yet come. A victory over his nearest neighbours would at least grant him more knowledge of what lies ahead.
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