It was always going to be a tough ask for defending champions DCU Mercy but a second quarter injury to their star point guard ended this one as a contest in a hurry. Emmet Ryan reports from the Mardyke as Liffey Celtics maintained their unbeaten record in all competitions to progress to the Irish women’s cup final
The girls in green came from the west side of the Liffey. Despite the name, Liffey Celtics are very much a Co. Kildare club in Leixlip, and the reigning league champions were on a mission to extend their unbeaten run to book a second cup final appearance in three years.
Across the floor from them, in navy so dary it was almost black, were the defending cup champions. DCU Mercy, loaded with talent from the Irish U18 team that took silver at the European B championship two summers ago and the side that had ended Glanmire’s four year reign in this competition. The only certainty going into this one was that it was going to be nervy.
The offence was, understandably, shaky through the game’s opening minutes. Even Briana Green, who played college ball at Southern, who has been lighting up this league looked shaky finding her sot in the opening minutes. Celtics had a serious combination in their imports. Alongside Green was Allie LeClaire, All-Horizon League second team in her senior season with Green Bay along with league tournament MVP to boot as well as four straight trips to the Big Dance all before coming over to Ireland for her first pro season.
Celtics did more in those awkward opening minutes, moving into an 8 point lead out of a timeout, with Áine O’Connor linking up nicely with Ailbhe O’Connor inside. Mercy settled quickly enough after getting in that brief hole and we had an actual basketball game going in short order.
There was a new arrival with quite a colourful past in the game starting at the point for Mercy. Shakena Richardson started out with Florida State, moved to Seton Hall as a graduate transfer, rejoined the Pirates in a coaching capacity shortly after finishing up before making her way across the Atlantic to get back on the court with Mercy. Still only 24, she was bringing a heap of experience to the court and was ensuring her younger team mates kept cool heads. After 10 minutes her side trailed 16-14.
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As Celtics got a run together, Richardson had to step away. She picked up a knock and was grimacing hard on the sideline as she tried to walk it off. The undefeated league leaders were off to the races nicely in the second quarter. Bronagh Power Cassidy showed some veteran smarts drawing an easy and-one shot in the paint to keep Mercy from getting into a nasty hole but the Kildare side was still selecting the terms of engagement. A pair of long Green twos stretched the lead to double digits and Richardson was back on the floor quickly.
The gulf grew to 14 before Richardson pulled up sharply. Her ankle was at her and she had to take a step back. Getting up and down the floor was beyond a chore for her. She could play defence or offence but not both and her limping job saw Mark Ingle sub her out late in the half hoping the break would give her time to recover.
Celtics kept it going smoothly through the end of the half, although Green’s heroic job keeping a ball inbounds turned into an indavertent assist for a Power-Cassidy score against her. Right at the buzzer Sorcha Tiernan found LeClaire with a long pass and the import made no mistake to send Celtics in up 41-26 at the break.
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After the break DCU were back on the floor without Richardson. She was still suited up but was stretching her leg out trying to get it back working. The lead for Celtics remained large, with little reason to think Mercy would be able to eat into it.
LeClaire hit a vicious crossover on Rachel Huisjdens under the rim to stretch the lead to 19 and Ailbhe O’Connor brought it past 20 on the next possession. It was only the middle of the third quarter but it already felt long over as a contest. Richardson returned as LeClaire pushed the gap out from the line.
Defensively DCU showed some grit through the end of the third, cutting into the advantage slightly along the way, but a full house had already gone quiet. There was another game ahead and this one was already long since over as a contest. The lead for Celtics was 63-41 with 10 minutes to play. The fourth was little more than a scrimmage.
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For all the impact of the Richardson injury, nothing should take away from the performance of Celtics. They were stronger in every facet of the game throughout, only truly being tested in the game’s first frame. With final opponents also seeking a first ever title, they know a new name will be on the trophy come the end of the month. No team from Co. Kildare had ever won a major in Irish hoops before Celtics took the Super League title. Now they seek to bring more history to Leixlip
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