The odds were against Templeogue and the situation was grim, it was time for Lorcan Murphy to take flight. Emmet Ryan on how the young baller came up big as Templeogue secured a first ever Irish Superleague title
Staring down an occasion isn’t easy. Just ask CSKA Moscow. For Templeogue, the power had been put in their hands a week earlier by the very side they were facing. Tralee’s victory over Swords meant that a win for Templeogue over the Kerry club would give them a first ever Superleague title. They just couldn’t possibly make it easy for themselves.
With Swords Thunder tipping off against UCD Marian 90 minutes before the game in the Oblate Hall, there was a chance Templeogue could win the title before their game even tipped but Thunder sent a message across the Liffey early. Having raced into a 32-12 lead after 10 minutes, Swords wrapped up a 94-66 win moments before Templeogue and Tralee Warriors took the floor. To win the title Saturday night, they had to win the game Saturday night. The boisterous home crowd was silenced almost immediately. Tralee came out dominating with Trae Pemberton driving through the lane like it was empty, a simple quick offence saw the Warriors run amok and take a 8-27 lead. Nobody was handing the men in red the trophy tonight.
Enter Air Lorcan. The youngster has been throwing his body around the Superleague with reckless abandon all season. Murphy is prone to the odd big jam, or two, or three, and he’s been at it a while. It’s not just the dunks, he finds ways to leap at every available opportunity. Murphy started the comeback in the second quarter and got the crowd back into it with a big dunk that forced a Tralee timeout, with the deficit cut to 24-31. Murphy plays a young man’s game, one suited to a Templeogue team that relies on a young but athletic bench to take the load off its veterans. With the speed and hops Murphy brought to the game, it was easier for Michael Bonaparte and Jason Killeen to find space.
That approach to the game comes with its share of risk. Murphy tried to steal a baseline inbounds pass by throwing himself stupidly high into the air, making zero contact with the ball or man for that matter, and landing hard on the floor. In isolation, it was a ridiculously dumb play. In broader context, that kind of crazy stuff is crucial to what make Murphy’s game works. Opponents know that he’s liable to do something utterly insane like that at any moment and have to try and plan around it.
The Warriors weren’t just going to let Templeogue waltz back into this one. A fast-break dunk by Kieran Donaghy saw the Tralee man get T-ed up for excessive celebration but for the rest of the half it was more chip and chase hoops from the Warriors, forcing Templeogue to hurry back on D. The introduction of Puff Summers to close the half enabled the home side to keep its pace up and the former Davidson Wildcat nailed a falling three on the buzzer to see his side go in down 48-54 at the break.
Having taken a requisite breather, Murphy was back flying around like a lunatic to start the third quarter and spark another run by Templeogue. A lay-up drew the and one plus the gun show from Air Lorcan as the home side finally got back on level terms. While the young man was sparking the revival, one of the veterans got plain angry to spur it one. Pemberton crossed over Summers to make a 3 and Puff just got plain mad. He immediately responded in kind and then nailed another to give Templeogue their first lead of the night. Summers has spent his whole pro career in Ireland but never won the big one. Tonight, spotting Bonaparte off the bench, he was going all out to change that.
After all the action going into the final frame, the fatigue started to show even for Murphy in the fourth. There was a whole bunch of stodgy iso play on both sides. Tralee, refusing to roll over, and Templeogue, desperate for the title, were slugging almost blindly. With a chance to push out the lead from the line, the home side blinked first. A turnover, due to the wrong player taking a free throw, looked to have given the Warriors an opening. Bonaparte, who was called for the error, however wasn’t going to lie down. The Grenadian nailed a pull up three to push it out to a two possession game.
This couldn’t go easy Templeogue, not with Donaghy in full ‘I will end you’ mode. Time and again Templeogue looked to have pushed it beyond the grasp of the Warriors, and every time Donaghy or Pemberton came back at them. The latter went 3 of 3 from the line to bring Tralee back within a point as time ran down. The clawing just wasn’t enough. One last heave from Tralee didn’t work. It was over. Templeogue had done it and 31 points later, Murphy could finally breathe.
There was a pause before the crowd realised what had just happened. The players celebrated together as the cameras descended but the court finally got stormed. Murphy was as much being held up by teammates as embraced. He and Bonaparte took a seat after the initial surge, getting a brief moment of rest before the festivities kicked off again. Both men exhausted, their bodies finally recognising it was safe to switch off and taking the opportunity with gusto.
As the medals were handed out Murphy slapped hands with kids on the way up to collect his, plenty of them closer in age to him than he is to the vets on this squad. The trophy was raised high and the chance to rest in the pub was welcome. There’s still one more game to go, against Swords next week, and then the playoffs up in Letterkenny but this game was the end of a long road for Murphy. Having been part of Templeogue’s youth sides and the side that struggled in its first season in the Superleague just four seasons ago, he’s been there for all the progress. He was on the side that lifted the national cup a year ago and now he’d been the mad leaping nutcase Templeogue needed to win the biggest prize of all. For this night, he’d done his work and could celebrate.