UCD Marian has spent most of their history as a club playing the role of plucky underdog. This season they’ve got a huge target on their back. On Saturday the Dublin club goes for its first Irish cup title since 2011. Emmet Ryan sat down with two of their veterans as they look ahead to the clash with Templeogue
A post-game interview with Ioannis Liapakis is a lesson in coach speak. The Greek has put together a side that is delivering the club’s best season in living memory to date and there’s one guarantee with him. After every game he’ll tell you it was a cup final, he’ll tell you that every game his side plays is a cup final.
So far this season that attitude has worked wonders. Leading the league with a 12-2 record with 8 games to go, a 2 game lead over their nearest challengers, Marian are seeking a first championship since 1978.
On Saturday this outfit goes for a second ever cup title when they face Templeogue, the reigning Superleague champions and winners of this competition in 2016. It’s quite a change from their last appearance in the cup final, where Marian were massive underdogs as they fell to UCC Demons in the 2015 decider.
Despite going in as slight favourites for this one, the players feel they are taking a similar enough approach to that 2015 game.
“We’re just enjoying the whole thing, enjoying that we are doing well and in the cup final. We still see Templeogue as a heavyweight team in the Superleague, we’re going in with the same mentality we went with against Demons,” said Barry Drumm.
Scott Kinevane is one of the few players on the UCD squad who have enjoyed the kind of success the side is gunning for. He was part of a dominant UL Eagles side at the start of the decade, winning both a league and cup title. Kinevane has logged a few years with Marian but sees something different this season.
“With the squad that we have this year, there’s big competition for places and great competition in training. Some of our training sessions have been as tough as our games, guys are fighting and grafting for minutes each week,” he said.
“It’s a little different for me because I’ve won two league titles with UL. We’ve just been taking it game by game. We’ve been playing 10 years, we’ve one guy who is is 19 but the rest of us are between 26 and 32,”
“The team I had in Limerick was quite similar in terms of the relationships we had as players. We socialised on and off the court. With the crew that we have this year, we’d all hang out after practice, we’d work out together, we’d get shots up during the week together, I can see some real similarities, it’s a similar brotherhood,”
“Being a little older now, you kind of appreciate how many years you’ve got left and how many opportunities you get to play in a final.”
Drumm sees plenty to think about in Templeogue, with their American tandem of Puff Summers and Michael Bonaparte presenting a particular challenge.
“They have two of the best Americans in the league. Usually when you play a team, if their American goes off you can relax a bit. With Puff and Boney, if one goes off the other comes on. Then obviously they have Jason who is a giant and has been around the league for ages. Any team he goes to is going to be a contender because of the size and talent he brings,” he said.
“All around the court they just have players. Stephen James is one of the most under rated players in the league. Then there’s Lorcan [Murphy] and Neil [Randolph]. The whole team can play.”
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Templeogue’s Stephen James will be facing off against some awfully familiar faces on Saturday night. His brother Dan will be suiting up for UCD while his other brother Conor is an assistant to Liapakis.
“The James brothers are too nice. Dan has plans to do a bit of travelling so he wants to stick one on Steve before he goes away. Conor has been a great addition to us this year as our assistant coach, I think the mother is up for us for sure,” said Kinevane.
Drumm, a business teacher in Marian College, echoed Kinevane’s view on where the James family loyalties will lie.
“Marguerite bleeds blue and yellow, she’s in the school with me so I’d be giving her stick about it the whole time,” he said.
Teaching in the school that’s linked to the club has brought Drumm ample attention from students in the run up to the cup final.
“The kids would be talking about it but they’d be more slagging you about it, saying Gaelic football and soccer are the real sports, that basketball’s not a real one. I keep telling them about it anyway, I’m hoping that I’ll convert them,” he said.
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Aside from being back in the classroom the Monday after the game, Drumm has plenty of other reasons to not take too much of a breather after the cup final.
“We’re focused on the league as well. We’ve got a big weekend the weekend after, with two games. We’re in a position now where we’re chasing multiple goals and we haven’t been in this position before. We have to stay focused and make sure we don’t let a cup win or loss derail what’s been a solid league campaign so far,” he said.
“If we can play well defensively we’re in with a shout in any game, hopefully we’ll bring our best on Saturday night.”
Balancing working life with basketball isn’t the easiest but for Drumm and Kinevane, who is also a teacher, it’s not too stressful.
“We do it because we love it. For me, the team is a group of my best friends. It makes it easy to go training three nights a week because I’m seeing the lads. It’s not like I’m with a group I don’t get on with. We’re all a close group, that makes it easier,” said Drumm.
The Irish men’s cup final is live on TG4 in Ireland and streaming live and free around the world on TG4.ie on Saturday night from 7.45pm Irish time/ 8.45pm CERT/ 2.45pm EST
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