The FIBA Europe U18 B Division for women isn’t exactly the most high profile event in basketball. It’s not top of the agenda for most media outlets. Most media outlets aren’t BiE. Emmet Ryan on how a group of young Irish women are on the edge of glory this month in Dublin
These next 10 days are a goblet filled with that most lethal of concoctions for Irish souls: hope. It’s not been easy to come by in Irish hoops. There was the Promotions Cup win for the men in 1994*, the close call with promotion in 2005, and not a whole lot else. For years, it was the men’s ranks and our hopes of Americans with Irish heritage that we pinned our hopes to. Now it’s a different story. For years Ireland’s women’s development squads have been showing promise, an awful lot of promise, with top six finishes in B divisions at multiple European tournaments. Lengthy unbeaten runs, and signs of real progress across multiple generations. Now is the time to make it count.
*Iceland, playing in their second EuroBasket this September and fresh off seeing their U20 men reach the last eight in Europe, finished third at that event and lost to Ireland in the semi-finals. If you want to see what attention to development can do, look at what that island nation has achieved in the two decades since.
Today the FIBA Europe U18 B Division tips off in Dublin. If the Irish side wasn’t backed by such expectation, merely hosting the event would be a cause for celebration for Basketball Ireland. The decision to make a move to host a tournament this year was made well before the current generation’s promise was visible. Merely hosting 24 nations across two venues in the capital would be a huge deal for the sport here. Getting Ireland back on the map as a relevant place for basketball, irrespective of the quality of our own team’s play, would really be enough.
Over the next 10 days however, the hopes of Irish hoops will stretch far beyond that. In Claire Melia this U18 squad has a player with the talent to play at the highest level of the US college ranks. Not just D-I but to attract the attention of a bona fide blue blood of the sport. This tournament is her showcase event and there will be ample tape for coaches and scouts to scan of her against quality opposition following this event. It’s far from a one-woman squad, the roster has real depth and a bench that will be relevant. Melia however is the star, she’s the one the folks in the stands will look to when the business end of action approaches. She’s the one we know can make the difference between a good finish and a real shot at promotion.
Ireland has never managed to get a team into the A division at any underage level in Europe. Even the senior situations where Ireland did, like the 1948 Olympics, come with huge qualifiers. That 1948 side was invited because our neighbours in London needed teams. This one, this is one we can earn.
Ireland has what it needs to get the job done. Home court, talent, and experience of winning. This isn’t a side going in hoping for breaks, this is a team expecting to be in the shake-up for medals. That’s unchartered territory for a team from here, the type of mentality that could make all the difference. The road is far from easy, those neighbours of ours on the Great Britain team await next Tuesday as does a dangerous Ukrainian side the following day. It’s going to be a tough road just to make the knockout stages.
Tonight it starts with the opener against FYR Macedonia. Tonight, Ireland goes out with hope in the stands but expectation on the floor. For the next 10 days, it’s no excuses, no regrets, and nothing less than a top three finish to gain promotion will suffice.
Pic: Lazslo Geczo