Emmet Ryan developed an immunity to air-horns at the National Basketball Arena on Friday night. Here’s his look-back at the showcase night of the year for Irish Basketball, the men’s and women’s Cup Finals night.
The National Basketball Arena is impressive for a small venue, approximately 3,000 capacity, but it’s not easy to get to. Once inside, the dark misery of the west Dublin evening was quickly forgotten. Cup Finals night in Ireland began with the Women’s Superleague decider between UL Huskies and Team Montenotte Hotel, better known as Glanmire BC. A quick primer is in order for our non-Irish readers. The top flights in Ireland, in both women’s and men’s Basketball, feature a mix of club teams and collaborations between clubs and universities. The UL Huskies are one of three teams in the Women’s Superleague working under such an arrangement while four of the eight team’s in the Men’s Superleague are college/club combinations.
The tone was set quickly by the Huskies, with Rachel Vanderwal taking a Russell Westbrook role at point guard. The Canadian, who represented Great Britain at the Olympics, wasn’t afraid to shoot at will but with varying results. Playing the full 40 minutes, Vanderwal went 11 of 27, more than double the number of shots of any of her team-mates, and went 1 of 8 from behind the arc. UL only attempted two other three-pointers in the hole game. Yet despite her free-wheeling shooting, anyone watching couldn’t help but want Vanderwal to put it up. Like Westbrook, her shot-happy nature freed up options for those around her. Not that one could really gauge crowd reaction through the game. The din of air-horns wholly drowned out the arena which was still a long way short of full. The screeching was constant to the point it became background noise, making attending to matters on the floor a tad easier.
The Huskies set the pace throughout but seemed incapable of turning the screw once on top. Vanderwal and Michelle Fahy proved a solid inside-outside connection but UL’s other big, Aoife McDermott was having difficulty making her presence felt inside. This enabled Glanmire, with a severely predictable two-dimensional offence, to stay in the contest through the third quarter. Grainne Dwyer worked the outside while Tomica Basic was an effective post presence through three quarters. Eventually UL’s depth started to prove telling. Rachel Clancy benefitted from the attention Vanderwal was drawing and got open to the tune of 13 points. It was McDermott however who proved the big difference down the stretch. Dominating on the defensive end, McDermott finished with 8 boards and eventually found space to score inside. With Basic struggling, Glanmire were out of options. Fahy’s 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists would see her edge Vanderwal, who finished with 26 points and 3 dimes, for MVP honours. Both would cede the night to the man who took control of the men’s decider.
With the hardcore supporters for both contenders in the men’s final in fine voice, the now packed arena was finally drowning out the horns. The early scoring between Neptune BC and UL Eagles looked like the game would be a duel between the Americans on the floor. Mick McGinn was having none of this. He was the Bobby Brown (no not that one, this one) to Vanderwal’s Westbrook. The do-everything guard was like a ferret all over the court. After Neptune opened up an early double-digit lead, the Eagles cut the deficit to one point but McGinn was having none of it.
Two quick buckets by the man who was electrifying the European Twittersphere put Neptune back on top. Seeking a first Cup title in 21 years, the Cork club went in 43-30 up at the break on the back of 18 first-half points by McGinn. Downstairs fans were nervous. Two older Neptune supporters said this was the best defensive outfit the club had in years, a teenager said he hadn’t slept in three nights before the game. With Ger Noonan dropping dimes at will, it was no surprise when the co-captain fed McGinn as his scoring tally reached 20. UL’s younger fans tried to put McGinn off at the charity stripe with a wanking motion but he kept on scoring. Foul trouble however saw McGinn finally take a break. Noonan took over with a pair of buckets before the maestro returned. Within 8 seconds McGinn scored again but it took only a little longer for him to pick up a fourth foul.
The Eagles had an opening, albeit a tiny one. With McGinn and Darren Townes, Neptune’s second top-scorer, both sitting the pressure was on but the Cork club’s back-ups carried the load. On 4.49 the duo returned for the final time to close out the game. McGinn got to 28 but two missed free throws saw him fall just shy of 30. It didn’t matter, the night belonged to McGinn. With a final score of 85-65, Neptune’s famine was over.
We welcome and encourage all comments.
Follow Emmet Ryan on Twitter.