Sunday sees the best ballers in Ireland head to the UK to try and pull off a big upset over their compatriots in the British Basketball League (BBL) for the second year straight. Emmet Ryan spoke with Mark Keenan, coach of the Irish Men’s Premier Select Team (MPSL), about their quest for glory in Birmingham.
Mark Keenan became a big deal just as Irish basketball entered its dark age, well the first as it was punctuated by a turn of the century revival, as he led an all-conquering St Vincent’s team to national cup and league success in the early 90s. Here was this 5’6″ nobody playing a vital role on the best team in the game as far as Irish viewers were concerned. Since hanging up his kicks, Keenan has enjoyed similar success as a coach. Last season he coached UL Eagles to the league title and a losing appearance in the cup final. Keenan was also the man in charge when an unfancied selection from the Irish league topped a BBL select team just hours before the BBL Cup Final.
Keenan’s back again with a squad containing just four members of that victorious roster. They head to Birmingham this weekend looking to build on a rout of a Welsh selection earlier this season. With no national team to aim for, this is the peak for many Irish players. Rare as the opportunity to play an international, even a quasi one, is the realities of life have somewhat stymied preparations. Of tbe 29 players invited to camp, only 17 could make themselves available for the weekend commitment in Birmingham. With the national cup semi finals on Friday night, many of the amateur outfit couldn’t commit the extra time off work or away from their families. Keenan however is confident in the 12 man roster he has. Now there’s just the small matter of preparing for an opponent of who they know little.
“We had to do some homework. Last we I watched a lot of BBL games on TV, as much as I could. With players I wasn’t familiar with, I bounced them off Colin O’Reilly an Irish player who played in the BBL. I’ve taken a similar approach this year watching them online and Colin’s helped out again with the players I haven’t seen too much of,” Keenan told Ballineurope.com.