With the Irish Cup final taking place on Saturday night, Emmet Ryan looks ahead to a classic David and Goliath clash.
We want romance, we want grit, and we want a real battle. Blowouts are rarely fun, except when they prove era defining. We long for a team to come along and not just punch Goliath in the nose but to keep doing it until the giant crumbles. That’s what Maccabi Tel Aviv did in Milan last May. Those are the moments we remember. We don’t think about what usually happens when an upstart pursues a superior foe. We don’t think about Serbia’s hot as hell start against the USA in the FIBA World Cup Final because all it took was one timeout for the Americans to quell their uprising and kill the game off before the first quarter was done.
That’s what normally happens. We hope to see a giant made mortal. It’s not a hatred of greatness, it’s an unease with invulnerability. That’s why we always wonder if Batman could beat Superman even though there’s no logical way he could. Heck, that’s why Superman is far from a beloved character. He hasn’t got the flaws, the internal adversity we want him to overcome.
UCC Demons are perfect. At 14-0 in all competitions in Ireland, the Cork club isn’t just favoured to win on Saturday night, it’s favoured to do a clean sweep of all trophies in Ireland this season without losing a game. The bench is by some margin the deepest in the Irish league. Two of the Demons’ starters, Colin O’Reilly and Shane Coughlan, were named on the list of the 25 greatest ever Irish players this week. Kyle Hosford is a typical Euro style guard who happens to dunk and with authority. The man who merits the most focus however is one that hardly says a word on the court.
Lehmon Colbert isn’t gabby and he isn’t going to explode in the visible sense but he is a remarkably efficient baller who knows the inside game is as much about his feet as his hands. His bulk is around the hips, eschewing upper body power to assert himself better in close combat. A veteran of the game in Europe, the former Jacksonville University man has become the classic Euro-style American. There’s no flash to his game, just numbers garnered via the grind.
Colbert looks calm and polite as he moves but every action is laced with aggression. That’s what you need to survive as a pro at this level.
His countryman on the other side couldn’t be more different. Preston Ross knows when to defer to his UCD Mariam team mates but when he’s taking control, he shows it. The Winston Salem State product is still built like a college baller, lots of muscle in the arms and plenty of flash when he attacks. It’s his first season as a pro and already he’s playing for a championship. Unlike Colbert, he doesn’t have the CV to fall back on. This is the time when he needs to prove himself to the wider marketplace. The Irish league is fun but the money is dire. If Ross wants to make a career out of this sport, this has to be his launchpad to greater things. This game is his shop window.
The Irish men’s and women’s cup finals are live on TG4 and around the world on TG4.ie, with analysis from BiE’s Emmet Ryan and former Ireland international Conor Grace, from 17.50 Irish time/18.50 CET on Saturday night. English language commentary of the men’s final is available on Newstalk.
Fortunately for UCD Marian, what Ross needs to get more work and what they need from him is the same thing. On Tuesday ahead of practice, while waiting to interview the 22 year old, I saw their coach Ioannis Liapakis staring intently at a local league game. He was viewing this nothing match like it was a scouting assignment. The Greek is an on-off guy. When he is upset, you know it. When he’s angry, you definitely know it. This fiery emotion switches to almost perfect calm in an instant. It’s a bizarre combination.
Liapakis heads up a group of small-ball specialists but they found a way to play big, despite being blatantly under-sized, in their semi-final win over UL Eagles. Many of these players are used to being on this very stage with the same underdog tag, having shocked Killester to claim the crown in 2011. Conor Meany knows what it’s like to go into this kind of game with everyone expecting him to lose. At 28, his body has been battered playing this game but he is back playing with the fluidity of his younger days. Now in his prime, the youngest of a group of basketball brothers, wants more than that one moment of glory for 10 years of service.
He’s been there to punch Goliath in the nose before, he knows that every great team can be beaten but Marian need everything to go right. The defence needs to control and offence that has dominated every joust thus far. The Dublin club needs to exploit every fast break and Meany needs to match one of the greatest Irishmen to every play the game from beyond the arc.]
Making a god bleed isn’t meant to be easy. On Saturday night, we’ll find out if Marian can make Demons mortal.