Don’t let the age on the ID fool you, Charlie Crowley has proven his grown ass man credentials as University of Galway Maree’s head coach and he spoke with Emmet Ryan ahead of Saturday’s Irish men’s cup final against DBS Éanna
There are things you’ve got to get used to as you get older. The athletes you looked up to retire, then the ones you referred to as kids turn out to now be in their mid 30s, and suddenly the kids of the dudes you watched as a young guy are hitting their primes in the big time. All of that is normal but, ah here, wait a minute. Charlie Crowley is how young?
At just 25 years of age, Crowley has coached University of Galway Maree into the top flight cup final in Ireland for the first time in the club’s history while also leading the Southern Conference of the Super League.
It’s an extraordinary rise for the young coach, whose playing days were cut short with injury but has ended up in an extraordinary start to his career working from the bench.
“I’d gotten injured and never really recovered from it. Things were arising that there was a changing of the guard with coaching, a gap arose and I said to the lads why not? It was a bit of a shot in the dark,” Crowley told BallinEurope.
Crowley officially took over the reins of Maree ahead of the cancelled 2020/21 season. Once basketball got back under way, his side reached the semi-finals of the cup and have gone one better this year, while also the favourites to win the overall Super League title this year. It’s a long way removed from where Maree had been in the consciousness in recent times, with the Oranmore, Co. Galway outfit’s men’s sides wee seen as tough to play against but rarely likely to be in the hunt for top tier silverware.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. Last year we made strides, then we went back to the drawing board. We just built on it, tweaking the stuff that wasn’t working. The key thing was the core of main guys that played for us all returned this season. That continuity is huge,” Crowley said.
“We’ve pushed on from there. A lot of the lads are still only 23 or 24 but they have lots of experience. They’re wise beyond their years. Last year, we were learning what way we wanted to play whereas this year we knew it.”
Unsurprisingly, plenty of the Maree roster are older than the man in charge. Veterans like Paul Freeman and Cathal Finn bring a different dynamic to the dressing room.
“Cathal and Paul have been around the block, they know the craic. If there’s a question and I’m down the other end of the floor, they can probably give it before it slows down the session,” he said.
“It’s the respect of the title and the role. If you respect the role, it doesn’t matter what age the coach is. That’s the person making the decisions and doing everything in the background. Once the players know that, they’re easy to coach. If they don’t, they’re not players I want to coach.”
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The one word everyone in Irish basketball can agree on when it comes to Saturday’s match-up is physicality. Crowley is well aware that this will be a hard-hitting encounter.
“We’re going to have to fight and slog in this one to be in with a spitting chance. We’ve got to be ready for a boxing match. We mightn’t be throwing haymakers but we’ll be jabbing all game long, to get to that 8th or 9th round and see where we’re going to be,” he said.
“They’ve got depth, the whole country talks about their depth, we’ll have to test it to the limit and our depth isn’t too bad.”Aside from leading one of the greatest rises in Irish men’s basketball history, Crowley has the small matter of a day job as a project planner at Kirby Group Engineering.
“This week has been the most difficult to balance work and basketball. The rest of the time I can worry about basketball in the evening time. This week, it was tougher. It can be tough in general but the nature of the skills I use in project planning, I have to think the same way in basketball. It doesn’t take a big shift mentally when I’m planning a basketball session,” Crowley said.
The importance of the cup run alone, let alone a possible win this Saturday, hasn’t been lost on Crowley. He’s already seen the impact it has on basketball in the locality.
“Our peak had been winning underage or Division 1 (Ireland’s second tier). Even the league campaign we’ve had so far has tripled turnout at our juvenile academies so you can only imagine what a cup win might do, it would be unbelievable,” he said.
“Basketball is a ruthless game, it doesn’t matter what you deserve, you’ve got to grab it by the horns.”
With him in such a wunderkind role, a win on Saturday or a Super League title later this season will get Crowley noticed. Has the idea of going full-time on the continent coaching pros crossed his mind?
“I haven’t been asked that before. Potentially, I could. I was born in the US so I could get over there. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind but it’s a long way away and a lot of luck and opportunity has to come into it,” Crowley said.
“I definitely wouldn’t write it off. I’m very happy in what I’m doing at the moment and I really love coaching Maree basketball.”