Broken, older, but more eager to fight than ever, Colin O’Reilly has come back to the Irish Superleague to try and restore UCC Demons as a force to be reckoned with. Last Saturday night he had to handle that the hard way against UCD Marian. Emmet Ryan on the return of the man who led Demons to the lone perfect seasons in Ireland three years ago, and the fresh task his faces in a deeper Superleague
The home opener for UCD Marian had an expectant crowd. The addition of a couple of interesting new bodies had fans wondering if the Dublin club could legitimately compete in what promises to be a crowded title race this season. The first big move had occurred a week earlier when the night’s visitors, UCC Demons, had taken down Tralee Warriors to start the season. Colin O’Reilly went off for 32 points in that one, his first game since coming back to the Cork club.
The victory had come at a cost, a bunch of the Demons roster was injured including O’Reilly. Lehmon Colbert was still waiting to get his visa clearance and the side that travelled to Dublin was a bunch of walking wounded. O’Reilly lined out but physically he looked a wreck. The sluggish opening to the first quarter sat well with him however, allowing his broken body to adjust, before he started going to work inside.
After 10 minutes his side, dressing only 8 players, held a 29-20 lead with O’Reilly quickly racking up 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in the opening 10 minutes.
It’s been a long road for Colin O’Reilly but he wasn’t expecting it to lead home quite so soon. Just over a year ago he was appointed as head coach of the Cheshire Phoenix, a move that was meant to signal the end of his playing career and the beginning of his focus being solely on coaching. A gig in the British Basketball League (BBL) was a solid launchpad for a 32 year old. O’Reilly had logged good years in the US college system, won it all with his hometown UCC Demons, jumped around Europe a bit before logging a couple of seasons playing in the BBL before coming back to Demons and delivering an exceptional 2014/15 season.
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That was the year the Demons did what nobody had before. A perfect record in the regular season of the league, the same en route to the cup triumph, and the final piece in the playoffs to deliver a 25-0 record. Perfection for O’Reilly as player-coach and he followed that up with another league title and win in the playoff finals a year later, defeat in the cup semi finals denying him a treble. That was where he was meant to say goodbye.
The healthier, more energetic UCD Marian side got to work in the second quarter with new arrival JJ Vall Llobera impressing mightily. O’Reilly had already been forced to adjust his game. The Corkman was hanging way back on offence, worried more about being able to get back on defence in transition. He clearly couldn’t run end to end. O’Reilly had to pick his possessions.
Sitting really wasn’t an option with the lack of alternatives, at the half he hadn’t subbed himself out once but now Demons trailed 47-43.
O’Reilly’s move to Cheshire was re-acquainting him with a club he knew well. A tough start to the season however left him in limbo. O’Reilly was out before he had been able to really get going, replaced by former coach Ben Thomas. The big jump hadn’t panned out and back home his guys had lost their shine.
Colbert, who had come to Demons with O’Reilly originally, was back in the US and the side lacked the deep bench that had been the envy of the Superleague. A season-ending injury to Kyle Hosford compounded the problems.
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It was simply a disappointing campaign. No league title, no cup final, no place in the post-season. O’Reilly’s English adventure may not have worked out but, back in Cork, there was definitely a place for him on and off the floor.
The third start off with UCD Marian running into a double digit lead. O’Reilly led a rally, racking up another 7 points in the frame to bring his total for the night to 14. The hobbling was still there. O’Reilly’s guile was getting him to the line but not a whole lot else was working.
Physically he was a wreck out there, it was pure brains getting his side back into this one as the Cork side struggled with UCD’s superior athleticism. Finally, with 35.3 seconds left on the clock in the third, O’Reilly sat for the first and only time in the game. With 10 minutes to play, this battered bunch was still in the game down 66-64.
“A high basketball IQ and can play in multiple positions on the floor and caused opponents several headaches as he created mid-matches due to his length. Was an underrated defender and offensively, had a decent stroke from the three-point line,” said Hobbs.
Defensively he was living off his brains but whenever UCD had a chance to get moving physically, it wasn’t a fight. The poor finishing of the home side kept this one interesting down the stretch. Demons were living off scraps but not letting the hosts run them off the floor. In the end, it just wasn’t enough, as UCD Marian started their season with an 83-80 win. A big win for the home side, and they had a big arrival on the way with former Polish 1-Liga player Mateusz Markowicz giving them more beef on the interior.
O’Reilly (centre) and Hosford (left) made Demons a dominant force in Irish basketball across two seasons
For O’Reilly, a man normally not exactly the calmest in defeat, there was an element of awareness at the gun. He knew this wasn’t a game they were expected to win, he also knew it was one he probably wouldn’t have played in ideal circumstances.
“I shouldn’t have been playing obviously but for me that’s a fantastic performance by us. Obviously, I couldn’t run. We were down three or four of our top players and we scored 80 points on the road against what’s meant to be one of the top teams,” he said.
“[Being home] It’s grand, it’s familiar surroundings I guess. Obviously, it hasn’t been smooth with us. We’ve had too many injuries, we haven’t been able to do a pre-season, we haven’t been able to gameplan for teams because we haven’t enough bodies on the floor. That will come once we have our full roster together, we’ll be fine,”
“We’re going to get through it but we’re trying to win games. We’re still going to fight, scratch, and claw. It’s the character of the group, we know we are in a bad situation at the moment but we are going out there scrapping.”
O’Reilly’s next shot comes Sunday against another one of the sides tipped to win it all, Swords Thunder. Colbert is back, O’Reilly’s had a week of rest, but the games don’t get any easier.
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