Ireland hasn’t participated in EuroBasket qualification for men or women since 2009 and the draws for both the men and women’s sides will prove tough tests
Started from the bottom, now we’re here. Started from the bottom, now the whole team here, or teams technically in this case. After gold for the men and silver for the women at the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries, the only natural step left for Ireland to take was to enter qualification for EuroBasket proper.
The women’s return was announced early this week, the men’s announcement came as more of a surprise due entirely to timing. With all of Irish basketball expecting only the women’s draw to be relevant, the men being formally slotted into their draw 24 hours before it was due was almost missed entirely by those following…and the players and coaches if my Twitter is any indication.
No matter, the draws happened and they are tough. Let’s start with the women.
Drawn into Group I of qualification for EuroBasket 2023, Ireland face Belarus (4th place in EuroBasket 2021 and Olympic participants in 2016), Czech Republic (15th in EuroBasket 2021 and winners back in 2005), and Netherlands (49th in the world and seeking their first trip to EuroBasket since 1989).
The obvious favourites are Belarus who have really developed a sustainable core in women’s hoops over the past two decades, despite the internal strife within the country. The Czech’s aren’t what they were but they still expect to make EuroBasket every edition. With only 4 of the 10 group runners up guaranteed to progress, Ireland can expect them to bring sharp approach throughout.
Netherlands is the obvious target for wins in this group, the Dutch have been so-so the past few campaigns but, it doesn’t need saying, there are no easy games when you are the lowest seed in your group.
The huge plus for the women, and this really can’t be overstated, is the women’s edition of EuroBasket is biennial which means they will get regular competitive international qualifiers. No matter what happens in the road to 2023, the road to 2025 will begin almost as soon as it ends.
The process for the men is more drawn out. Granted, there’s a Covid-19 impact but Ireland will have completed their first, and potentially sole, phase of the qualification process for the 2025 tournament before EuroBasket 2022 starts.
This might sound mad to the outside observer but the men’s windows are a bit more complicated due to the qualification for the World Cup in 2023 being largely its own beast, whereas the women’s World Cup qualification is tied to EuroBasket.
Ireland were drawn in Group A alongside Switzerland (who recorded wins over Iceland, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovakia in the 2022 qualifiers), Austria (the highest ranked second seeds who recorded a win over Great Britain and made the find qualifying round for 2022), and Cyprus (the highest ranked third seeds).
This is about as tough a group as Ireland could have possibly drawn. Only the group winners are guaranteed to progress to the second phase of qualification, along with the best of the three group runners up.
The Swiss are the lowest ranked of the three first seeds but remain a serious unit and could potentially call on Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks should Ireland face them in the summer window of qualification. At this point it’s worth pointing out that all European based players, outside of Euroleague, will be available for all windows but no US based players will be available for the two winter windows although they should be available for the lone summer window.
Austria are comfortably the strongest of the second seeds, it’s not close. On paper, Ireland would not be ruled out by oddsmakers of doing the double over both the other second seeds in Luxembourg and Kosovo whereas the Austrians will be heavy favourites in their home game with Ireland while they will more than fancy their chances of getting a W when they come here.
Lastly there’s Cyprus, again comfortably the strongest on their seed line, as opposed to Albania and Norway where Ireland would have been slightly favoured to do the double in both cases.
Neither side has a draw that will be easy but that was to be expected. As the Drake lyrics as the top put it, there’s only one place to start if you want to get to the ultimate destination. If Ireland wants to compete, it needs real competition and both of these draws certainly provide a step up in standard.
Just spare a thought for the poor basketball journalist who wants to hit the road for some of these. Had the women landed in Group G, it would have been Greece, Great Britain, and Portugal. That’s about as perfect a group for my travel plans as it gets. Oh well, such is the way of the keyboard warrior.