Bailey Greenberg and Claire Melia delivered a battle for the ages in the National Basketball Arena but it was Glanmire’s Melia who had the final say to claim the Irish cup crown
Speed kills, Glanmire showed that from the off, but Claire Melia could slow the game down to her liking as the Ireland international star was majestic but she found her match in Bailey Greenberg in what proved to be a defining duel of the Irish women’s cup final.
Despite her height of 6’3” and listed as centre, Melia adopts a role more of a point-forward like Vladimir Lucic or a true point-centre, a proper rarity like the glorious season Ioannis Bouroussis had with Baskonia. From the top of the key she could dictate how and when DCU Mercy’s defenders responded.
All around her there was scoring support to pile on the pressure. Áine McKenna had started the scoring with back to back threes, further opening up Melia’s ideal role of leading out and then pressing in to toy with her opponents. An understated speaker, Melia does her talking on the floor and she made light work of BGreenberg, the DCU woman tasked with taking on Melia at both ends, in the early going.
Greenberg had impressed mightily in DCU’s semi final victory over Waterford Wildcats and had four years of experience playing with Drexel but at times in the first quarter she looked like just another body on the floor as Melia moved past her or shut her down at will. Rachael Huijsdens did what she could in help defence but even the doctor in training had trouble operating against her long-time international team mate.
Decorated as Melia is through her international exploits, this was her first shot at a major title in Ireland. The youngster had been a star on sides that didn’t contend in previous years before trying her hand with St Joe’s in Philadelphia for a short stint. While she impressed there, Melia opted to switch to playing closer to home and is spearheading a juggernaut on Leeside now.
As Melia sat to start the second quarter, DCU rallied. Greenberg and Huijisdens having found the space to cut into Glanmire’s lead. Mark Scannell, seeking his first ever cup final win over longtime friend and rival Mark Ingle, stopped waiting for the ship to right itself when the deficit was cut to the minimum and went back to his maestro.
That merely slowed the DCU rally, it didn’t stop it. Greenberg had found her rhythm and proved a creative force, grabbing boards at her leisure on both ends to spur a remarkable rally that had Mercy ahead by 3, an 11 point turnaround, at the halftime break.
Greenberg was showing she was anything but just another body. A former CAA player of the year and second team senior class All-American, who started all 131 games of her college career, she was far from intimidated by her side’s slow start. The next 20 minutes would show if her calibre would be decisive.
It was Melia who struck first in the duel, going by Greenberg but the American responded in kind, ignoring the heavy pressure of Casey Grace, to nail one from the baseline. Her pedigree continued to show as she fed Alarie Mayze to extend DCU’s lead. Then she grabbed a loopy offensive board to stretch it to 7.Again to Mayze, with barely a moment to even hold possession as she fended off Melia’s defence. Amy Dooley’s size offered little resistance as the slightly Greenberg just shot right around her. This was a takeover display.
Now she was jawwing, hopping back and forth as she dared Melia to take her on. Melia prevented a step inside. No matter, Thornton was open and another assist for the former Dragon. Her dad had lost four teeth playing Gaelic football in Ireland in the 1980s, she was baring hers as a deep one from the American made it a double digit lead.
Start of the final frame, two bodies draping off her, and Greenberg saw Mayze in the corner for a three. Next time down the floor, it was Greenberg from the top of the key. What began looking like it would be a long day for DCU was turning into a dismemberment led by the Drexel standout. Melia was still doing what she could, racking up steals and boards but Greenberg was finding her outlets with ease.
Even when things went right for Melia, circumstance was becoming her undoing. Whether it was blocking Mayze and the shot going perfectly back into Mayze’s grasp or her overenthusiasm on a fast break from her own steal resulting in an offensive foul. The breaks weren’t going her way.
What is Greenberg? It’s simple, she contributes. When boards were needed, she rose up. When the score was looking ropey, she made some tough buckets. When help was needed, she dished out. Her excellence is in taking the basics and turning them up to 11.
Glanmire’s rally came, it simply had to. The game was back to within a single score midway through the final frame but again it was that connection, Greenberg to Mayze, that delivered for DCU.
Never count out Claire Melia. With nothing on the shot clock she put up a prayer to tie things up at 60-60. This was the queen’s court. A dime to McKenna and suddenly Glanmire were in the ascendancy again.
As this thriller reached its denouément, Melia and Greenberg were virtually inseparable on the floor. Each of these leaders marking the others moves but it was Melia’s dancing partners who had now found the steps required. From 12 points down, at 43-55, Melia had led a comeback for the ages. From the line, she closed it out.
The final stat lines for each proved their impact. Melia ended with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block. Greenberg, game in defeat, led all scorers with her 25 points, had 8 boards, 4 dimes, and 1 steal.