Any run of results would guarantee chaos in the Irish Super League. It was going to take something special to make things absolutely bonkers at the mid-point of the season and we got just that. Emmet Ryan on how December to Dismember is living up to its billing
It began in rather drab fashion. Templeogue beat UCD Marian comfortably on Thursday evening in a forgettable affair. Both sides looked like most of their players had only got out of their day jobs earlier, which admittedly was actually the case, and weren’t sharp by any description. A whistefest ensued with Templeogue doing more between the whistles to do deservedly take the W.
Despite the game itself being hard to watch, it set in motion a potential scenario that would eventually play out after some far more entertaining games. For non-Irish readers, here are the important things you need to know:
1. The regular season decides the champion. Whoever has the best win-loss record wins.
2. There are no tie-breakers at all.
Keep those in mind as we proceed. Saturday saw 7-3 reigning champions Tralee Warriors host 7-2 Neptune and the Kerry side took the win comfortably 98-76. Belfast Star who were a further game back kept serve with a handy 85-69 win over DCU Saints. The late game on Saturday night really blew things up, once more it was time for Templeogue to take centre stage. At 6-4 after their win over UCD, they were hosting 7-2 Éanna in front of a packed house in Nord Anglia.
Through three quarters, there was basically nothing between the sides. Through the bulk of the fourth, their was still nothing between them. Then, right when it mattered at the death, they stretched things out to win 101-87 and the top of the table was suddenly awfully crowded.
There was however one game left, between 6-4 UCD Marian and 5-5 Killester. On Sunday it was tight for most of the day until Killester stretched things out to look well in charge entering the final moments. Then they weren’t. UCD tied things up with 16.3 seconds on the clock. Isaac Westbrooks took the open look to put Killester back on top but there were still 6.9 seconds left. That was all Mike Garrow needed to do this.
Overtime went all UCD’s ways, they took the extra period 15-1 to move to 7-4 alongside Templeogue and Belfast. Above them stand Tralee on 8-3 alongside the now 7-3 Éanna and Neptune. With most of the top 6 in a 12 team league having hit the midway points, there’s just a single loss between them. The 7th place team, Killorglin, is only one further defeat back on 6-5. This is getting stupid tight.
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It’s familiar territory for the Irish league. The 2018 championship saw 5 of the 12 teams enter the final week of games with realistic title ambitions and it eventually went to a single game playoff to decide it. Last season had 3 teams entering the final weekend with a 3 way playoff more than plausible before Tralee got the 2 wins they needed to secure the championship outright on the day after the last day of the season, a refixture meant they had to play the Sunday after the Saturday when the season was meant to end.
UCD Marian were involved heavily in both title chases and nobody has more experience of packed Irish title races in recent years than their coach Ioannis Liapakis who spoke to me after the win over Killester about the current state of play.
— Ball in Europe (@ballineurope) December 8, 2019
Next Saturday, we get more title contender clashes because it’s almost impossible to avoid them at this stage of the competition. Tralee come to Dublin to visit UCD Marian, who already own a win over the Kerry side. Two 7-4 sides face off in Nord Anglia as Templeogue host Belfast Star. Neptune travel to the now suddenly alive in the championship discussion and 7th place Killorglin while Éanna host the currently winless Dublin Lions.
Without that Templeogue win over UCD on Thursday in a barely watchable game, there’s no combination of results from the weekend that keeps things quite as tight. The only way we stay quite as packed through next weekend is if the Lions pull of an enormous upset at Éanna. It’s unlikely but the league newcomers came closest to breaking their duck on Saturday night before eventually falling in overtime to Maree. The most separation we can realistically expect however is for the 1 game separating 6 teams to drop to 1 game separating 4. That’s still tight as hell.