Ireland’s first step in the long, long, road to FIBA EuroBasket 2025 ended in success with an impressive victory away to Cyprus. Emmet Ryan watched the game from a Starbucks rather than Nicosia but still got his report in shortly after the buzzer
Whatever fear that Ireland would be walking into hostile territory was dispelled before opening tip. The home fans barely outnumbered the couple of dozen supporters that had made the long trip to Nicosia to watch this clash in the pre-qualifiers for EuroBasket 2025.
The fear with this one, going in at least, was that Ireland might get caught out getting used to the pace of this level. A strong start quickly put paid to that as they proved physically imposing against Cyprus, creating space at their leisure to take charge early on the scoreboard. The lone concern was the speed with which Ireland got into foul trouble, giving Cyprus the bonus before the midway point of the quarter.
That forced far more caution from Mark Keenan’s charges than the Irish coach would have preferred through the back end of the opening frame. It felt like there was an opportunity to punch a big hole in the first quarter but there was a cap put on just how much Ireland could do. As it was, they only led 17-20 after 10 minutes.
Without the foul stress, Ireland quickly made it a double digit lead early in the second quarter as Jordan Blount nailed his third three of the game. The Corkman, who announced his engagement just days before the game, was clearly in a good mood. With Keenan happily shuffling his line-ups in the first quarter, the visitors were keeping fresh but probably the most under the radar contributor was Taiwo Badmus. His solid play on defence kept Cyprus from creating real space and he was comically unselfish offensively, always looking for an outlet.
The lead Ireland probably should have held by the end of the first quarter was theirs with authority by half-time. A 31-44 score at the break was well-deserved by Keenan’s group.
The third quarter started an awful lot like the third quarter of most of Ireland’s performances in their dominant Small Countries Championship display. Keenan’s side went out looking to kill off the contest early and put space between them and Cyprus. Perhaps someone had noticed that a win here would make it 6 straight wins in competitive hoops, 5 straight when friendlies are counted, and that momentum is a hell of a thing.
To their credit, the hosts rallied after the initial Irish surge, making life awfully crowded in the paint. It was still a chasing game however and they couldn’t get the gap back into single digits. That was enough for Ireland to tire out their hosts and pick their chances when they found them. With 10 minutes to play, Ireland led 50-66.
The fatigue was obvious from Cyprus despite getting the better start in the fourth. They needed to work hard for every look, let alone score. Keenan went into this speaking highly of his hopes of victory but even he must have been particularly happy with the nature of this performance. It was controlled, his side rarely allowed the hosts to trouble them, and they clearly had another gear or two in them. A good win, now on to the likely much tougher challenge of Austria in Tallaght on Sunday.
– For those unaware, Badmus has the greatest social handle in the sport, he’s @basketballerguy on both Twitter and Instagram
– Our sincere congratulations to Jordan Blount on his engagement. Hope the other half doesn’t mind the Icelandic winter.
– You’ll have to wait until you see me on TG4 on Sunday for my thoughts on Austria and Switzerland as that game didn’t start until well after the final buzzer of this one.