A fantastic offensive display saw Germany take the FIBA Europe U18 women’s B division title in Sunday night’s final against Ireland. The girls in green, who had dominated defensively throughout the competition, had no answer for Germany’s exceptional shooting as the pre-tournament favourites took gold in front of a packed National Basketball Arena. Emmet Ryan reports on a night tinged with disappointment for the hosts but one that won’t overshadow what came before it
The sold out signs were literally up outside the arena. The nerves of the previous nights really weren’t there. The important work had been done. Promotion achieved, a place in a final, the shot at a trophy really felt like a bonus. Not that it tempered the crowd. Even the intros were greeted loudly by the full house and at least one youngster was wearing a t-shirt with Ireland’s road to the final printed out on the back, pretty impressive turnaround on getting that printed.
Shipping up to Boston played as the crowd got restless for the tip. This may have been the gravy game but they wanted a trophy for the efforts of the 12 young Irish women who had delivered so much over the 10 days of this tournament. For one last time, it was a chance for Ireland to make a statement to the whole continent.
Luisa Geiselsoder, listed at 6’2″ but looked about 2 inches taller, was having her own way out there to start things off and her partnership with Nyara Sabally gave Germany a big one-two punch to start things off. With the visitors off to a 6-0 run to start things out, the crowd got into it following a Louise Scannell three. Germany had suffered their fright a night earlier, against Great Britain, and looked focused to start this one. Ireland were living off scraps early, much like in the victory against Poland, as Paula Kohl came in to add to the interior threat. The objective from Germany early was simple and smart. Wear down the Irish interior and look to create from there.
With their offence slowing, Germany went back to Geiselsoder again and she got the job done. A couple of quick scores from her forced Tommy O’Mahony to call his charges in. He switched to a three guard line-up, putting Dayna Finn, Sorcha Tiernan, and Maeve Phelan out there. On top of the added pace, it was an effort at changing the terms of engagement. Germany called a timeout within a minute and came out with a faster line-up. That created space and they punished the home side for it. At the end of the first Germany led 24-12 off the back of a long three from Jessika Schiffer.
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The crowd, naturally, had gone out of this to a degree. With Germany dominating, Ireland needed something. A Phelan score got the home support going again. Another Phelan score got Ireland back within single digits before Germany went back to that tried and trust Geiselsoder-Sabally combo to slow the run. Phelan was still rolling however and Germany stopped to have another think about matters.
Germany went leaner again, leaving the heavy lifting to Sabally, with a pair of threes from Jenny Strozyk and Laura Schinkel stretching it out again. O’Mahony went back to his starting line-up again to try and change things out there, looking for Bronagh Power Cassidy at the 3 to shut down the perimeter. Defensively it helped with that outside cover. Offensively however Ireland just weren’t cooking enough, with the inside shut down hard by the visitors. At the half it was Germany on top, 41-26.
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Outside the mood was still somewhat hopeful. A group of Liffey Celtics members, including Sorcha Tiernan’s mother, felt that Ireland had a shot of getting back into this. They hadn’t faced a deficit like this before but this team has pulled off its fair share of big performances. Tiernan is one of the players on the side with top tier experience in Ireland, trading it with the best at senior level in the women’s Superleague and was part of the Celtics side to make a first ever national cup final earlier this year.
At this level, those minutes against the best grown-ups on the island had served her and several of the roster well. Germany however were playing with the same depth and guile as Ireland and they were making better opportunities. Schiffer made another three as the visitors piled on the scores in the early stages of the third frame. Defence had been Ireland’s strength throughout this tournament, going the first seven games without letting an opponent break the 60 point barrier. On this night all of those big stands were taking their toll physically. Another Schiffer three stretched it out again and the 60 point barrier was breached late in the third. With 10 minutes to play, Germany led 60-35.
The Irish team got a standing ovation as they came out for the fourth quarter. This crowd has never had nights like Friday or Saturday. Getting to this stage, sharing a court with Germany in a European final, is dreamland for the sport here. Getting in on their on floor was something else entirely.
Schiffer went deep again, her fifth three of the game. The Irish legs looked tired and Germany kept on pushing, looking to finish this tournament on a high. Melia, who had been largely shut down all day by Germany’s power inside, gave the home fans something to cheer with a couple of scores to bring her personal tally to 9 before getting a huge roar as she left the court for the final time. A last roar of Olé Olé rang out as the game concluded. Germany were champions. Ireland, heroes even in defeat.
Just a few years ago, Ireland didn’t have any international teams. Not senior, not youth. Now, though defeated on the night, this crew had brought the sport to heights never before seen. Six of this roster will be eligible to suit up a year from now against the best Europe has to offer. The road back hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth it.
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