Claire Melia dominated as Ireland crushed FYR Macedonia on the opening day of the FIBA U18 B women’s championships in Dublin. Emmet Ryan looks back on an impressive and beneficial outing for the host nation
Crowds like this really aren’t normal here. The indoor arena in Abbotstown was a sea of green, with players from other underage national teams and campers bringing plenty of vocal support for the home side. It’s not usually this noisy at Irish basketball but the crowd was trying to get on the backs of the visitors early, making this feel like a proper home atmosphere.
As expected, Claire Melia was dominant early. She had her double-double by the half, just, with a buzzer beating shot giving Ireland a 47-20 lead at the break. It was the depth however that really shone through here as 11 of the 12 players on the Irish roster were on the board by the mid point of the second quarter. This was a game Ireland was supposed to win handy and they did. Having gone in at the end of the first quarter with a 15 point lead, coach Tommy O’Mahony was able to go to his bench early and give those players real minutes.
That depth is going to be a big factor for the Irish side in this tournament. In the hall next door Ukraine and Great Britain, the two presumptive rivals to Ireland for spots in the quarter finals, were knocking the hell out of each other while across town in Tallaght Germany were eviscorating Iceland with the type of scoreline normally reserved for Oceania tournaments.
Ireland however were focused solely on the task at hand and the visitors never looked up for it. The Macedonians averaged 3cm taller per player but the structure and mechanics of this outfit was sorely lacking. In a game Ireland were supposed to romp home in, the only real surprise was how little energy they had to expend to make it a rout. In the close format of tournament play, with no day off until Monday, that’s a handy asset to have.
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By the mid-point of the second half the main focus shifted to Ella McCloskey, the only player on the Irish team yet to score. McCloskey was doing so much work tidying up for those around her that chances to get on the board were in short supply.
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The job was done but the real tests lie ahead. Slovakia on Saturday, Great Britain on Tuesday, and Ukraine on Wednesday. Moldova on Sunday looks the only gimme on the docket. For the fans here today, it was a great way to start. Youngsters draped in tricolours smiled as they walked around the arena in the final quarter. The raucous crowd had rested, there was no need to bring the heavy stuff anymore. This was simply about getting everyone off the floor in one piece. The bench was doing its job to ensure that, with 30 points through the opening three quarters.
The visitors were less fortunate with Iskra Andonova getting carried off injured by her teammates early in the final frame. It promises to be a tough week and a half for the Balkan nation and players getting hurt isn’t going to help.
With 1.02 left, McCloskey finally got her score and the crowd erupted. The whole roster was on the board. The real challenges lie ahead.
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