The long wait is over. The opponents, the locations, and the competitive nature of the games really didn’t matter. The important thing was that Ireland is back on the map, writes Emmet Ryan
“Do they play basketball in Ireland?”
“Is basketball big in Ireland?”
“I didn’t know they had basketball in Ireland.”
It’s always friendly, no really it is. From Milano to Bilbao to Lille, Tel Aviv, Berlin and every other stop along the journey with BallinEurope it has always been friendly. Most people who meet me for the first time, especially those unfamiliar with BiE, are pleasantly surprised to meet an Irish basketball journalist and some variant of the above gets said at least once per trip. It’s nice to surprise them but what I really wanted was to change the second bit, the bit where I have to explain what our national team is like. Were we bad, good, or middling it really wouldn’t matter. Explaining that we just didn’t have one, that was never fun.
On Tuesday that ended. On Tuesday players I’ve had the privilege to cover with regularity in recent years who sought to wear the green jersey they had long earned got that shot. Aoife McDermott, who despite winning almost everything at the top level in Ireland while on the UL Huskies still knew what it meant to get her first intervarsities title a year ago. Gráinne Dwyer, who can freaking slay anyone when it comes to downing sambuca, got to take the one step bigger than winning Irish sportswoman of the year. These two women, longtime rivals in the league at home despite their youth, stood together to hear their anthem played. That moment had taken far too longer. This moment below was the first fresh video of an Irish person, male or female, scoring in international play this decade.
— Basketball Ireland (@BballIrl) June 28, 2016
This was the moment that these women had been waiting so long for. One person who should have been on the floor couldn’t play her part because of what she gave for her country. Orla O’Reilly, who plays in Liga Feminina with Bembibre, was ruled out of the tournament after suffering a wrist injury in the European 3×3 qualifying tournament in Andorra at the weekend. Despite losing their star, Ireland shone as the girls in green ran riot against Wales. McDermott’s double-double the highlight of an 84-46 win.
As the evening drew new, Irish fans got angry about the the stream in Moldova. That was where the men were getting their crack at returning to international play. There was no stream in Gibraltar and the local broadcaster in Moldova probably didn’t expect this much interest in its streams. Irish basketball people wanted to watch their guys however and they got the important bits. That first tip, that first score, and that final horn.
Kyle Hosford has captained a couple of not-quite Ireland sides. Last summer it was the Premier Men’s Select team, the trigger to formally reinstall the national programme hadn’t been pulled yet. Then in the autumn it was the club amalgamation side Hibernia in FIBA Europe Cup. On Tuesday in Chisinau he led his nation without any asterisks and did so by leading them in scoring too with 15 points. Jordan Blount, the great hope of the game here, had 10 points and 7 boards and once more it was a rout. Ireland dismembered Gibraltar 102-43.
It’s easy to point to how these are results Ireland should be getting. For the men, they have a player base that is incomparably large compared to their opponents in their opening game at the FIBA Small Countries. For the women, they would expect based on history to be far stronger than Wales.
That easy argument ignores the wider issue. For the whole of this decade Gibraltar and Wales could claim to be on a higher level than Ireland internationally because they, at least, were fielding internationally.
The prime years of some great Irish players were lost. Louise Galvin, who played in an Olympic qualifier in 7s rugby at the weekend, told this site’s podcast about how the lack of a senior national level was partially behind her switching sports. That chance to go to the next level with her country wasn’t there.
For these players, for the Paul Dicks, the Hosfords, and even the ‘Irish Sofo’ Conor Gallagher, this was their shot back in the international hoop family. Wednesday brings new challenges and Bryant Dunston’s Armenia may wait in the distance for the men but getting to Tuesday was what mattered.