Glanmire are the reigning champions but their key challengers for the crown in Irish women’s basketball may change. With Killester and Liffey Celtics loading up, we look ahead to the Irish women’s Super League.
Irish women’s basketball has, at times, felt a lot like men’s EuroBasket. Everyone plays a lot of games. There’s lots of excitement. Then, in the end, Glanmire wins. Just replace Glanmire with Spain for the EuroBasket analogy to work.
The Cork club once again took the top crown last season but change is afoot. Upheaval in the Dublin clubs has potentially shifted the balance of power. Killester, winners of the Irish women’s cup last season, look primed for a title challenge. Mimi Clarke, a veteran with the squad, isn’t getting ahead of herself all the same.
“The goal is always to win it all. For us, we just want to win the first game of the season. There’s no point looking too far into the future before getting that first win under our belts,” Clarke told BallinEurope.
“It’s going to be an interesting season. DCU Mercy and Trinity Meteors have both lost a lot of players. Liffey Celtics have gained some interesting players, including Rachel Huijsdens. Glanmire are always pretty consistent. I’ve no idea what to expect.”
Clarke’s own side has not been immune to the changes but, and it’s early days, it looks like a net gain for the North Dublin side.
“We’ve unfortunately lost some players who were big parts of our national cup winning team last year. We’ve also gained some players. My little cousin, Leilani Turner, the daughter of Jermaine Turner, has moved back from the US. Then we have Clare Melia joining us from Trinity Meteors as well,” Clarke said.
“Clare is a great person on and off the court. It’s nice to be around her a lot more. It’s great having that presence on the inside that we’ll be able to play off a bit more. Clare is always fun to play with.”
A different perspective
For many years, Ireland has been an outlier amongst most nations when it comes to deciding its champions. The regular season was the key trophy to win for both men and women.
The last two seasons however has seen the men’s competition move to a single-elimination playoff format at the end of the season. Clarke is in no hurry to see that change with the women’s Super League.
“I personally would love to see more of a thing made of the regular season champions. It shows the most consistent and best team. Unfortunately, I’ve never won that title but I just don’t understand why it isn’t made out to be a bigger thing,” she said.
“The cup is always made out to be the big competition and I love the cup but the league shows who is the best team. I like the women’s set-up because it shows a true winner at the end.”
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The growth of the game in Ireland in recent years has led to more interesting league title races. The Irish women’s Super League is now reaping those benefits with an historically high level of quality down the ranks. From 1 to 11, it’s never been tougher to call who wins on any given weekend.
“It’s challenging having a larger number of teams that are quite solid. You look at the players the teams at the bottom of the league had, they were some really strong ones. There’s no team that you have a guaranteed win against. That’s pretty much the beauty of the Irish Super League,” Clarke said.
“Team will be happy to give you a reality check if you look over them. It’s too easy in this league for anybody to take a win against you.”
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Moving on up
The newest arrivals to the 11 team league, yes an odd number is weird, are the Portlaoise Panthers. The midlands club won the National League (Ireland’s second tier) last season to return to the top flight.
Jessica Fressle, formerly of Southern Connecticut State, is in her second season with the club. She’s eager to get a taste of top flight action.
“Just the speed and the talent will be the challenge. Where we ended up in March and how we got there is preparing us to compete in the Super League,” Fressle said.
“We are capable of staying in the Super League. We have two girls who played Super League before and a lot of girls who are ready to put the work in. We’re going to shock some people.”
As an import in Ireland, there’s a lot of expectation. Fressle however feels comfortable in her role despite the game being different to the NCAA style.
“Playing over here is almost positionless. In college it was more structured. My role in my last two years of college is similar to my role here. I’ve got to show leadership, be vocal, and play a lot of defence,” she said.
“Living here is different. I come from Long Island, New York. I’ve adjusted well to the pace here. I got into coaching and I’ve made a lot of connections here. Portlaoise is a big enough town so it’s not like being in the middle of nowhere.”
The Irish women’s Super League begins this weekend.