What motivates someone to keep going in basketball when they have won all their is to one and their best years are clearly behind them. Anyone watching Tralee Warriors battle Ballincollig could understand why as Kieran Donaghy fought for the right to be in that moment
The Berserker at Stamford Bridge never fell, if the tales are to be believed. This Norseman covered the retreat of his fellow troops (a vain one as it turned out) by blocking the way of the Saxons. Direct assault didn’t work. Instead, it was a spear from the river beneath that ended his fight. Yet he died on his feet.
At least that’s how the story goes. Kieran Donaghy has gone into battle every time he has taken the floor with Tralee Warriors since being the spark behind the club’s birth. Against Ballincollig in the Irish Cup, he knew that there would be few more opportunities like this for him again in basketball.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Winning and losing matters but sometimes there’s another matter at stake that runs neither in opposition nor above it. In essence, it is a parallel task. Less than two months from his 41st birthday, Kieran Donaghy knows the number of nights he has with these sort of stakes in a Tralee Warriors jersey are few in number. This night against Ballincollig was not solely a semi final.
Donaghy, the Star, who brought big time basketball back to a town that craves it, must fight to ensure he earns as many such opportunities as possible in whatever time he has left. Donaghy fights not just for the victory now but for the chance to have more opportunities at that victory.
Elimination basketball naturally suits old-timers as a result. They are familiar with the clock on their careers. They are comfortable with the possibility that there is no tomorrow. The fear of defeat in such circumstances that a younger competitor might feel is dimmed. Donaghy lives with that concern daily and is naturally closer to peace with it than anyone in their prime could contemplate.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Donaghy, understandably, sat to start. He watched on as a glorious mélee of meaty men went to war in the paint. It wasn’t just a bruising battle, there were open looks, but it took a fight on the interior for that space to emerge.
An Eoin Quigley three, a position Donaghy had helped create more than once, gave Tralee Warriors their first lead of the night. Donaghy however remained sat, save to step on the floor to wipe a wet spot during a stoppage.
With 4.11 to go in the first, he entered the fray for the first time. A light off load to Ryan Leonard led to a missed three. In the battle for the rebound, Donaghy made Keelan Cairns aware what this game was. One shunt of the forearm to the back sent the towering beast to the floor. A foul was called, of course, but a message was sent.
Donaghy looked in for his first score of the night but the timing wasn’t quite there with Leonard. Then came the smarts. He realised his positioning was off for a three, threaded a pass through to Cian Sullivan in a sandwich and the rangy Sullivan emerged to finish neatly.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right
We all know the saying. Father Time is undefeated. Yet, when presented with that statement another thought comes to mind. Don’t try to beat him. Play around rather than through him. That’s what Kieran Donaghy does now on the floor.
He knows the difference between taking a play off and adjusting his position slightly, cheating the step a tad, to be in a quicker spot to transition. It’s a gamble each time but less than you might think. At no point is he the weakest on floor defender for his side or the most likely offensive option. He won’t be zoned in on to be exploited. The risk of punishment is reduced. The wisdom of knowing where he is as a player standing to him.
It was not long into the second when he sat. Sweat shining bright off his reddened skin. Every stint takes that bit more out of the reserves now. Every rest matters more to get that energy back.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how brightn
“Not yet Kieran.” That was the message the simple look that John Dowling gave Donaghy as the rhythm seemed to be going against Tralee on the scoreboard. Dowling, the Warriors coach, preached patience to his team’s emotional leader. The lead was changing hands casually with nary a possession ever separating the sides.
Nobody was going to break out in this situation and nobody was going to get in a hole. Dowling knew that this was the time for rest as his one reddened skin returned to a more comfortably paler shade. Ballincollig had veterans but they also had the type of rotations that would enable them to match Tralee Warriors for stamina. Burning out the Star was not the right move in the moment.
A pensive Donaghy stood behind the bench leaning forward onto a chair awaiting the call. With 1.45 left in the half, he entered in place of Sullivan. It took until the very end of the half for his impact to be felt, with a steal on the final possession to set up Daniel Jokubaitis for a bucket to send everyone to the locker rooms.
BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
The half time rest was all Donaghy wanted. He was there to start the third. A missed three but he was immediately there to steal the ball. The time to impose who he is had arrived. This Donaghy gets down low more than he soars high, looking to make the game broken and swim strong in the chaos.
The gods do not relent. What looked like a straightforward rebound became a contest with Adrian O’Sullivan and a loss of possession. Then, from the inbound, a foul on Shawndale Jones. The rhythm of Jones, O’Sullivan, and Andre Nation was running wild on a weary looking Tralee side. We were not midway through the third and the contest had busted open, with Donaghy fatigued and clearly needing respite.
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors
Reddened from top to toe, Donaghy kept roaring his men on. Jarvis Doles stopped the bleeding briefly with a three but Jones busted through Donaghy on the next possession. He clapped and encouraged before finally getting called to sit with 4.59 left in the frame and his side down a dozen.
I long thought that the player who kept on going on long past their best made for a sad sight. It was a reminder of mortality that none of us needed. The end of the career of Dimitris Diamantidis, with Vasilis Spanoulis scoring a jumper over him as he defended in vain, is the best one could have hoped for. A great warrior felled by his finest rival, given permission to pass from the game with honour intact.
No more. Ballers fight on because they want to get every last drop they can out of basketball. Leave it all on the floor is the line coaches use to motivate players for a single game. Yet it can equally apply to a career. This was a moment of which there are only so many. A baller must know that when they step away, they haven’t left anything behind.
As Quigley made a three that floored him, and really should have drawn a bonus, Donaghy found his voice. From the bench he pointed, roared, encouraged, and directed. He might make a fine senior coach some day but he’d surely be of greater benefit to young ballers. Giving them the lift they need to keep believing and fighting.
Grave men, near death, who see a blinding sight
It took but moments of the fourth quarter for Ballincollig to blow open an enormous lead. Donaghy had to step in now. If this was not to be his day, he was not going to be a bystander to defeat. Up he went to block Jones.
A Nation bust up the middle, the Ballincollig man loses his handle slightly and Donaghy slides in literally to somehow be there to make the steal. He was still seated when he started the resultant fast break, a successful one.
The gap dropped to 7. Donaghy willing every bit of juice out of his side. Yet another steal by Donaghy. Now we were getting a wildy cat. Backdoor pass to Jokubaitis and the gap was 5. On all fours he had to watch another fast break, rising just in time for Doles to make the bucket and draw the bonus shot. The gap was 2. A 15-0 run. Incredible
Rage against the dying of the light
The run ended. Ballincollig finally scored through Jones. No matter, the fight was there and so was Donaghy. Cairns came next to keep the push going for Ballincollig. There was however a pause. Ryan Leonard’s unfortunate injury giving everyone a breather and a chance to refocus.
Doles again, the gap was two again with Kieran Donaghy directing traffic like a coach on the floor. The chances to tie came yet they kept failing. The clock of the game was becoming more relevant. A swift hand from Donaghy low to the ball. Jones loses his handle. Held ball, black ball, Tralee Warriors ball.
As Doles paced at the line for the game tying shots that soon followed, Donaghy paced back at his own free throw line. His fist pumped for each make. Kieran Donaghy didn’t hear no bell and Father Time better get back in line. The lead came through Doles at the line.
Yet Ballincollig would not fall. Nation drew a foul off Donaghy. To the line and the lead was back with the Cork side before Doles tied it up again.
Then it came. Keelan Cairns, on the buzzer. The win for Ballincollig. It came under a rain of pressure and fury. Kieran Donaghy and his warriors had lost but they died on their feet.