It wasn’t Killorglin’s day in their penultimate home outing of the season but the village of just 2,199 people can look forward to another season of top flight basketball. Emmet Ryan with the first of his missives from his Kerry adventure visits the town where there’s only one true goat
Prior to Killorglin’s ascension to the top flight last season, Galway’s Moycullen was the only true small village team in the top tier of Irish men’s basketball. Having spent all bar one of the last 10 seasons in the top flight, the rural club has been a fixture in the Super League.
Killorglin’s a different story entirely. They came out on top in a Division 1 title race only superseded by the top flight’s madness last year to secure a second spot for Co. Kerry clubs on the big stage in Ireland. They had the ballers, now they had to be ready.
Maree are quite the story just to look at. Last season they were nearly drawn into a relegation playoff whereas a few nights before this outing they nearly did enough to be in the right spot with tie-breakers to book a spot in the end of season Champions Trophy. Instead they took the floor against Killorglin in a game with no real stakes, and the opening minutes showed as much.
The pace was pedestrian until the midpoint of the first quarter when both teams decided it would be a good idea to play a proper basketball game which, thankfully, they decided to stick to until the final buzzer.
Niels Bunschoten (Indiana State) and Sean Sellers (Ball State) had both played college ball and you could see it quickly. There was that touch more organisation to their movement as they put some order on proceedings.
Killorglin didn’t lack for players of notable experience. Ivan Bogdanovic previously had a stint with Dubrovnik in Croatia’s Prva Liga, and had an import rotation of Shaq Dance (Limestone) and Stacey Lambert (Cameron).
Ah Shaq, a man whose name gives away the era in which he was born but credit to his folks. They were early to the trend, with Dance being born before his hall of fame namesake had even starred with Dream Team II in 1994.
The action picked up towards the end of the first, with Maree’s Paul Freeman showing a combination of strength, bravery, and oh my what have I done. He forced a turnover, recovered the ball, stormed down the floor, three the lay-up attempt, while knowing full well he was going to finish in the padding. Unluckily for him it didn’t go in but most of his inside efforts would end up working out.
Maree’s slightly quicker increase in tempo was enough to give them the advantage, 19-21, after the first.
The bleachers look permanent and feel that too but they go in and out every time there’s a home game. Installing them was necessary to make Super League basketball relevant in the town but getting them in required some ingenuity.
The cost to get an outside contractor to do it was around €40,000, which is around half the budget for an entire season for a team in this league. That wasn’t attractive but fortunately the team’s assistant coach, Charlie Buckley, is a quantity surveyor. He did all the measurements and combined with club volunteers the job was done in-house. You’ve got to be creative when your goals are ambitious on a tight budget.
You can watch the whole process in the video below, it takes between 90 minutes to 2 hours before and after each game.
Eoin O’Sullivan gave Killorglin the lead from deep early in the second quarter as the home side got much more aggressive on the boards. Lambert had come in for Dance and was largely staying to the outside, forcing the Maree D to come out to marshall him while freeing up room in the paint for Lambert’s team mates.
A wildly off target block by Lambert led to a goaltend and an and-1 for Eoin Rockall as Maree adjusted to the Killorglin rally.
Luck however was still with the hosts. O’Sullivan saw his three attempt hit the front of the rim only to then bank in off the backboard. With Dance returning to the floor and scoring from deep immediately, there was a chance for Killorglin to go on a real run but Freeman was keeping them in check. At the half, the home side led 36-35.
While all of this was going on, the town wasn’t exactly lacking for other matters to think about. The youth football team had a Munster Cup quarter final under way at the same time, a game they’d lose 4-1 to visiting Villa FC from Waterford, and there was also the matter of the post Paddy’s day hangover.
That plus the early start meant it was a rare game without a full house for the hosts although it’s worth noting that the total there still represented around 10 per cent of the town’s population. The crowds had been coming in part because of the love of the game but it didn’t hurt that this side knew a bit about delivering dramatic games.
In 19 games including this one, 13 finished within 10 points and, of those, 8 were within 5 points. The lopsided games went 2-4 but their close game record hurt them badly going 3-10.
For our analysis series The Ballin After, post-game interviews, and more, subscribe to BallinEurope’s YouTube channel
The third opened with Daragh Jones just having his foot on the line for what was a long two instead of a three. On the next possession, O’Sullivan made sure he was in the right spot to score from deep. Another three, from Dance, followed by a miss from the American that led to a putback by Daniel Jobukaitis and the Killorglin O was rolling out of the intermission.
Chants of CY got going as Maree took some time to think about things. The full name of the club is KCYMS Basketball, named for the Catholic Young Men’s Society, a body over 160 years old that is easiest to describe as an alternative to the YMCA.
Out of the break and Bunschoten went to work. He quickly hit double digit points on the frame. Killorglin looked good for more than the 8 point lead they had at the peak of their control but the Dutchman was having none of it, taking care of business to keep the visitors in it. With 10 minutes to play, it was Killorglin in front 61-57.
BallinEurope now has merch, like actual merch, t-shirts, phone covers, and even pillows. Check it all out on our RedBubble page.
The beer is named for the goat that is crowned king every summer. Locals go out to capture a wild goat which is subsequently named King Puck at the Puck Fair. The festival and this tradition is over 400 years old but the matter of how it came to be is somewhat of a mystery. Alcohol may have been involved, I’ve nothing to back that up other than a lifetime of poor choices.
As you cross the bridge on the Laune river, a statue of King Puck is there for all coming into Killorglin. More than the giant fintech business Fexco, the local GAA side Laune Rangers, or even KCYMS, the first thing people think of with Killorglin is King Puck.
The fourth started with a whole lot of defence but Maree could smell and opportunity and were going for it. Where Bunschoten had carried the third quarter load, this time it was Sellers stepping up.
A big technical foul call on Dance led to the visitors retaking the lead before Freeman and Dance traded buckets to ensure this stayed tight to the finish. Dance made a three down the stretch to finally put Kilorglin back in front, leading to him roaring in delight at the crowd.
Rockall came right back with a three of his own, followed by a turn and shrug, to give Maree a lead they’d not give up despite their best efforts to the contrary.
Up 3 with 30 seconds to go, Rockall missed a pair of free throws. Up 1 with half that time gone, Freeman made 1 of 2. A three by Jokubaitis rimmed out and that would be the last chance for the hosts. Bunschoten, who had been business like all day, made both his free throws with 4.5 seconds to go to seal it.
Defeat for Killorglin but ample drama for the fans and cause for hope. As the final horn sounded, news came through that Neptune had lost their last game of the season, ending any doubt of the Kerry club’s safety in the Super League. One more game this season, then another year of heart stoppers awaits.
To keep up to date with everything on BiE, like BallinEurope on Facebook