The Boston Celtics have had a target on their back as the big gun to take down more often than not across their storied history. Their cousins in Leixlip are a little different but Liffey Celtics go into Ireland’s women’s cup final as clear favourites despite having never previously lifted the trophy, writes Emmet Ryan
The numbers are staggering. They win every game, the lot, and they tend to win big. A week before playing in only their second ever national cup final, Liffey Celtics utterly wrecked Marble City Hawks by 33 points. They’ve won all 12 games across all competitions this season, with an average margin of victory of 20.6 points. Celtics are just beating teams, they’re killing games off early more often than not and the few times anybody has lived with them they’ve still had the resolve to find a way to win.
It takes more than raw talent to be able to win with such brutality. It takes a type of mental toughness that only comes with having fought the hard road. Two years ago, Celtics were torn apart in their first cup final appearance. Since then, they’ve bounced back to win the league playoff finals and a subsequent league championship. They are romping home in the latter and will be overwhelming favourites to win the former later this year. The one honour missing is the national cup and this season they’ve brought in a weapon built for these moments.
There has rarely, if ever, been an import male or female in Irish basketball to arrive in the league fresh out of college with the level of big game experience of Allie LeClaire. The Green Bay Phoenix alum is the Super League’s second leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, her fellow import Briana Green is third on 18.3, and she knows all about cutting down the nets.
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In four seasons at Green Bay, she won the Horizon League tournament all four times. In the last of those appearances, she was named tournament MVP. She’s been the one asked to come up big when it matters and delivered. Now, in her first shot as a pro to win a title, all eyes will be on her on Sunday afternoon.
Not that LeClaire’s teammates see themselves as favourites, not by any stretch. “I don’t know if we’re favourites,” said Ailbhe O’Connor. Shauna Homan, who has been with the club since she was 8 and is playing her first cup final after 20 years with Celtics, was of a similar view. “If you ask someone in basketball, they’d say it’s 50:50,” she said.
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It’s hard to believe, even with only one game for Celtics against Brunell to go on this past season. The Cork club lost, like everyone else, by 16 point in that one but have put together a good string of results. Their semi-final win was spearheaded by first year import Tricia Byrne alongside fellow American Madelyn Ganser and Latvian baller Linda Rubene. That trio have added nicely to a young squad, 28 year old point guard Danielle O’Leary is the oldest player on the roster. Having won their last 6 games, Brunell are unbeaten since November. They’ve got a run going but O’Leary is well aware they are the underdogs for this one.
“I don’t think anyone likes going in as favourites, it brings that added pressure. As underdogs, we don’t have anything to lose. There will be nerves there but it helps to be the underdogs,” she said.
It’s understandable that Celtics in particular don’t want the favourites tag. Even with their big results over the past two years, this is a young club that has built its way up. Only now are these players reaching a point where they’re the ones with the target on their back. That’s the price of winning.
The Irish women’s cup final is live on TG4 in Ireland and online around the world on Sunday from 5.25pm Irish time/6.25pm CET/12.25pm EST.
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