Ahead of Sunday’s Irish women’s cup final, Mimi Clarke spoke with Emmet Ryan about her lifelong journey with Killester, the unique circumstances she encountered during their run to the 2020 win, and what to expect from their clash with Trinity Meteors
The nature of running a basketball site while working for a business paper leads to some odd crossover situations in work. While preparing to cover the Irish cup semi finals in January 2020, I was also leading my day job’s coverage of the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the United States. Turns out my crossover with that story was nowhere near as strange as it was for Mimi Clarke.
“It was a whirlwind. At the time I was living in Abu Dhabi and flying home for cup games. With the first round, it was a long weekend there. I got on to the team and asked if they’d be interested in having me back,” Clarke told BallinEurope.
“Then I came home for Christmas, had a league game, and had my flights booked for the semi final. Then there was conflict between America and Iran with Iran threatening to wipe out Dubai. I decided not to get on my return flight to Dubai so I stayed home.”
That decision to stay home, in the most unusual of circumstances, proved fruitful for Clarke as her Killester side ended a 15 year wait to lift the trophy.
“It was the right time, I had a gut feeling about the cup and I didn’t want to miss out on what I’d worked on for so long. It was a good decision to make and it really was a whirlwind. It was a tight knit group and such a pleasure to step right back into it,” she said.
“We’d been building for so long. Before we won in 2020, the previous time was 15 years prior. I was in the stands supporting my cousins. I’ve been part of the team since I was 15. For a long time it felt like it was never going to happen.”
Basketball really is a family affair for Clarke, with little doubt that she was always going to wear the black and orange of Killester for a long time.
“It’s massive. My mam [Philly] and her seven brothers and sisters were founding members back in 1967. She was a Killester kitten and did really well through the ranks. I’ve my cousin Mark [Grinnell] as my coach this year, so it’s huge and a massive occasion for the club but definitely a big one for the family,” Clarke said.
“It was amazing growing up in that environment. My basketball IQ, I’ve got to thank my mam and my uncle Martin, and cousins for that. I’ve been blessed with the calibre of coaches I’ve had through the years. I was just a sponge growing up. We’re a really close family and you can’t imagine the basketball chat that goes on at family events.”
While the cup hoodoo has been broken, this is still a unique challenge for Clarke and her teammates as they take on a hotly fancied Trinity Meteors.
“We’ve lost so many players from 2020, we’ve such a young squad. Our two Americans and Ieva, our Lithuanian, have been so important. It has not been easy but that’s what makes getting to the cup final and, hopefully, winning so much sweeter.”
Meteors present a powerful double big line-up which will provide a clear size advantage for the south city club.
“They have the two biggest bigs in the league and one of them is Claire Melia. Controlling the boards will be number 1 if we want to win the game. Then we have to control the tempo and play it at our pace. It’s going to be an interesting game. The first thing you think about is size but we have really athletic players,” Clarke said.
“Chyna [Latimer] has been flying. While it’s going to be tough for us to match up with them, equally it’s going to be tough for them to match up with us. We have such different types of players with different strengths.”
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The nature of the match-up means the point guard battle between Dayna Finn of Meteors and Killester’s Chanell Williams is going to be crucial.
“There’s a lot of talent there between Chanell and Dayna. They both had fantastic games in the semi finals. We need to make sure we can keep Chanell on the court, she’s carrying an injury at the moment. We’ve got to prepare our bodies as best we can,” Clarke said.
“We’ve got to take it as just another game. It is an occasion but the worst thing we can do is get swallowed up by the hype. We came close to them in the league, with Chyna straight off the flight the night before. We’re looking forward to getting another go at them.”