BiE’s editor headed to Ireland’s National Basketball Arena in Tallaght for a double-header in the nation’s top flight. He found four teams still getting in gear during the second round of the regular season.
It’s a sprint. Make no mistake of that. The Irish season may take close to six months to complete but an 18 game regular season leaves little if any room for mistakes. Adjustments are made ruthlessly, just today UL Eagles brought in a new import (Orlando Parker, ex Wagner) and time is against everybody.
Dublin Inter is a team looking for consistency this season after an up and down 2013/14 that saw them reach the cup final but fail to impress in the league. The cup final is the one night of the year casual Irish viewers care about hoops but the regular season in the league is the top priority for every player that suits up. Having enjoyed a come from behind win over UCD Marian in the opening round of games, Inter came out gunning against Cork’s Neptune BC.
It’s a strange looking Neptune side this year, the veterans aren’t going to win any races while the younger players look extremely raw. On opening night they took a pounding at the hands of city rivals, and title favourites, UCC Demons but came to west Dublin with plenty of life on offence. It was rudimentary stuff from both outfits but with neither side adequately defending the interior, Neptune took a 26-24 lead after the first.
The second frame saw the Cork club stretch out a touch. Player-coach Ger Noonan is not your average looking baller, stocky and burly but he added a touch of class with a nice behind the back pass off a fast break to assist a Roy Downey score. Noonan has to carry a chunk of the creative load this year with Mick McGinn, star of Neptune’s cup final win in 2013, opting to transfer to a lower tier club this season.
Inter, comprised primarily of Lithuanian ballers living in Ireland, looked wholly dependent on their outside game. In a shootout they’ll always have a chance nut despite having a slight height advantage inside, their lack of a true big could hamper them all season. Like Neptune, they have too many rough edges to trust on a week to week basis. Inter played like a team whose strategy depended on having a consistent, if not the primary focus, interior threat. Neptune however didn’t have to up their game too much to shut down the lane. The final score, an 88-76 win for the Cork club, was a fair reflection of their control after the first frame.
That result left both sides at 1-1 and UCD Marian were looking for a similar situation when they took on league champions Killester in the second game of the day. The crowd had roughly doubled in size since opening tip of the first match, from 100 to 200. Sunday afternoon in what is essentially an isolated part of Dublin isn’t going to bring in the masses.
The arena was part of the attempted rejuvenation of Tallaght in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In truth the efforts were barely keeping pace with the region’s growth. The Square, at the time a massive shopping complex, was the centre piece but the arena was seen as part of the step forward. Irish development however rarely comes with good planning. It took years, arguably over a decade, for public transport to the Square to become adequate and the arena remains the poor relation. Tallaght Stadium, home to football’s Shamrock Rovers (I hear Partizan fans love them), benefits from the neighbouring Square’s transport links but the 77A bus is the only way to reach Ireland’s house of hoops from the city centre.
At least the walk down the avenue is no longer a guaranteed brush with death. The off-season saw modern day innovations such as streetlights and a path added, like I said we don’t plan much in Ireland. The crowds still aren’t coming but at least some progress is being made.
The Dublin derby played out with a similar pattern across the first three frames. UCD Marian would go on a scoring bender fuelled by Preston Ross and Killester would enjoy one of their own with a heavy contributions by 40 year old Jermaine Turner, and then a whole bunch of tit for tat ball. Ross brought plenty of aggression, a major step forward from pre-season, but we didn’t really seem him explode until he got in the open court.
The final frame only had a four point swing but Killester looked in far more control. Their organisation was far superior to Marian’s. Shooting is the one thing the small ball side has in bulk but a string of frustrating misses saw them resort to hero ball. Ross, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, looked as frustrated as the rest of his team mates but he’s going to have to learn the role of an import in this league quickly.
To win here and, more importantly, get a better job elsewhere you have to be the man in this league after a college career of being the other guy. You have to dominate. You must rarely defer but when you do you have to know when and it’s also on you to be the angriest man on court and the centre of calm at once. It’s an odd role and a tough one for a 22 year old but this game showed Ross to be far closer to hitting that mark than just a couple of weeks back in pre-season.
It was the man 18 years his senior in the orange of Killester who held it together in this one down the stretch. Turner was playing in the first ever game I covered, for my college newspaper the University Observer back in the autumn of 2002 (for the record, Turner and UCD Marian beat Denny Notre Dame that day). A dozen years later he can’t match the athleticism he showed back then when I described his “earth shattering” and “thundering” dunks but he has the old man smarts to still be a force at this level. A 25 point and 15 rebound outing in this one followed a 25 and 13 in the season opener.
UCD Marian somehow found a way to take the lead from the free throw line late but Killester had one more offence to sneak this one. The champs move to 2-0 but they need to get tighter fast. For UCD Marian, it’s 0-2 and a big game against fellow 0-2 outfit Templeogue on Saturday. The D needs to lock down to get this season going again, their margin for error is gone after just a fortnight. The race knows no mercy.