Ireland’s senior sides return to competitive action for the first time in three years this summer. With the women’s European championships for small countries tipping off in Nicosia on 20 July and the men’s a few weeks later in Dublin, Emmet Ryan spoke with Dayna Finn and Ciaran Roe of the Irish senior teams about getting to run out in the green jersey
Dayna Finn is finally set to make her national senior debut on Tuesday. The opponents, Andorra. The stage, one Ireland’s women are all too familiar with. Ireland has taken silver four times at the women’s edition European championships for small countries. Last time out, Ireland hosted but failed to make the medal games.
This time around, Finn’s generation is one that is aiming to finally get the medal they really want. Finn, along with fellow debutant Rachel Huisjdens, won silver at the U18B championships in 2017 and bronze at the U20B in 2019. They are more used to jousting with the likes of Germany, Poland, and Great Britain, all routine participants at women’s Eurobasket, than their group opponents of Andorra and Malta in Nicosia.
Still, after her senior debut was deferred by the pandemic, Finn is delighted to be out facing anyone.
“It has been a tough lockdown. As someone on the go all the time, it was tough switching to individual training. It’s been great getting back with the squad, we’ve been training hard the last few months, it’s probably the most competitive squad I’ve been on,” Finn told BallinEurope.
Finn plays club ball with Maree having just finished up studying Spanish and Geography at NUI Galway. She has taken a break from her other passion, playing gaelic football for the Mayo county team, in order to focus on these championships.
“I was playing football and basketball together when sport came back. I was training in both, probably too much, and picked up an injury that led me to miss the league games in football,” she said.
“I had to focus on one for the next few weeks. Hopefully, when I get back, I’ll have an All Ireland quarter final to look forward to with Mayo. It’s the first time I’ve had to take a step back.”
Football has been the only organised sport Finn had even been able to dip into during the pandemic. The Irish basketball season was formally ended right before the end of the men’s regular season in 2020 and with neither the men’s nor women’s post-season tournaments being played. All competitions for the 2020/21 season were cancelled and, save for some 3×3 tournaments, there has been a total absence of hoops on the island.
Now, finally, she’s got a chance to go back on the hardwood, at a moment when it really matters.
“The goal is to win gold and I’m confident we can do that. It’s a big step up for me from underage. I’m going to be playing against older, stronger, players,” she said.
“Having this on the horizon has helped. I just had to stay positive, knowing we’d get the training before we went.”
One of the unique challenges with the small countries championships is that unlike most competitions, there’s not much footage of likely opponents to be found online.
“During lockdown, our coaches were really good and did sessions with us on Zoom. We were able to scout some players. You can scout to a certain extent but none of us have played against Malta or Andorra, so there will be surprises,” said Finn.
“We have a few of the girls that I played with coming up on this team. We have a bronze, we have a silver, I think it’s time we got that gold.”
The men’s side has a different format to deal with than the women this year. The pandemic has hit the number of participants so, whereas the women have a group stage and standard medal rounds, the men will play a straight league format against four other opponents.
Ciaran Roe won bronze with the Ireland men at the 2018 edition in San Marino and is hoping to go two steps better this time. The point guard, who plays with Killester, is a business teacher by day but he’s not worried about any permutations from a round robin format, he just wants to win every game.
“My club mates are extremely jealous that I get to compete and get that adrenaline rush again. I definitely am a bit privileged in that sense,” said Roe.
Roe was a couple of weeks shy of his first birthday the last time Ireland hosted the men’s competition. It was also the only time Ireland took gold, with an 81-78 win over Cyprus in the final broadcast on national television.
“It’s a great opportunity to host it. It may not be as dramatic without fans but it’s a great opportunity to grow the game in Ireland. The numbers are growing massively and this will help,” he said.
“There’s no messing around in this competition. Every game will almost be a knockout effectively. You have to win and put points on the board. I doubt there’s going to be any opportunities to make mistakes with a league format.”
Like Finn, Roe has limited knowledge of his opponents for August’s tournament.
“We’re still doing prep and we’ll have the main tendencies of the teams and their main players marked out. We won’t know them as well as we’d know our [Irish] Super League opposition,” he said.
“Some of the teams will be similar to the ones we played three years ago so we’ll have some data on them.”
Roe is relishing the chance to wear the green jersey and take the opportunity ahead of him in August.
“It’s still the same feeling each time I put on the green jersey. It’s such a privilege, it’s not something I dreamt about as a kid. Now that it is happening, it’s a great honour and an opportunity to act as a role model for kids with aspirations,” he said.
“You don’t put on the jersey unless you’re going out to win every game. That’s the mindset we’re going in with and, hopefully, bring home the gold.”
Dayna Finn and Ciaran Roe were speaking at the announcement of Pinergy’s renewed partnership with Basketball Ireland.