Brunell knew all about semi finals and the pain of defeat at the hands of a team from cross city but on Friday on Leeside, they proved they were ready to be the big dogs in Cork and go for all the glory as they progress to the Irish women’s cup final. Emmet Ryan reports from Neptune Stadium where the ghosts of the past were put to bed with authority
A Cork derby in Neptune stadium is always something special but there was a slight twist to this one before a ball was tipped. The familiar blue jerseys of Glanmire were nowhere to be seen, last year’s cup runners up and the all-time record holders had fallen before the big weekends of action. Instead it was the rising forces on Leeside, Brunell and Fr Mathews.
Not that we lacked familiar faces. Two in particular had enjoyed plenty of success in Glanmire colours, the Dwyer sisters Niamh and Gráinne. Niamh’s been with Mathews for a few seasons but this is Gráinne’s first in red and she was looking to keep her personal streak of successive cup final appearances, going all the way back to 2013, and here she was with another Cork derby with another shot at the big trip to Dublin,
They’re both schoolteachers and both are most effective from mid-range but Gráinne’s the more fiery personality. She wears her hair up, distinctively high above her hairband, with a Jordan brand tattoo at the base of her neck. Niamh, the elder, opts to simply tie it back but she’s not exactly quiet on the floor either and she doubles up as assistant coach.
Staring them down was a Brunell side all too used to being the other team in Cork. They’d suffered through it when Glanmire were in the ascendancy, and they came to this one in no mood to stand aside politely for the new queens of Leeside. In 2017, Gráinne had a big night against them in this barn to crush their dreams. Glanmire and Dwyer again saw them off across town at the Mardyke a year ago. Tonight they had a chance to make the bleeding stop. Technically the home side on the night, the women in red were out to prove this was their city now.
It was one of the young er players on the Mathews side that got the crowd rowdy early, a three by Anna Lynch who turned 18 the day before this game got the crowd briefly rocking. In what was an interior dominated opening however it was Brunell doing more with Madelyn Ganser, formerly of Holy Cross, giving them the first two possession lead of the night.
The trouble with derbies is the tension can really get at shooters and this wasn’t exactly free flowing stuff in terms of scoring. Both teams were moving the ball fine but were looking to their size repeatedly with little space for the guards to do much but put up what would best be described as educated bricks.
Linda Rubene was pairing up with Ganser nicely as Brunell looked to make use of the length of their Americans. Rubene, a former Indiana Hoosier, was happy gliding in or going point forward depending on what was called for. She nailed a nice long two over Shannon Brqady to push the lead out while Glanmire had issues getting anything going in the half-court.
Psychologically this was a tough quarter for Mathews. The few times they managed to get a score, Brunell went right up the gut at them to respond. On paper, Brunell didn’t match them for size but they had the downhill running needed to control the tempo. Finally, Mathews got a break. Chantell Alford made a three while falling and drew the foul. The former Boston University Terrier made it a four point play and that left her side trailing just 20-15 after the first.
Another Alford three opened the scoring in the second quarter. Having also teamed with the younger Dwyer at Glanmire, she’s well used to doing pretty much every job required on the court and is plenty familiar with the intensity expected by the sisters.
Aside from that, it was another case of ugly offence being the norm. A whopping three buckets in the first four minutes and change of action in the second quarter. We were treated to a feast of rebounding but Ganser’s success reclaiming her own missed shots wasn’t turning into actual points.
Gráinne finally made a mid-range jumper to tie things up out of the time-out and the Mathews crew looked smoother even if their shooting still wasn’t electrifying. The first year Super League side took the lead back soon after and the hard-nosed but quick play of Tricia Byrne was the only thing keeping order on a Brunell side that looked to have lost its way a bit.
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With bricks raining in from the women in red, Mathews were able to simply pick away on the break. Brunell had no trouble getting second chance opportunities, they just weren’t doing anything with them and they couldn’t buy a three.
Finally Danielle O’Leary made a much needed deep ball for Brunell in the final minute of the half. If ever a single score mattered it felt like it was here. Amanda O’Regan responded in kind but Simone O’Shea nailed Brunell’s second three in a minute, and of the half, to keep them right in touch 30-32 at the break.
Ganser tied things up to start the second half. The skittishness that had marred the second quarter for them seemed to be gone and the offensive rebounds kept coming. The 10th arrived for Brunell early in the third with Mathews having managed 1 all game. Efficiency was proving the difference as Mathews were doing more first time out, a third Alford three of the night pushed them back in front briefly.
The sister act however was proving the weak offensive link, with Niamh yet to make a bucket from the field and Gráinne shooting 20 per cent. Alford was carrying the load but Brunell had their backs up and were starting to make something with their opportunities. A Byrne breakaway sparked a mini run and James Fleming had to call in Mathews to think things over.
Amy Waters pushed the lead to 7 before O’Leary made it a 10-0 run to give them a 9 point lead, the biggest of the night…until she made a three on the next possession and now Mathews were in real trouble. Just that Alford 3 in almost 8 minutes of action before Gráinne finally made a close-range jumper. She followed up with a three but Brunell kept coming. In swept Rubene with no bother and this derby had broken out into a proper basketball game with both teams running it hard.
Niamh finally made her first from the field of the night late in the frame, off a missed Alford lay-up, as Mathews got a bit of a rally together to end the third but Brunell held at 49-42 lead going into the final 10 minutes.
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A loooong two from Gráinne and all of those questions were ready to be asked right at the start of the fourth. Had Brunell wasted too many chances? Were they ready to stop being the other team in Cork? Could they hold off the most successful siblings the women’s game here has ever seen? Waters responded from the corner quickly.
From the line however Gráinne made it a one possession game again. This was what so many sides had to deal with over so many years. No matter what happened beforehand, when the game was on the line there was a Dwyer with the closer mentality to take care of business.
Still the lead held. A combination of luck with the iron and heads up defence from Byrne kept Brunell just ahead for all their wasted possessions. Boom, O’Leary. Another deep ball and there was room to breathe. Niamh tried to respond but could only watch as her effort brushed the bottom of the net on the way out of bounds. Then it was showtime from O’Leary. Behind the back pass to Byrne and in for the easy lay-up. The clock was on their side now and Brunell could bring the pressure.
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Byrne iced it from deep. A 12 point lead and, more importantly, 1 minute and 18 seconds from putting all those doubts and demons in the past. Dig the grave, throw in the casket, the crowd was clapping along with their mascot Nelly. This was finally going to happen.
Mathews tried to rush, they tried to break, but they just couldn’t compete with the only certainty in this sport. The clock was ticking down and while they’d made their own bit of history in getting this far in their first top flight season, it was their city rivals who had been waiting so much longer to get this moment. Ganser, Byrne, Rubene, Waters, O’Leary, et al they’d done it. They’d come to a Cork derby on semi final weekend and, finally, got the win. The final score, 61-52, and a date in Dublin secured.
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