It was a long day in Tallaght for Irish basketball’s big night. Two champions retained their titles and one veteran showed what it takes to keep getting paid.
The move was always going to come. From the off the pace was far too fast for UCD Marian’s liking. The underdogs were ahead after 10 minutes but Colin O’Reilly wasn’t worried about the quarter pole. The UCC Demons player-coach had saved something for the charge. Shane Coughlan, the greatest Irishman never to get a chance to don the green jersey, was about to rip this game open.
Finals day is a full week for Ross O’Donoghue. The Basketball Ireland press man was on a diet of four finals a day, with reports, streams, and every kind of press request to manage. At 10.45pm he was just really excited to be driving home to see his girlfriend. Another full slate awaited him in the morning before finally getting sweet relief at the end of a 28 title marathon.
Most of us would kill to work full time in basketball but the job itself can be murderous. Leave is a myth and weekends are when work gets busier. Yes, it’s a whole lot of fun but I love my day job and it’s turned me grey. Enjoying something doesn’t mean you can’t get too much. Right there, in that moment, as O’Donoghue dropped me off at a Rathgar pub, he was just happy that a proper night’s sleep awaited him.
The score was 30-28 midway through the second quarter and Marian were still going blow for blow with Demons. Preston Ross had yet to ignite and there was that sliver of hope that the game could stay close but the underdogs needed to slow the pace down. One errant pass, as the Dublin club tried to run too fast, marked the point of no return. Coughlan and his buddies were about to unleash an onslaught.
Conor Grace was finally back and he was feeling the buzz. After 20 months on the shelf, Grace played for Templeogue in a shellacking of UCD Marian. Right now he was taking in the men’s Under 20 final, where Moycullen took the honours. Grace, whose career took him from Ireland to Davidson (just before Steph Curry arrived), Italy, Greece, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Malaysia could taste the hunger in these young players. He was the English language option on analysis with me for host broadcast TG4.
The women’s final was the first assignment and it started with some pretty horrendous offence, fuelled in part by Killester’s ability to set the terms of engagement. Grainne Dwyer, the Irish sportswoman of the year in 2014, was getting work done but Robin Murphy had her number in the early going. Murphy however couldn’t get buckets and Killester needed her to score big.
The second half saw Team Montenotte Hotel, the sponsor fuelled name of Glanmire BC, get it together on both ends. Niamh Dwyer finally found her game and the offence was rolling. It was on D where Glanmire turned this one into a rout, holding Killester to 4 points in the final 15 minutes.
The pre-game for the women’s could have gone smoother but Máire Treasa (the presenter), Conor, and I soon found our rhythm. By the time the men’s final came around we were rolling and I managed to drop a pretty epic line as Gaeilge. “Nuair a shiúileann tú ar talamh na ndaoine, is féidir le aon dia nó demon cur fola” which translates as:
When you walk on the land of the people, any god or demon can bleed
Bleed, yes but it’s a whole lot easier to make these Demons bleed than to put them down.
The run was a riot. 19-2 from the mid-point of the second frame to the gun and Demons had turned a battle into a slaughter. Coughlan’s introduction was the turning point but Lehmon Colbert was the man who ended this with authority. Winning MVP honours in this final for the second year straight, the former Jacksonville Dolphin and Plymouth Raider was the definitive Demon on this night. Colbert racked up 25 points, 11 boards, 2 steals, and 1 block in a performance that was anything but visually explosive.
Colbert is the ideal of an American who has been in Europe for a while. In the second quarter he took one step back and opened up the floor for an easy lay-up. With Marian desperately trying to cut the deficit in the third, Neil Baynes leapt for a rebound near the rim while Colbert stood motionless 6 feet away from him. Had Baynes stayed on his feet, he’d have got the offensive board. Colbert knew not to force it and took the easy rebound.
The final score, 91-65, gave Demons the title and now the question is whether anyone can stop them from running the table and completing a perfect season.
Colbert and company weren’t thinking about what lay ahead a solid 40 minutes after the final buzzer. While a couple of their team-mates went under mandatory drug testing, they kept celebrating in the locker room. The UCD Marian players left quietly, with a few souls waiting around for the final couple of supporters waiting around for their own duo with the testers. The Dublin club had gone 7 deep in the final against one of the strongest benches in the game. That was scant consolation.
The Demons big eventually emerged and hobbled upstairs for his interview. Humble to the end, he credited everything to O’Reilly. He may be thinking about running the table, he may well be over the moon about being named MVP, but outwardly he was just as calm as when he collected that board in the third. Another game, another beefy statline, another move towards staying a pro for one more season.