Tralee took care of business in front of a typically raucous home crowd but now the Warriors have the small matter of closing the deal. Emmet Ryan on the wild run-in to the Irish season that is offering a different flavour of drama to last year
Last year’s title race was more than a bit nuts. With 7 days to go before the season formally ended, 5 of the 12 teams in the Irish Super League had a mathematical chance of winning it and no-one was really relying on favours elsewhere to stay alive. Then the week went by as make-up games, mostly due to the snowstorm earlier in the month, saw three teams left needing two others to lose. They didn’t and we got a 1 game playoff that was decided by a single point.
Fast forward to the current campaign and, ever since UCD Marian forced their way back into the title race with an away win at Templeogue, the game everyone was waiting for was Saturday night’s wild one in Tralee. The hometown Warriors, who are still in only their third season back in the top tier, had 4 four losses going into it. So too did Templeogue but the reds had played two games more and own a much softer run-in.
The hype was something else, particularly for the sport in this country. The gym was sold out a few days ahead of time, with videos of fans queuing in the local grocery for tickets (Garvey Group who own the local Super Valu are the team sponsor) going around online. This was the biggest game of hoops to hit the town in over a decade and it showed.
The end product was probably far less heart-stopping in terms of the result that most folks in Tralee expected. While Templeogue looked better over the opening 15 minutes, after that they only really had one 12-2 run to open the fourth to show for themselves and that wasn’t near enough as Tralee took the big W 88-77. Barring that brief comeback by the visitors, the men in black were in control throughout the second half and looked comfortable.
Having the best home advantage on the island really helps, particularly for a side that though talented has needed to make a few rosters adjustments in season due to injury. It’s not ideal for a title contender but the switches have largely gone through without causing any noticeable bumps in the road.
Shortly after the sides in Tralee took the floor for the second half, the defending champions got a rare palindrome victory in Dublin. UCD Marian were taking on Neptune in a must-not-lose game as literally every Super League game they’ve played since losing to DCU Saints on 5 January has been. The 96-69 win on Saturday was their 7th straight and they need to push that run to 10 in a row just to secure a playoff to retain their title.
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Which brings us to the run-in which is awfully complicated now because of more schedule shifts. One game, which is quite a big one, has been re-fixed from earlier in the year while others have dropped off the schedule due to the withdrawal of GCS Thunder from the league.
The long and short of things is that despite having the fewest losses, 4, Tralee have the most games left to play, also 4. Templeogue have 5 losses and 2 games left. UCD also have 5 losses but 3 games left. Now let’s look at those run-ins:
Tralee (4 losses)
15/3 vs Neptune
18/3 at Moycullen
23/3 at UCD
24/3 vs UCD
Templeogue (5 losses)
18/3 at Neptune
23/3 at Moycullen
UCD Marian (5 losses)
16/3 at Moycullen
23/3 vs Tralee
24/3 at Tralee
Yup, that’s right, UCD and Tralee are going to dance twice on the final weekend of the season. The latter is the refixture, and it’s all teed up for some serious drama. All three sides sharing a common remaining opponent in Moycullen, 4-13 as things stand but with a lot of reasons to care. They are tied with Neptune in the battle to avoid going into a relegation playoff and need a big W to change things.
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If however Moycullen don’t pull off an upset and Neptune don’t either, then it’s pretty safe to say this title race can’t go to a three-way tie. In Ireland, there are no tiebreakers for equal records so a form of playoff would be required in the event of a tie. Like last year, if two teams have the same record at year end then it’s a straightforward single game. With three, well this site has it’s own theory because we didn’t check the format.
That means the final weekend, and probably even with a surprise result this would still be the case, is going to be nuts. If form holds through next weekend, a win for UCD in Dublin would be the biggest guarantee of chaos as they would go to Tralee the next day, and it’s a 3 hour 30 minute drive from UCD to the Tralee Sports Complex, knowing the loser is done in the race while the winner is guaranteed at least a playoff. The reverse scenario isn’t a whole lot saner, Tralee winning in UCD would still leave them needing to complete the job the next day and much dumber things have happened in this sport than a team with nothing to play for spoiling a party.
For Tralee, it’s vital that they don’t think about permutations, probabilities, or even the basic form. They’ve got control of the title race but also the most chances to lose control. They have four games left. Keep it one game at a time, that’s what it takes.
Big thanks to Poshey Aherne for letting us use his photo at the top of this piece. Follow him on Twitter.
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