This weekend marks the penultimate series of games in both the Nivea for Men’s and Nivea Women’s SuperLeagues as the play-off semi-finals take place.
The men’s clash of the weekend will see UCC Demons and UL Eagles do battle at the Mardyke Arena on Sunday.
There is an all-Dublin clash in the other semi-final with UCD Marian, surprise conquerors of Bord Gais Neptune, set to go head to head with Northern Conference champions DCU Saints.
In the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague semi-finals, Team Montenotte host DCU Mercy at the Neptune Stadium with the champions UL entertaining Waterford Wildcats.
UL Eagles’ semi-final clash away to UCC Demons is a repeat of this year’s enthralling National Cup final. On that occasion, Eagles prevailed but the Cork side have inflicted three defeats on them in the league this season.
Demons actually defeated UL three weeks ago after the cup final but coach Paul Kelleher believes past clashes between the sides will count for nothing in this game. Demons’ response since their cup final loss to UL has been impressive, winning their last six straight games in the league.
"UL Eagles have upped their level in recent weeks and having taken in their game against Killester very few teams if any would have lived with them the way they played,” said Demons coach Paul Kelleher.
“Their tenacity and intensity was impressive and we will have to be smart, poised and being able to match their aggression will be paramount to getting the desired result we are looking for. We have come off an incredible few weeks with three double headers and I'm hoping this amount of basketball has made us sharp.”
Eagles would have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas after claiming their first silverware for ten years in February but their performance against 11890 Killester in the quarter finals suggests a double is still a huge prospect.
“Having overcome Killester in Dublin we now face another massive task in taking on UCC Demons on their home turf in next Sunday’s semi-final,” said Eagles coach Mark Keenan.
“We know how difficult it is to come away from Cork with a victory so we will need to be at our best in order to win. Demons have been playing really well of late and possess great experience and fire power in their squad. I expect nothing other than a tight and fiercely competitive game next Sunday.”
Both sides have major injury worries, with Niall Murphy ruled out for Demons, while Matt Hall is a doubt for Eagles.
UCD Marian stunned Bord Gais Neptune to reach the last four and set up a mouth-watering all capital clash with fierce rivals DCU Saints.
Marian belied a run of six straight defeats in the league to record a famous win at the Neptune Stadium and they will require similar heroics if they are to overcome Saints, according to coach Fran Ryan.
Ryan said: "It is probably the toughest game one could get. Saints have had a tremendous season with a record up to recently, which was clearly the best in the country.
“They are the deepest team in country with an ideal mix of size and shooting skill and are definitely the smartest team on court.
“I think they have lost three of their last four games and scored less than 60 in two of those games which demonstrates they can be stopped if tactics and commitment of the other team is in the right place.”
Saints coach David Donnelly will not hear of complacency as he bids to lead his team to the SuperLeague final.
“There are no guarantees and although we will go into this final as favourites Neptune found to their cost last week that UCD Marian are a dangerous side when producing their best basketball,” Donnelly said.
“We have defeated them in all three league games in the Northern Conference but this is a one off and with nothing to lose they are sure to put it up to us.”
In the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague semi-finals, Team Montenotte host DCU Mercy with coach Cormac O’Donoghue hoping his side can remain focused right from tip off.
O’Donoghue said: “DCU defeated us easily in a recent league game but I feel we have learned a bit since that loss and I am confident we will give a good account of ourselves.
“It has been a tough season for us but we are far from a spent force and I am forecasting a very close game if we come to play.”
For DCU coach Mark Ingle, playing in Cork on St Patrick’s weekend is a great buzz for any team.
“I just love coaching in Cork and when I played it was much the same and I have no doubt this will be a very tough semi-final for both sides,” Ingle said.
“Over the years both Team Montenotte and DCU have had great battles on court and this should be another classic with so much at stake.”
UL have not lost a Women’s SuperLeague game since December 2010 and the reigning champions will be favourites to take another step towards retaining their title when they host Waterford Wildcats.
The Limerick side have played some magnificent basketball throughout the season as coach James Weldon looks forward to another interesting clash at the UL Arena.
“I watched Wildcats recently and was very impressed with the way they came back from an 11 point deficit to win the game,” said Weldon.
“Waterford have given us two tough games this season and will be difficult opponents. The players are not resting on their laurels after the cup and are determined to end the season with more silverware.”
Wildcats coach Tommy O’Mahoney is under no illusions at what faces his side. “UL’s performance in the cup final and their unbeaten record outlines just how difficult it is going to be. We didn’t do too badly against them this season despite losing both games. We won’t travel in fear and will give it our best shout.”