Four teams in both the men’s and women’s SuperLeague Cups are just one step away from a chance at glory as the semi-final action takes place in Cork over this weekend
After a thrilling quarter final stage both Cork teams emerged in the men’s with Bord Gais Neptune and UCC Demons setting up a mouth-watering local derby tie. The champions from the past two seasons UL Eagles and UCD Marian will meet on the opposite side of the draw having won their respective games.
Meanwhile the Women’s SuperLeague Cup has pitted WIT Wildcats against the might of defending double champions UL Huskies while the two closest challengers to Limerick’s throne, DCU Mercy and Team Montenotte Hotel, make up the final four.
FRIDAY 11 JANUARY
MEN'S SUPERLEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINALS
UCC Demons v Bord Gais Neptune
A packed Neptune Stadium is expected for the first game of the three day basketball bonanza with these old rivals UCC Demons squaring off at 7pm.
The sides have met twice already this season with Demons edging both contests by a single basket. If they are to succeed for a third straight game against their oldest rivals, Demons head coach Paul Kelleher know a special effort is required.
"There is nothing between the teams if I am being honest. They have serious length in their frontline which will be a real challenge for us,” said Kelleher.
“We don’t have the best athletes in the world but they are smart basketball players. We know if it is close and we are in it at the end that we will do the right thing and give ourselves a chance to win.”
For Bord Gais Neptune head coach Mark Scannell, trying to keep his players focused on the job at hand has taken priority this week as anticipation about the game builds in Cork.
“We try to treat it as another game. Obviously because it’s a cup semi-final and local derby there is more focus on it from the public but we are just trying to prepare as normal,” said Scannell.
However, emotions will undoubtedly be high considering what a win, and passage to a cup final, would mean for Neptune Basketball Club and particularly some of the team’s more experienced players who have battled through some tough days in the past.
“They really haven’t got their due rewards I think for the effort they have put in over the last couple of years,” remarked Scannell
For many years Demons have proved a stumbling block for their Cork city rivals. According to Scannell, part of the reason for this was Neptune’s lack of depth, something he has worked to improve this year by blooding several youngsters throughout the season.
“I think this year we have more contributions from our bench players and we have a couple of young players making a contribution and I hope that this will stand to us.”
UL Eagles v UCD Marian
Directly after the Demons Neptune clash, defending champions UL Eagles face off against the team that previously held the cup, UCD Marian in a seemingly David v Goliath type matchup.
Eagles currently sit perched atop the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague table with eleven wins while UCD Marian possess the worst record in the league with just three.
While it may seem like an uneven battle, Marian have a team stacked with great players who have been partly unlucky and partly below form in league action but who are well capable of causing major upsets.
Just last weekend it took a last second basket by UCC Demons Ciaran O’Sullivan to beat UCD Marian who produced one of the all-time great cup moments two years ago when they knocked off a historically good Killester team in dramatic fashion in the final.
“This situation is not unlike that cup final two years ago,” said Marian head coach Fran Ryan, who was also the man in charge on that famous day in 2011.
“We have a group of players that are very tight and give great effort always. If we are there or there about towards the end of the game Eagles will be looking over their shoulders.”
“We are not used to winning this season and that was a big reason why we lost at the end of the Demons game but we will have learned from it.
“They are the defending champions and are led by the most successful coach in the game so we if we are to win we will have to be at our very best, if we aren’t then we haven’t got a prayer,” admitted Ryan.
An interesting twist to the game will be how new Marian’s new American signing Thomas Vigilianco fits in with the team. After parting ways with US born John Galvin, 6ft 9inch Vigilianco will be asked to man the middle for Marian and combat Eagles’ big man Jason Killeen.
A bigger concern for Ryan however will be the health of star guard Dan James who rolled his ankle in last weekend’s game and is undergoing treatment this week in the hope of being fit for the semi-final.
Eagles have similar concerns of their own with their American guard Rob Taylor forced to sit out a SuperLeague Select team training last Sunday with an injury. He is however expected to be fully fit come 9pm Friday night when the ball is thrown up.
“As the current cup holders we are determined to hold onto our crown and I believe we will be ready for Friday night’s battle,” stated Eagles head coach Mark Keenan who singled out James and his backcourt teammate of Conor Meany as the key Marian players to be contained.
SATURDAY 12 JANUARY
WOMEN'S SUPERLEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINALS
UL Huskies v WIT Wildcats
On Saturday night it is the turn of the women as defending champions UL Huskies take on the challenge of WIT Wildcats in Neptune Stadium.
Huskies head coach James Weldon is hoping that his team will play with renewed freedom following the end of their unprecedented 45 game winning streak courtesy of a loss to Team Montenotte Hotel in late December.
“A lot of people were talking about the streak and it was a lot of pressure to keep it going. Hopefully now we can just focus on playing basketball and trying to win each game as it comes,” he said.
“A number of the players are that bit older now and know how special days like cup semi-finals are and what it means to make a cup final so we will be taking nothing for granted. Wildcats have a very experienced team and will be a serious challenge.”
Meanwhile Wildcats head coach Tommy O’Mahony knows how monumental a task taking on Huskies is but remains quietly confident his ladies can cause the upset.
“They have a whole team of great individuals so if one isn’t playing well another invariably is. That said every team has their chinks and while theirs might be harder to find than others, we just have to do our best to find them.
“It has been a while since a Wildcats team has been in a final. We used to be there every year it seemed so there is a great buzz down here because people know what it would mean to get to the final.”
Team Montenotte Hotel Cork v DCU Mercy
The final spot in the SuperLeague Cup finals will fall to either DCU Mercy or Team Montenotte Hotel Cork whose growing rivalry will have another chapter added after Saturday night.
“There has been a great rivalry over the past ten years between the teams and traditionally there has been nothing in the games,” said Mercy head coach Mark Ingle.
“We beat them already in Cork this year but they played that day without their top scorer Tomica (Bacic) so we need to plan for a team with her included this time around which presents new challenges.”
“They are obviously in good form having beaten UL recently but we are playing well too I think and we have added to our depth with the addition of Becky Woods so that should help us,” said Ingle.
Meanwhile, Team Montenotte head coach Andrea Congreaves has been battling a cold this week but is happy that her team are at full strength for the crucial fixture.
“Preparations have been going really well. The team worked really hard over the Christmas because we know how dangerous a team Mercy are.
“A key for us will be how well we rebound the ball because they send players to the offensive glass extremely effectively and that is something we can’t be caught by if we want to win.