The weekend just past in Irish basketball saw UL Eagles lift the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague trophy for a second straight season on the same day that UL’s women’s team, UL Huskies, accepted the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague regular season title for the third year running.
Meanwhile there were noteworthy wins for UCD Marian, DCU Saints, Killester and Bord Gais Neptune on the men’s side, while Ulster Rockets, Team Montenotte Hotel Cork and WIT Wildcats all notched up victories heading into the women’s play-offs.
Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague
While their victorious homecoming celebrations may have been tempered by upstart Bord Gais Neptune, UL Eagles can look back at a memorable weekend that saw the Limerick side capture the 2012/13 Nivea For Men’ s SuperLeague title.
The defending champions secured one of Irish basketball’s most coveted trophies on Friday night with a win over Dublin Inter at the National Basketball Arena.
Having already let one opportunity to win the league slip through their fingers a week earlier, head coach Mark Keenan was relieved to finally put the title race to bed.
“We were all relieved to finally get the job done,” said Keenan, who added that the speculation that they might ‘blow’ the title served as motivation for his squad.
“The players read the stuff on the Basketball Ireland website and other places questioning if we were going to blow it and I think that helped focus the minds and gave us a bit of motivation. We were very focused.”
Despite that focus, Eagles trailed early in the game before benefiting from a major surge either side of half time that helped them win the second and third quarters by a combined 17 points.
On a night when their influential centre Jason Killeen led all scorers with 21 points, that push proved crucial as a late Inter comeback fell short with Eagles finishing winners by eight points.
“I was never worried that we couldn't get it done. Inter are a good team but when we changed up to zone defence it broke their rhythm,” said Keenan.
As the party for Eagles began, Keenan was able to reflect on another season that has ended in a league title. It is also his second consecutive back-to-back achievement having led Killester to the same mark in 2009 and 2010.
“This Eagles team is as good as any other team I have coached,” lauded Keenan. “We may not play up to our talent as much as we’d like to but when we do, we are as good as any team that I have been with.”
Neptune did not get the message that Saturday was to be a Limerick celebration however and, led by an inspired Mike McGinn, they toppled the champs on their home court, 77 to 81.
Despite admitting that Eagles possibly “didn't have much left in the tank after Friday”, Neptune head coach Mark Scannell was still delighted with the result.
“We needed this heading into [the Champions Trophy]. We had lost three in a row and that wasn't like us.”
“We have had a bad stretch since winning the cup and we know we can’t just turn the tap on and off when we want. We have another tough one to finish the regular season in Galway against Moycullen coming up and we need that to get us ready.”
While Neptune’s place in the Champions Trophy is guaranteed after their cup triumph in January, several teams are scrapping for fourth and the final spot in the tournament.
Two of those teams are Killester and Moycullen, who met in Clontarf Saturday night, with the Dubliners getting the better of a physical affair.
“Our depth was probably a key factor in the end,” remarked Killester head coach Tom Doherty as he digested his team’s 10-points win that leaves them right in the hunt for fourth.
“We aren’t thinking about who needs to win or lose for us to go through. Leading up to this one we were totally just focused on 'we have two games left, let’s win those and if we get through then great'.”
Whether they are focused on it or not, Killester will need DCU Saints to drop a game if they are to advance. However, Saints showed no signs of letting up when they toppled UCC Demons in Cork on Sunday afternoon, winning 73 to 80.
The result means that Saints now need just one win from their two games this coming weekend to wrap up fourth. They play Dublin Inter on Thursday before a rematch with Demons again on Saturday.
Elsewhere, UCD Marian continued their red-hot streak to record their fourth win in a row as they took down Dublin Inter 83-88 in the famed Oblate Hall in Inchicore.
While the run comes too late for them to challenge for a place in the Champions Trophy, the south Dublin club have shown why they were ranked so highly prior to the season.
Nivea Women’s SuperLeague
In the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague the battle for home court advantage in the play-offs proved to be much more predictable than many neutrals eager for some drama may have hoped.
In Dublin, WIT Wildcats emerged from a tight first half to see off Killester 49 to 81. The victory sealed fourth place for Wildcats and a home quarter-final.
“We had played great defence in the first half but hadn't clicked on offence really. Then we hit form and put in 15 or 20 in the third which gave us the platform to win,” said Wildcats head coach Tommy O’Mahony.
“Killester gave us a really good battle but I think our experience and our American player were the difference. We are right where we wanted to be heading into play-offs.”
Wildcats opponents in those playoffs will be Ulster Rockets, who snatched fifth place with a convincing win over Meteors, who, as a result, will have to settle for sixth and a date with their old Dublin rivals DCU Mercy.
“We played great. We were leading by 13 at the half and we pretty much held that throughout. It also gave us a chance to run everybody and get ready for next week” said Rockets head coach Breda Dick, whose joy was tempered by some bad injury news in her squad.
Star guard Ash Murray, who had only just returned from an MCL injury, looked to have re-torn it again Saturday night, with Dick forced to provisional plan without her for the play-offs.
Elsewhere, UL Huskies collected another win along with their regular-season trophy in Limerick earlier on Saturday.
The defending SuperLeague champions, who wrapped up the regular season crown last week, were too much for DCU Mercy, winning 72-54.
Second-placed Team Montenotte Hotel Cork also finished the regular season with a win, beating Leeside rivals Singleton SuperValu Brunell 78-44.