FRIDAY 10 JANUARY
MEN’S NATIONAL CUP SEMI-FINALS
C&S UCC Demons v Killester, 7pm
The first semi-final will see the two top teams in the Premier League battle it out at Neptune Stadium for a much sought after spot in the Cup final. Both sides will bring a wealth of experience and past success to this game with nine National Cup champion titles between the two, five to Demons and four to Killester.
When the sides met this season Killester failed to record a win on their home court, leaving Demons as the only unbeaten team in the men’s Premier League to date.
Even with a strong record under their belt, Ciaran O’Sullivan of C&S UCC Demons knows that anything can happen in a National Cup game.
O’Sullivan said: “Everyone knows that the league standings go out the window when it comes to the National Cup. We are confident going into the game as we have worked hard all year but it really could go either way on the night.
“We might have a very slight advantage as we are playing in Cork and will have the support of our club at the game but both teams are balance and matched so well that you just can’t call it.
“These are the games you motivate yourself with when you’re going through the tough pre-season workouts and late night training sessions so we know the importance of the game at hand. It will be a great night and I’m hoping we will do enough to make it to the final at the end of January.”
Likewise, Killester’s captain Michael Westbrooks is aware of the importance of the game.
Westbrooks added: “National Cup games are once off encounters that cannot be repeated. As a team we fully understand the significance of this game, we have been here before and it has gone both ways. We want to make sure that we are on the winning side of this clash as it is going to be a tough battle.”
Similar to O’Sullivan, Westbrooks speaks about how his side uses these games to motivate them, saying: “All summer long you think about the season and more importantly the National Cup. These are the games that get us fired up, knowing we are so close to glory. As a team the moral is high in the locker room and know we have to work hard for each other to come out on top.”
Bord Gais Neptune v Dublin Inter, 9pm
The second semi sees reigning National Cup Champions Bord Gais Neptune face off with this year’s underdogs, Dublin Inter at 9pm.
When the teams last played each other in December, it was the Cork side that came out on top with a three point win. This time the stakes are higher and Mark Scannell, head coach of Bord Gais Neptune, is aware of the threat that Inter hold.
Scannell said: “Dublin Inter have nothing to lose, they have been under the radar for this entire competition and now they are ready to give us a run for our money. We have total respect for each team that we come up against and know that on any given night either team could win this game.
“This season we haven’t blown any other team out, it has forced us to work hard for every result that we have achieved and allowed us to dig deep and play with character. We have been working hard and I’m happy with our win over Belfast Star last week as it’s good to have a competitive game like that before the National Cup.
“As a team we feel the pressure of retaining the title but also the confidence that we are the team to beat. However, at the end of the day we want to keep away from everything that is going on outside the game and focus on the 40 minutes of basketball we have to play and win in order to reach the final.”
For Dublin Inter, head coach Sarunas Cesnakauskas is excited for his side’s first time playing in a National Cup semi-final.
“This is the biggest game of the season for us so far and we can’t wait to get on the court to take on Bord Gais Neptune. We have played them plenty of times in the past so we know them very well and are aware of the things we need to do to come away with the win,” said Cesnakauskas.
“It is daunting taking on a Cork team in their own gym for a National Cup semi-final but we learned a lot from our quarter-final game against UL Eagles that we will bring with us into this game. We also have great fans coming with us that will support us every minute of the game.”
SATURDAY 11 JANUARY
WOMEN’S NATIONAL CUP SEMI-FINALS
UL Huskies v Killester, 6pm
On Saturday night it is the turn of the women as defending National Cup Champions UL Huskies square off with Killester in Neptune Stadium.
For the past few years in the Women’s Premier League, UL Huskies have been noted as the team to beat. They carried some outstanding records and collected silverware in both the League and the National Cup. However, just when they looked invincible, it was Killester who punished them with their first loss this season when they won by seven points.
That result, along with a second loss in the Premier League to Team Montenotte, has spurred Rachael Vanderwal and her team to get a positive result this weekend.
“We aren’t used to losing, it’s new to us and we don’t like it. As a team we become more motivated when we don’t perform well or drop a game so we are looking forward to this game and getting back on track,” commented Vanderwal.
“Over the last few years we have had a lot of experience in National Cup games so we will take that with us this weekend. It will help us when we are under pressure, to be level headed and make good choices in the game.
“Coming into this game off the back of a loss is only going to motivate us even more to get a result.”
Likewise, Killester are feeling confident as they are currently on a winning streak in the Premier League after five victories on the bounce. Having defeated the Huskies already this season it is difficult to gauge how this game will go.
Mark Grennell, head coach of Killester and back-to-back winner of the Premier League Coach of the Month award for November and December, is still under no illusion that a difficult game lies ahead.
Grennell said: “UL Huskies have a lot of experience in National Cup games and we know that their big players will step up on the night. That means there is no pressure on our part as people aren’t expecting us to come away with the win.
“Unfortunately, Michelle Clarke suffered a bad ankle injury last week against Team Montenotte Hotel. She is attending physiotherapy all week and is unable to train so we are hoping she’ll be ok come Saturday night. She is a huge player for us this season so without her at full strength it will be difficult for us.
“As a team, the girls are in good spirits. Our confidence is increasing with each win that we record so we are in a good place at the moment. We know what we need to do to win on Saturday night, we have done it already this season and are looking forward to the challenge once again.”
Team Montenotte Hotel Cork v DCU Mercy, 8pm
The final spot in the Women’s National Cup final will fall to either DCU Mercy or Team Montenotte Hotel Cork, whose growing rivalry will have another chapter added after Saturday night.
Lindsay Peat of DCU Mercy is no stranger to National Cup contests and knows just how difficult this weekend will be.
Peat said: “This game will be the toughest so far this season, which is difficult to believe considering we've had so many this season already. The National Cup is the number one sought after trophy in the basketball circle but to get your hands on it takes performance after performance.
“Team Montenotte Hotel Cork are a fantastic team and had a fantastic win against UL Huskies last weekend. So with that said and done we need to be ready for a huge battle ahead because there'll be very little room for error"
Niamh Dwyer of Team Montenotte Hotel Cork feels similar about the game and all it has to offer.
“Although both sides know each other very well we haven’t played against one another since the start of the season so with new players coming on board, a new coach directing us and injuries on both sides it’s difficult to know what to expect on the night,” said Dwyer.
“The National Cup is huge. It’s a one off game that can go either way on the night, that’s the real magic of this competition each year, you just don’t know which way it is going to finish.
“Our season has been a bit up and down so far but we are two wins on the bounce at the moment which will be good for our confidence going into this tough game.”