January may be best known in Irish basketball for the ‘magic of the cup’ but this weekend’s Nivea SuperLeague results will undoubtedly have huge bearing come March.
With just a point separating UL Eagles and UCC Demons at the top of the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague table, both teams will need to overcome resurgent teams in DCU Saints and Killester.
Meanwhile, Bord Gais Neptune will look to continue their recent run of good form when Moycullen come to town, while UCD Marian and Dublin Inter round off the weekend’s action in the men.
Speaking ahead of their crucial tie with Killester, UCC Demons coach Paul Kelleher praised the response from his players following a heart-breaking Cork derby loss to bitter rivals Bord Gais Neptune in the cup semi-final.
Kelleher said: “We talked about it for a few minutes on training Monday night and then we put it behind us. I though the application and attitude of the players was fantastic and a testament to their character.
“We have one focus now and only one focus and that is Saturday night in the IWA Centre in Clontarf and getting a result against Killester.”
While they will be favourites, Demons were almost upstaged on their last journey to the capital as UCD Marian came within a single basket of the Cork outfit.
The last meeting between these two sides was packed with side-stories as Killester introduced a new coach and new American player in Tom Doherty and Michael Bonaparte. Inspired by these additions to the team, Killester went on to stun Demons and will be hopeful that the matchup problems they caused that day will once again bear fruit this weekend.
"We did get a good result against them (Eagles) last time out but it will be a huge ask to go to Limerick and win and we know that" - Saints coach Dave Donnelly
In Limerick, a very similar storyline is present for the contest between defending champions UL Eagles and DCU Saints. The previous meeting between the teams saw Saints pull off a major upset and coach Dave Donnelly is well aware that a superb performance will be needed this time around to avoid suffering from an inevitable Eagle’s backlash.
“We did get a good result against them last time out but it will be a huge ask to go to Limerick and win and we know that. They are clearly one of the best teams, they are top of the league and in the cup final,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly, who has seen a resurgence in form from his team after a shaky start, was refusing to be drawn into how high up the table Saints can finish.
“It has been a really topsy-turvy season and we need to just continue taking it one game at a time, play well and hopefully that will leave us in a good position by the end of the season.”
While the two table-toppers are on court in Dublin and Limerick this weekend, their closest challenger, Bord Gais Neptune, will be hosting Moycullen of Galway in Cork. Neptune currently lie two games off top spot and cannot afford any mistakes as the season nears its end.
Moycullen head coach Salva Camps is well aware that his young outfit will be facing a focused and currently in-form team in Neptune.
“They won a big game last week in the cup semi-final against Demons and will be very confident. To win we will need to contain their centre Darren Townes who really hurt us last time out as well as stop Ger Noonan from getting down the lane whenever he wants.”
The only other men’s SuperLeague game on the schedule this weekend is an all-Dublin affair as UCD Marian and Dublin Inter square off in Belfield.
Boosted by the signing of Thomas Viglianco, Marian came agonisingly close to winning their cup semi-final last weekend only to be thwarted by a late Eagles rally.
Heading into this weekend’s games, Marian guard Conor James is hoping the addition of Viglianco continues to see improved Marian performances.
“As well as being a lights out shooter, Thomas is incredible at getting his team mates involved so he didn’t have to make much of transition to fit in with our team,” said James.
Despite being at the lower end of the table, Marian proved last weekend that they are still capable of beating any team in the counry.
“The mood in camp is very good and we are starting to play with a lot of freedom. There isn’t a whole lot of pressure on us anymore and we tend to play better playing as a team who has nothing to lose,” said James.
"There has been a great rivalry between the teams and everyone is fit and ready to go for Sunday" - Brunell coach Kieran O’Leary.
The standout fixture in the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague this weekend is without doubt the mouth-watering all Cork tie between a young up-and-coming Singleton SuperValu Brunell squad and the established top team Leeside, Team Montenotte Hotel Cork.
“This is the Demons Neptune game for us. There has been a great rivalry between the teams and everyone is fit and ready to go for Sunday,” said Brunell head coach Kieran O’Leary.
“We are obviously at somewhat of a disadvantage physically to them just because we are so much younger so playing tought defence and forcing them to shoot from outside will be crucial for us if we are going to win,” O’Leary went on to say.
Elsewhere, there is an all-Dublin clash as Killester take on a DCU Mercy team that will be trying to recover from a deflating cup semi-final loss last weekend.
In Limerick, defending champions UL Huskies will be favourites to get the win against Liffey Celtics while Meteors and WIT Widlcats play out what looks like being a close affair in Colaiste Iosagain.