Friday night’s SuperLeague Cup Finals at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght sees UL Huskies and Team Montenotte vie for the women’s crown before UL Eagles and Bord Gais Neptune play for the men’s title.
For the teams involved, the build-up to a cup final is a tricky balance between enjoying the moment and trying to prepare for we what is still just a game of basketball.
Team Montenotte Hotel coach Andrea Congreaves played in the WNBA and is an old pro at preparing for big, televised games.
“There is huge excitement within the club. This is something that we have been talking about since I arrived here, making it to a cup final, and with our Under-18s playing in the cup final on Saturday, the whole club is excited and proud of where we are,” said Congreaves.
“Of course there are nerves but preparations are going well. We have an experienced bunch of girls and we are getting ready like we would any other game.”
Montenotte and UL met once already this season with the ladies from Glanmire in Cork coming out victorious by 13 points.
“That game against UL was a certain type of game but Friday’s will be different,” maintained Congreaves. “They will have a new game-plan after losing to us and we will have a different approach too.”
For James Weldon, head coach of UL Huskies, the fact that his side are defending champions doesn’t do much to lessen the nerves.
Weldon said: “These opportunities don’t come along very often and the players know that. The girls are really eager to try and make it two in a row.”
Experience does count however, and after “getting the monkey off our back last year” by winning the cup, Weldon hopes that some of the pressure is lifted.
He added: “I’m sure everyone will be nervous come Friday but we do have the experience of last year. We know that we’ll have to play really well to win and we have to hope that we can produce that level of performance Friday.”
The Men’s SuperLeague Cup Final features the rising tide that is UL Eagles, winners last year of only their second ever SuperLeague Cup, against the previous giant of Irish basketball, Bord Gais Neptune, winners of four cups, but none since 1992.
A gap of over 20 years between cups would have been inconceivable for Neptune fans in 1992 after their golden generation had secured their third title in five years.
Missed opportunities have dominated the club’s recent past however and current head coach Mark Scannell will be eager to make sure 2013 is not another.
“It’s brilliant for all the kids in the club, all the coaches and people on committees who have been putting in the work to get us to a position where we are back in a cup final,” said Scannell, whose club Neptune last won a senior title in 2003 when they captured the SuperLeague crown.
“My job, and the team’s job, is to put in a performance that all those people can be proud of and hopefully we perform to our ability Friday night.
“We are on a good run of form recently and I have been hugely impressed with how we have turned it around defensively as the season has gone on.
“We all know the UL danger men and we just have to try and contain them and give them some looks that make them think. It’s not rocket science but it can be hard to do.”
With both Neptune and Montenotte in the final there has been a huge build up Leeside, something Scannell is conscious of trying to shield his team from.
He added: “We’ve just been trying to keep a lid on all the ancillary stuff and keep the team in a bubble somewhat. It’s not easy on a week like this.”
Scannell’s opponent on Friday night is the vastly experienced Mark Keenan. However, with a game of this magnitude brewing, even Keenan feels the pressure.
He said: “No matter how many times you have been there you get the nerves. I’m sure come Friday night I’ll start feeling them, as I have done every time.”
Keenan’s team have also been there and dealt with those nerves, winning the cup last year in a highly anticipated match-up with UCC Demons.
Keenan added: “We do have that experience to call on and maybe that helps us as the game stretches on. They have been in big games too though. Neptune were in the league final two seasons ago and even though they have young players, they have been in a lot of big games for their age.”
While Keenan listed Neptune’s Darren Townes, Gary Walsh, Michael McGinn and Ian McLoughlin all as guys who could hurt Eagles, he singled out the Cork side’s captain Ger Noonan as worthy of special attention.
He said: “Ger had a great game for the SuperLeague Select team that beat the British team in Birmingham a couple of weeks back and we cannot allow him dictate the game by getting the ball where he wants it.”