After two days of hectic action around the country, the participants for League Finals Day next Saturday at the National Basketball Arena have been decided.
The action began with a bang on Friday night in Cork as a packed Mardyke Arena first witnessed bitter Leeside rivals Bord Gais Neptune and UCC Demons do battle before SuperLeague champions UL Eagles played perennial contenders DCU Saints.
When the dust had settled on the semi-finals in this brand new competition in Irish basketball, UCC Demons had emerged to face DCU Saints in the final.
Speaking after his side’s 79-74 triumph, head coach of UCC Demons Paul Kelleher said, “We never panicked tonight. Even when we went down by ten points in the first quarter we kept our composure.”
“Our main aim was to focus on our game and by doing that we were able to come back.”
“[Ciaran] O’Sullivan and [Kenton] Walker had great games. We shared the ball well and when we do that, anyone on our team will score. We had a great day and will hope to carry that form into the final next weekend.”
For DCU Saints head coach Dave Donnelly, his team’s eye-catching win over SuperLeague champions UL Eagles was sweet vindication for a season where Saints have once again been a premier team without catching any silverware.
“I am very happy with our team performance. Our offensive game really came together and it was great to see how we created scoring opportunities to maintain our lead.
“Throughout the season, our defensive was always good and reliable and after this game, our offense matched it.
“Next weekend we will focus on us, no matter who you meet in a final they will always be a threat so we will work on reproducing the games we have played over the last few weeks.”
Saturday was the turn of the ladies with UL Huskies and DCU Mercy setting up an enticing Nivea Women’s SuperLeague final after wins in their respective semi-final bouts.
Huskies path to the final came through Ulster Rockets and despite a gutsy start from the visiting Rockets, there was only ever to be one winner as the cup champions from Limerick proved far too strong.
UL’s trademark this season has been their outstanding level of fitness and that quality once again shone through in bunches Saturday evening when Rockets failed to keep up to the pace set by the home side.
“We had the fitness work done,” remarked Huskies head coach James Weldon after the final whistle blew and his side had recorded a comfortable 78 to 48 win.
“Rockets are a very good side but we felt confident that if we set the pace that eventually we’d come good and win it.”
Key to this pace-setting was Louise Galvin, who Weldon singled out for special praise before admitting that he was proud of his whole team’s performance.
“We did a great job on the boards and out rebounded them by quite a bit. We pushed ahead in the second quarter and that was a big decider in the outcome.”
Weldon can now look forward to once more preparing his team for a final as they aim for the club’s third SuperLeague title in a row. It would be their sixth overall, a feat that would bring them equal with Waterford Wildcats as the most successful women’s club in Irish basketball history.
For Weldon, it’s just a matter of preparing for one more game.
“All the team’s hard work all season now comes down to just one game. The final is next Saturday so we will prepare like any other week and have our typical Tuesday and Thursday sessions and hope that we are ready.”
In the second semi-final of the weekend, DCU Mercy repeated a feat they achieved back in October when they travelled south and beat a Team Montenotte Hotel Cork side playing at home.
Led by an inspired Suzanne Maguire, Mercy shot the ball superbly well when it counted to see off the cup runners up from Cork.
Maguire’s shooting prowess, coupled with some determined team defence and a fearless rebounding display by Christina Newton, meant that Mercy found themselves ten points to the good late in the fourth quarter.
A final desperate comeback by Montenotte was eventually quelled when Mercy’s unquestioned leader over the past few seasons, Lindsay Peat, converted a bank shot that just beat the shot-clock buzzer. The score deflated the home team’s spirits with Mercy running out 50-60 winners.
“Now we have UL next week and game with the team that everyone says cannot be beaten. We have nothing to lose and are going to get right down to preparing for the game,” said a delighted Mercy head coach Mark Ingle directly after the final whistle.