22-YEAR-OLD Sligo basketball player, Aoife McDermott, is preparing for one of the biggest moments of her career as she looks forward to Friday's Superleague Cup final at the National Basketball Arena.
Aoife is a key member of the UL Huskies team which will be bidding to win the coveted trophy for the second year in a row when they take on old rivals, Team Montenotte Hotel, Cork, in the decider.
The dominant force in women's basketball for the last few years, the Limerick outfit have won the National League for the last two seasons and are the current Cup holders.
Now they are hoping to collect another piece of silverware and Aoife will have a prominent role as they plot the downfall of their fierce rivals.
Daughter of Sean and Cora McDermott from Riverstown, Aoife began playing basketball at Coola Post Primary School and subsequently teamed up with Sligo All Stars, where she came under the guidance of coaches, Therese Kiernan and Shane O'Meara, both of whom were major influences on her career.
Although she also played Gaelic football and soccer, Aoife's first love was always basketball and she quickly emerged as one of the most promising young players in the region, earning a call-up to the North West team. It wasn't long before the national selectors spotted her potential and she went on to represent Ireland at under 16 and under 18 level, playing in major tournaments in Italy and America.
She was a member of the Sligo All Stars ladies team which won Division One of the National League and also represented the club in the Super League.
Aoife joined the Huskies squad when she moved to Limerick to study for a nursing degree at Limerick University. She is currently the only Irish student on the Huskies team and is really living the dream as the Limerick squad continue their pursuit of all the major trophies.
"Therese Kiernan and Shane O'Meara did so much to help my game develop in Sligo and then getting on to the Irish squads took it on to a new level. Now I'm with one of the best teams in the country.
"There are so many top class players in the squad. People like Rachel Vanderwal, who played for Great Britain in the London Olympics, and Michelle Fahy, captain of the Irish senior team, are not only superb players but they are also inspirational personalities, always willing to help and pass on their advice. We've also got a terrific coach in James Weldone so your game can only improve when you are working alonside these sort of people"
Aoife believes UL's extraordinary run of success over the last few seasons is down to the close bond between the players.
"We all support and respect each other", she points out.
."We've got a tough training regime and as a student nurse it can be hard to fit everything into the schedule. But there's no way I would let my team mates down. When you see the dedication of the other girls in the squad, it just drives you on to do the very best you can"
That almost obsessive devotion to the cause has taken UL back to a Superleague Cup final and Aoife can't wait for the big occasion.
"It's great to be back in the final and the fact that Team Montennote are providing the opposition gives it an added dimension. They ended our long unbeaten run in the League and we desperately want to put the record straight now."
"We really want to have another crack at them.
"It should be a great game and I'm really looking forward to it", says Aoife.