Monday 24 October 2016

From the Stands: Basketball bouncing back from dark days

John Greene and Seán Ryan

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Basketball Ireland's Secretary General Bernard O'Byrne
Basketball Ireland's Secretary General Bernard O'Byrne

Basketball Ireland have been through tough times following the discovery six years ago that a significant sum of grant money allocated to it had not been spent for the purposes intended.

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The association received €1.8m in grants for its Community Hoops programme but only an estimated 20 per cent of the equipment for which the money was provided was put in place.

But the association's latest annual report shows continued recovery, a point emphasised by general secretary Bernard O'Byrne.

O'Byrne writes: "The dark cloud of debt is lifting, we can see blue skies beyond; participation numbers are growing, we have growing complaints that not enough games are being prepared for full re-engagement; sponsors have begun to re-emerge from the long grass of austerity-driven inaction. There are definitely more smiles than frowns."

The stand-out information in the financial report for 2014 is the continued reduction in the legacy debt and there is a sense now that Basketball Ireland's focus is returning to the sport itself as much as dealing with financial woes.

"Our new challenges are likely to be broader than just that fight, such as providing better facilities, better coaching and officialdom, brighter initiatives to move basketball nearer to the centre stage of the Irish sporting landscape," writes O'Byrne.

Special guests for today's Leinster football final in Croke Park include a party of 24 children and three mentors - Keith Curran, Carlos Martín and Brendan Lowe - who have travelled from Madrid as guests of Leinster Council. The group are all members of the Madrid Harps GAA club.

There are now over 100 children involved in Gaelic football in the club, and the interesting thing is that 80 per cent of them are Spanish, with no connection to Ireland. The club was founded in 2004 but the juvenile section took hold six years later and has thrived. Prior to attending today's game, the kids took part in a blitz at Naomh Barróg, entering teams at under 9, 11 and 13.

The club competes in both domestic and international tournaments. In October, the Madrid Harps will host two international events, with over 500 children from Ireland, Belgium, Spain, England and Scotland taking part. The club has received support from the Department of Foreign Affairs to set up a Madrid juvenile mini league.

Incidentally, today is also the last official duties for Leinster Council's commercial and marketing manager John Cotter, who bows out on a high note after a very successful stint in the position.

AlthoughH he was a founder member of the Professional Footballers' Golf Society, Eamonn Darcy had to wait nearly 40 years before being nominated Captain - and then he took the initiative.

"Looking at all the past captains, like Con Martin, Johnny Giles, Liam Tuohy, Johnny Fullam and Mick Lawlor, I decided if I didn't join them soon, I'd never get it," said the 83-year-old. "So it was appropriate that I should ask them, because they were never going to ask me!"

Eamonn, who began his senior goalkeeping career over 60 years ago and played for Shelbourne, Dundalk, Oldham Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra, won three League medals, two B caps and many inter-League caps in a sparkling career of over 20 years.

Among many highlights was his penalty save when the League of Ireland beat Alf Ramsey's English League in Dalymount in 1963. "Royden Prole told me on the way into the game that he had been watching 'Budgie' Byrne practising penalties and he was hitting them all in off the post. When he took the penalty, I decided to dive to the right and, sure enough, he hit it off the post and I just managed to stop it going over the line."

Nicknamed 'Sheila', Darcy is grateful to the fan who landed him with it. "When you get tagged like that, you're made," he reasoned, "so whoever gave me that gave me a connection with the punters, and without it, I'd be long gone and forgotten about."

Eamonn's Captain's Day is on Thursday at Newlands and there are still some vacancies for former League of Ireland players.

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