Basketball: Marian reap fruit of scholarships
A FIRST ever national cup final would usually be considered unchartered waters for any club, but for UCD Marian it's the fruition of a long-held plan.
Since the club and university came together in 2002 they have been steadily building up a scholarship programme, in order to get back to the position of power Marian held in Irish basketball in the late 1970s and early '80s.
That sort of process takes time, but having built the programme up they are back at the top table once again.
Killester stand in their way tomorrow afternoon and the bookies aren't giving Marian a chance.
The northsiders are unbackable at 1/6 and experienced UCD coach Fran Ryan knows his side have a massive task ahead of them.
Ryan was part of the Marian glory years and now they are looking to recreate that era. Starting tomorrow.
"In the 90s and the first part of this century we weren't competing at the top table," he explains.
"Things are cyclical and it comes round eventually. We put in the UCD Marian amalgamation about nine years ago and there was a bit of a restart from there.
"Our scholarship programme has helped us widen our access to players. We've done some terrific work also with our underage coaches, particularly with Ken Maloney in our nursery. We started off with one scholarship programme through Dr Tony O'Neill, now we have five.
"These are kids that would have gone to the States for a scholarship. We have five in scholarship, another getting one next year and another, Conor Meany, who has graduated and is now a teacher. So seven of our 11 players have been scholarship players."
Ryan explains that the club are not simply going after other clubs' talent, but aiming to keep at home players who would otherwise have been lost to the domestic game. And the model is being taken up around the country.
"Where you have talented basketball players and you have a facility like Belfield basketball court and the facilities around it, coupled with basketball expertise and a focus, it's not about getting players from other clubs. These are players that would have gone abroad," he said.
"The number of players who have gone to the States and come back to the SuperLeague is minimal.
"This is about keeping our talent in Ireland, playing in our competition.
"That has widened into a number of other colleges now, with Jordanstown, UCC and UL joining ourselves. The concept of nurturing that bridge between 18 to 21-year-olds is being bridged by that process."
The structure is in place, but now is the time to deliver. But it won't be easy against a club as experienced and accustomed to success as Killester.
The holders went through 2010 unbeaten from February and although they had a blip after Christmas, they look back on track. Ryan knows the scale of the challenge awaiting his players but he says the champions are beatable.
"They're at the ideal point of their development," he says. "They have terrific experience.
"In terms of their age, first of all. You have Pete Madsen who is 31, Damien Field who is 35, but they are still great athletes.
"Isaac Westbrooks played in England last year, professionally, and you have Jermaine Turner, who is one of the best Americans in the country.
"The list just goes on and on -- they are a serious basketball team with physicality and talent.
"It's going to take a serious performance to beat them. I do think the fact they lost those two games lets us all know they can be beaten, that's the message.
"But they are favourites and we are going to have to be phenomenally good to compete with them."