Hunger can get Neptune over the line – Scannell
THEY were once the kingpins of Irish basketball, but Neptune make the journey to Dublin this morning with the weight of history on their shoulders.
The Cork club had a stranglehold on the National Cup when the finals were held on their home court, but it is now 21 years since they last won the trophy and they have never done so at the National Basketball Arena.
Tonight, they take on UL Eagles in Tallaght in an attempt to bridge that gap.
A whole generation has grown up looking at the fading banners on the walls of Neptune Stadium having never experienced the glory of previous days, but tonight they have a chance to recapture the magic and end the wait.
Coach Mark Scannell does not believe that his side will suffer under the pressure of delivering a first title after such a long gap, calling on them to bring the trophy back to Cork.
"The bottom line is that we haven't won the cup since it left Neptune Stadium. For some reason we haven't been able to get over the line," he said.
"There is a bit of tradition there that we are fighting against, but it isn't a millstone. in fact, I've been using it as motivation. I think it is time. For a club the size of Neptune not to have won it in this long, to be the bridesmaids, is too much.
"There is a huge hunger throughout the club and the team, but hunger gets you nowhere without preparation, skills and the ability to handle the occasion."
Neptune overcame local rivals UCC Demons in an epic all-Cork semi-final, a win that will stand to them as they take on holders UL.
Scannell is hoping that the emotion of that victory won't affect his players in the big one tonight.
"It was a big monkey off our backs," he conceded. "We hadn't beaten Demons in a game like that for some time.
"It counts for nothing, though. Sometimes Neptune and Demons put so much into these games. It has happened over the last two years to Demons, who beat us in semi-finals, but couldn't win the trophy."
Scannell has tried to refresh the Neptune roster with young guns like 17-year-old Mat Rudak joining experienced campaigners Ger Noonan, Mick McGinn, Gary Walsh and Paul Stapleton.
He concedes that UL Eagles have been here before, but reckons that his side believe they can make history.
"It is Limerick's experience and know-how versus our hunger and, if we can get in position to win, then I am hoping our hunger can get us over the line."
UL coach Mark Keenan acknowledged that his side's experience will stand to them on the big stage tonight, but he warned against over-confidence and said that Noonan, in particular, will warrant special attention.
"We do have that experience to call on," he said. "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.
"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."
Neptune v UL Eagles,
Live, Setanta Ireland, 8.45