Templeogue ready to hold court
Two newcomers will grace Irish basketball's showpiece tonight when Templeogue meet GCD Swords Thunder in the Hula Hoops Men's National Cup final at the Arena in Tallaght.
The clubs represent a new era in Irish men's basketball. Clubs like Templeogue and Swords Thunder have recruited with ambition and looked to mix it with the old guard. It's paying off for tonight's finalists.
Templeogue - who have the benefit of Dublin star Kevin McManamon helping out - are favourites. They have the best record in the league and boast four Ireland internationals as well as former Grenada star Michael Bonaparte on their roster.
Their coach has also been there and done that before - Mark Keenan was a National Cup winner with Killester in 2010 and again with UL Eagles in 2012. Injuries and a recent blip on their winning record are his main concerns. "Having lost to them in the league two weeks ago, does that mean we'll have an extra little bit of motivation? I certainly hope so," he said.
When Templeogue beat Thunder in a league encounter in October, their top scorers were Bonaparte, Conor Grace and Paul Cummins. All three were injured when Swords inflicted their first defeat upon them recently. The trio remain a doubt.
On the upside, Jason Killeen is back to full fitness for the first time this season while Keenan has also called up former international Paddy Kelly from Templeogue's local league team.
Just four Thunder players were around to gain revenge on UCC Demons this year after last year's semi-final humbling.
Isaac Westbrooks is the on-court general. The former Ireland point-guard directs team-mates from Poland, Spain, Ukraine, Romania and a quartet of Americans including Mike Garrow, whose arrival has coincided with an improved win rate from 54pc to 80pc.
Westbrooks is hungry for silverware, but knows that Swords will have to build strong foundations if they are to achieve long term-success.
"The progression is great," he said. "The club is growing and the support with it and a lot of that is down to the work that's going on behind the scenes.
"There's a lot of trust in our team and we've been on a roll so it should be a good spectacle for the sport."
Templeogue v Swords Thunder
Live, TG4, 8.0