Sparks fly to brilliant All-Ireland title win
Basketball: All-Ireland club championship
A brilliant series of five matches played over two days saw Drogheda Sparks Under-16s crowned All-Ireland club champions as they defeated Springfield 43-30 in Sunday's final in Gormanston.
The girls took on teams from all the provinces and saw them off to finally face Limerick area champions Springfield in the decider where Sparks simply would not be denied in their mission to take a national championship.
The reward they received was fully deserved after the supreme efforts put in by the players and coaches.
Before the final the Drogheda girls had seen off Comets from Clare. After leading by one at half-time Sparks had a real dogfight on their hands and the teams were tied at 26 points apiece going into the last quarter. However, the Drogheda team took control and closed out the game to win 39-32.
A brilliant pressing defence against Ballina blew that game open early on as Kate Kelly turned their opponents' turnovers into a whopping 32-point personal tally which was only made possible by great teamwork. The final score there was 51-30 to Sparks.
The only blip on a perfect record was the sole loss to Phoenix from Belfast in the very first game on Saturday morning. Sparks led early on by 10 points but then lost their way somewhat and the Belfast club took advantage of some sloppy play to win 32-26.
As it turned out, though, Sparks were just finding their form and with each minute played the team grew stronger and better.
In the semi-final, for example, Sparks knocked out Longford, the team who saw off Sparks two years ago, with the scoreboard this time reading 34-23 in the Drogheda side's favour.
There was no MVP award for this tournament, but Kate Kelly was all that. Her strong scoring and leadership on court was key to Sparks' success and in the final itself against Springfield she led all scorers with 18 points.
Not far behind her was Abby Rice, who picked up the scoring slack in the second quarter and finished with 10 points at a crucial stage of the game.
Defence wins championships, they say, and the suffocating type deployed by Gretta McEvoy, Nikola Busa, Zeina Khattab and Ome Esajobor, to name just a few, was telling. Having led by just three points after the first quarter, Sparks blew Springfield away with a strong finish to a tournament that they deserved to win.
Team captain Ava Prendergast was presented with the national trophy and the 'champions' title belonged to these brilliant Sparks.