P eder Madsen has a tale worth telling. His obsession with basketball began when his mother sent him down to the local club, Killester, to give the game a try. Madsen was hooked from the get-go and it didn't take him long to develop a desire to head to America to test himself against the best players in the world.
After finishing his Leaving Cert, Madsen went on a tour of North America with the Ireland under 18 squad, and while there he was approached by a high school to come and do a year of study with them and play for the school team. Madsen accepted the offer and at 18 found himself living with an Irish American family, and playing basketball in Massachusetts.
"It was tough at the start," he recalls now, more than 10 years later. "The family lived in the middle of nowhere and I'd come from being an 18-year-old in a city who could come and go as I pleased to being a minor in the States. All I did was eat, play ball, work out and study. I had just finished my Leaving so I had expected the year of study to be a doddle in comparison but it turned out the school was very academic and I had to put the work in both on and off the court."
But all his effort paid off and Madsen managed to secure a basketball scholarship to Post University in Connecticut. It was a big step up for the young Irish player, the Americans were physically stronger than him, and they had been brought up in a different culture of training.
"Once I got a scholarship then the pressure was on. I was much slighter than most of the other lads. When I arrived my coach said if you want to keep your scholarship you need to build yourself up and get stronger. The difference in physicality was massive. It was fascinating to see how advanced they were with regards strength and conditioning, and to observe how coaches worked with athletes and developed them physically, making them faster, stronger and quicker."
On top of that, there was pressure to maintain a starting spot on the team. Every year new freshmen were recruited to join the college and with that brought added competition. "You'd often hear of certain freshman being recruited and then you'd hear that he is in your position and that can be unsettling. It was always a bit of a dogfight to start but once the team gels we get on with it."
When Madsen finished his Sports Management degree, he came home, spent one year in Ireland before being recruited to play for Reading Rockets in England. It was a professional set-up that allowed him to live the life of a full-time athlete. There were six professionals on his team, so they were housed, given a car and a salary. This gave him the time to develop as a player.
Playing there, and having a lot of free time also gave him an opportunity to use his degree and his club organised some lecturing work in the local college which helped him plan for the future.
After three years with the Rockets, Madsen decided to return to Ireland permanently. He rejoined his childhood club Killester, picking up where he'd left off almost a decade before. The team hadn't changed too much over the years, he'd played through the underage ranks and there were lots of familiar faces.
Now 32, Madsen says basketballers in Ireland are looked after well and get expenses but very few get more than that. And a high level of dedication and commitment is required. Madsen trains three nights a week and plays a game at the weekend. The way things are at the moment the money isn't there to play professional players but despite this Madsen believes that the standard of basketball in Ireland is improving. "People nowadays understand the game better," he says. "There is more diversity in the country, with Eastern Europeans, Americans and Africans living here and bringing up their kids here. These people are originally from countries where basketball is not a minority sport so their kids often have good genetics in terms of height and basketball ability. And because the parents have an interest in the game they pass it on their kids.
"Most of the teams in the Irish league now are being carried by the Irish players whereas in the '80s it was the Americans. Now the best teams in the country are the teams that have the best Irish guys. It's great because you don't have to rely on the Americans to score 50 points every game.
"But the big problem for basketball in Ireland is that there is just not much of an incentive for kids to play SuperLeague after school. It's not as attractive a proposition as GAA or rugby and that's something that will have to be looked at if the game is to develop."
Today Madsen's Killester take on first-time finalists UCD Marian in the Men's SuperLeague National Cup final. Killester are aiming to win a second successive treble but Madsen isn't fazed.
"I remember my first cup final, it's huge for a basketball player especially because you are not used to playing in front of a crowd of that size. But when you go play in England or the States big aggressive crowds are part of the game. It's UCD Marian's first time so it will be tough for them in that respect. The big thing with us though is complacency, when you win so many games then you just fear that an element of it might creep in."
National Cup Finals,
RTE2, 1.0 & 3.15
Sunday Indo Sport