Sunday 22 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Kieran Donaghy casts aside his Demons in cup derby'

Star of the show: Billy Keane with Kieran Donaghy at the Cup victory of Tralee’s Garvey’s Warriors over UCC Demons yesterday.
Star of the show: Billy Keane with Kieran Donaghy at the Cup victory of Tralee’s Garvey’s Warriors over UCC Demons yesterday.
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The full name of the game was the Hula Hoops Pat Duffy National Cup Q/F Garvey's Tralee Warriors v UCC Demons.

I'll give the basketballers one thing, they sure know how to pack in the names of sponsors. The title of the game promotes a crispy snack, a supermarket and a university.

And a sporting hero.

The stadium is a sports hall at Tralee Sports Complex, with a new floor that would have 'Strictly' only dying for a dance. Some of these places look like halls waiting for a bingo announcer to show up.

There were six rows of seats in Tralee. All full up, long before the tip-off. There was about 800 at the game. This was the quarter-final of the cup. Do-or-die stuff. Kerry versus Cork.

He's a restless soul is Kieran Donaghy. Idleness doesn't suit him. He makes the most of his time and he is fiercely committed to basketball.

Big men hurt big men and in this game of giants Donaghy is not the biggest. Elbows stick out like vintage tractor indicators. Spilled balls are fought for like gold hailstones. It's some battle.

Why is it that basketballers do not laugh as much as footballers? It's because their ribs are always sore. For a non-contact sport, there's lot of contact. The 20-second rule means you have to shoot. There is no time for fecking about. The constant whistles from rubber on wood was a chattering of starlings, of stop and go.

UCC Demons scored 13 without reply in the second quarter. Tralee hit the rim again and again. Demons went 16 points up. The Tralee coach Pat Price from the States shouted out: "Simple stuff, simple stuff."

I'm a rookie but I think he meant his team should go back to working the ball in close. Price told me his late mother-in-law said, "Watch that fella, he's hyper." Price fits in here. He was off his seat for most of the game. They played for him with all their might.

Obstructive Demons player-coach Colin O'Reilly went from scoring a basket to giving out instructions from a tablet during a time-out. There were quite a few fouls. But it was sort of clean dirt, mostly of the obstructive type.

The idea of three referees patrolling an area not much bigger than two Gaelic squares might appeal to some GAA lawmakers now that five new rules have been brought in.

The more extreme will relish the prospect of having three times as many refs to abuse. This revival of basketball and the big crowds is mostly down to Donaghy. He is evangelical, a missionary for the game that saved him.

Donaghy has a lot of work to do but it is in his favour that the three-card tricks practised by the Gooch were honed on the basketball courts. Basketball is a huge help to football.

UCC Demons looked well on their way when they went 16 points up with only a couple of minutes to go in a frantic third quarter. Coach O'Reilly dominated the game on and off the pitch. Tactically he did a job on Paul Dick, Tralee's most influential player, by stopping his path up the middle. O'Reilly was outstanding on court as well. There were four American lads playing and all had good games.

But a hero came from The Castle Bar, just down the road in The Rock. Fergal O'Sullivan, who was substituted very early on, came back to score two three-pointers with an assist for another basket. It was game on.

O'Sullivan's dad and uncle will be standing the pints tonight in a mighty pub. His first cousin Darren had a good game too. And who knows, we might even race down to Donaghy's cousin's pub, The Greyhound

Finally, Paul Dick found a way through Demons' tight defence. The fire and drive of Donaghy had the crowd cheering at their loudest in the last quarter.

Kieran is more famous for his defence in basketball but he scored two vital baskets before he was, ahem, asked to leave near the end.

The kids invaded the court and after he gave them all the time of day, Kieran gave us his thoughts.

"Kids had nothing to aim for. We started the club up for that. The club had no money during the recession. We couldn't keep going. I retired for a few years but then I had to come back. It's all about community. All about helping out."

He's dripping sweat. "We need to get a girls team next. I want my daughters to have something to aim for. When I was struggling as a kid with my home situation, I came up here to this centre at six o'clock in the morning, every morning, before anyone else came in. That's what I say to kids in my camps. Keep at the training every day."

Donaghy is still on the game-time high. "There's no messing. I love this game. It's all attack. It's honest. Just go and score."

His mom and his wife come over. There are hugs, kisses.

Kieran is happy now, happy in the place where he was happy as a boy.

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