The Super League crown has weighed heavily on the men from the Kingdom as champions Tralee Warriors have endured a “frustrating” past season.
However, Kieran Donaghy and Co can still retain their title if they clinch the final available play-off spot by beating Neptune in tonight’s last regular-season game. Their opponents or Ballincollig will clinch that berth if they fail.
Warriors coach John Dowling has managed a late turnaround after a slow start, with seven of their 11 league wins coming since the New Year. Nonetheless, this year’s title defence has proved “testing.”
“We’ve lost all our games by single digits so I think that’s been more frustrating than if we were being beat blown out of the water,” Dowling admits. “We just weren’t good enough.”
“It’s hard to repeat the hunger that you had the first year, especially because everybody had a year off basketball in our first year.
“We changed everybody this season. Aaron Calixte went to Sweden and Nikola Roso is in Denmark. So they all moved on to higher leagues and we had to change the system a small bit. It definitely has been a mixture of that and there’s a lot of mileage on Kieran, Fergal (O’Sullivan) and those fellas.”
Dowling also points out that former Kerry footballer Donaghy and fellow veteran O’Sullivan have played their part in this revival as they “know how to get it done”.
The Armagh backroom coach only scored once from six attempts in his last appearance when he brought the Orchard County panel to the Sports Complex. But Donaghy’s game has always been about more than just scoring points and his influence with Dowling’s changes has been key to stopping their slide.
The coach moved his American shooting guard De’Ondre Jackson to the point, “which changed our season really.”
“He’s a scorer, which makes him very dangerous on the point. Traditionally, a lot of point guards get it up and get it back, but he doesn’t really play that way.”
The reigning cup and league holder’s tag has placed a target on the Warriors’ back while teams continue to improve after Covid-enforced hiatus. There’s an explanation for the league’s raising standards this season.
“Money,” Dowling says. “People are investing more money in their basketball teams, which is what needs to happen. And that has brought in more good pros.
“There are more people coming to the game, so there’s more revenue going around and more good Americans year on year as well.”
With the league set to allow two Americans on the floor next season, instead of just one, standards will continue to rise. Tralee must raise them once more tonight.
TODAY – Men’s Super League: Ballincollig v St Vincent’s, Ballincollig CS, 4.0; Belfast Star v Templeogue, De La Salle College, 6.30; Éanna v UCD Marian, Coláiste Éanna, 7.0; Maree v UCC Demons, Calasanctus College, 7.0; Killorglin v Moycullen, Killorglin Sports Centre, 7.15; Killester v EJ Sligo All-Stars, IWA Clontarf, 7.30; Tralee Warriors v Neptune, Tralee Sports Complex, 7.30. Women’s Super League: Mystics v Killester, Ballinfoile Community Centre, 4.0; Trinity Meteors v Singleton SuperValu Brunell, Coláiste Íosagáin, 4.0; Killester v Fr Mathews, IWA Clontarf, 5.30.
TOMORROW – Women’s Super League: DCU Mercy v Liffey Celtics, DCU Arena, 2.30; Glanmire v Waterford Wildcats, Mardyke Arena, 2.30.