Montenotte go in search of greatness
Team Montenotte Hotel are on the brink of greatness. They don't want to talk about it in the lead up to tomorrow's Hula Hoops Women's National Cup final against Pyrobel Killester, but a win would make them the most successful women's Cup team in Irish basketball history.
The defending champions had three successive wins from 2007-09 and completion of another hat-trick would push them clear of UL Huskies on the roll of honour.
"Because we've been so good over the last couple of years, people expect us to turn up and beat teams. It doesn't happen like that," says coach Mark Scannell. "Teams cop on and prepare better. The players get tired and injured like everyone else. We just have to hope that we're tuned in and that we go out and perform."
Last year's cup achievement, won with victory over Killester in the final, was notable because it was done without the services of an American professional. This time around, Chantell Alford is on the roster and performing well after what she admits was an "adjustment period".
"It was a whole new team and a whole new system," said the Boston University alumnus. "I've found a rhythm and I have confidence now."
Grainne Dwyer looks to be peaking at the right time of the season once again after ankle injuries in the autumn. The three-time Cup MVP scored 21 points in the 2014 and 2015 finals. No such luck for her sister Niamh, who is ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.
Scannell says: "The team have decided that this one is for Niamh. She's carried us over the line so many times and now we need to carry her on Sunday."
Killester lost last year's final by 26 points despite trailing by just a point at half-time. They were also bottom of the league at that time. In 2016, they are looking good in second place in the table.
The recruitment of Rae Contreras has proved a major catalyst. The American leads the Women's Premier League in points (24.55 pg) and steals (3.45 pg).
"I came here to bring back some silverware to the programme that I'm with," she said.
"We're both well coached teams and I think it's going to be a dogfight till the end. I'm just looking forward to grinding it out with my team-mates."
Team Montenotte v P Killester,
Live, TG4, tomorrow, 5.15,