'We can't let Toomas down'
Dublin Inter's amateur warriors vow to honour club's late founder in Cup final
In the immediate aftermath of their shock win over Neptune in the National Cup semi-final earlier this month, Dublin Inter's thoughts turned to one man.
Toomas Ilves wasn't a household name in this country, but among the Irish basketball community, he was a man who commanded the utmost respect until his untimely death last summer.
Dublin Inter are unlike their rivals in so many ways. The side is made up entirely of amateurs and they are without a home court and a sponsor. But that doesn't bother them as they pride themselves on doing things differently.
Inter were set up less than 10 years ago by Ilves, an Estonian who hoped to attract foreign nationals living in Ireland to play a sport that, especially for the Eastern Europeans, takes precedence in their home countries.
The current team mainly compromises Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Polish, while there are also players from the Philippines and a couple from Ireland. Given that all of the players have full-time jobs, they struggle to hold training sessions more than once a week.
It was during one of these sessions last June that Ilves suffered a heart attack on courtside in the Palmerstown Community School gym.
Inter had not only lost their founder and coach, but also the soul of the club. The news sent shockwaves around the basketball community.
With Ilves' death went the underage structures that he worked so tirelessly to set up at Inter.
As the club stood on the brink of folding, the players came together and decided that they couldn't throw away all of the work that the Estonian had done for them.
In order to keep Ilves' legacy going, and, indeed, the club, the players opted to pay all the weekly costs of running the team out of their own pocket – a decision that ultimately saved them.
Fast-forward eight months and Inter are preparing for a Cup final with UCC Demons in the National Arena. The club has had its struggles, but their achievement in beating the likes of UL Eagles and Neptune on their way to the final signifies something more than just your average 'underdog' story.
As Inter guard Romas Eidukas explains, tonight's game holds a greater significance to his side.
"Definitely this game will be dedicated to Toomas," he said.
"He would have wanted us to be here and he would have been proud of us for where we are at this moment. We can't let him down."
Their burning desire to succeed is fuelled by a player who has left his mark on a club that continue to defy overwhelming odds.
Vaidas Butkus, now coach at Dublin Inter, speaks in his native Lithuanian tongue during training sessions, and the captain relays his message to the other players
Language barriers are deemed nothing more than another hurdle for Dublin Inter, but tonight they will look to do their talking on the court in their bid to win the Cup for Toomas Ilves.
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