| 12.6°C Dublin

Where are they now?: John Cooney (former basketballer)

In the 1980s when John Cooney played basketball for Cork's Blue Demons, the popularity of the game in Ireland was at an all-time high.

"When the Americans joined the league, basketball really took off here," recalls Cooney. "Killarney were the first team to bring them in and that started a whole new scene in Ireland. The game reached a different level, sponsors got involved and the crowds got bigger. It was an unbelievable time."

Cooney was nine when he started playing basketball for local club Iona. He spent ten years with them winning numerous All-Ireland titles and representing Ireland up through the ranks.

"We were very successful at underage level and a lot of that came down to the coaching we got from Michael Healy at Iona. He got books on basketball from America; he was very informed and very technical. We trained hard three or four times a week. I played a little bit of GAA but basketball was my life."

From there Cooney moved up to senior basketball and started playing for the Blue Demons. In 1973, they made history by becoming the first team from Cork to win the National League.

"Us winning that first time really kick-started a great run of success for Cork teams. With the Blue Demons we went on to win the League and Cup on multiple occasions and we were the only Irish team to win the British and Irish Confederation Cup."

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Blue Demons winning the National Cup when they beat Burgerland in the final.

"It was a great win for us because we had a poor season in the League but we came back and won the Cup. When we played Burgerland, it was always entertaining, there was never more than the hop of a ball between us. Every time we played Burgerland the stadium was packed."

It was a special victory for Cooney as the previous year they were beaten by their fierce rivals Neptune in the final by a point (92-91) in a game which is regarded as the greatest ever cup final.

Cooney retired in 1989 but took up a coaching job with the Blue Demons, guiding them to a National League title. His next port of call was at North Mon where he coached them to a League title and a Cup victory.

The former point guard now works as a trade union official for SIPTU. He still has a keen interest in basketball but because of work commitments, doesn't get to see as many games as he once did.

Sunday Indo Sport