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Tradehouse Central Ballincollig's Inigio Zabola with a reverse pass in the league victory over Sligo All-Stars. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Tradehouse Central Ballincollig's Inigio Zabola with a reverse pass in the league victory over Sligo All-Stars. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

From the Village to the Super League: Ballincollig basketballers take flight

BALLINCOLLIG were champions elect coming into last weekend’s Division 1 clash against Sligo All-Stars and they lived up to that billing at a packed BCS.

Under the Tradehouse Central banner, they have thrived since making the step up from local to national level, collecting three President’s Cup crowns along the way. The ultimate goal was to progress to the Super League, the first Cork club to do so since North Mon, who shone in the 1990s.

With American Andre Nation soaring to the rim, Spaniard Inigio Zabola dishing assists and home-grown Dylan Corkery chipping in with 20 points, captain Ciarán O’Sullivan was able to collect the league trophy after a suitably stylish victory.

Ciarán O'Sullivan with Ballincollig supporters David and Dan Horgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ciarán O'Sullivan with Ballincollig supporters David and Dan Horgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

For Daniel O’Sullivan – like Ciarán one of the club’s most experienced players – defeating Sligo was the culmination of a life-long dream.

“The cup, year one, was obviously special but after that, we wanted to get up to the top tier. We have a certain amount of confidence that we won’t come back down because of the underage players coming through and the coaching that’s going on.

“So from that perspective it’s almost a weight off the shoulders, as well as a huge celebration because we put ourselves under that sort of pressure for the club’s benefit.”

Tradehouse Central Ballincollig's Jack Kelly hit 19 points last weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Tradehouse Central Ballincollig's Jack Kelly hit 19 points last weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Under the cool leadership of Kieran O’Sullivan, the Collig coped with a number of setbacks over the campaign, including the five-game absence of Andre Nation through injury.

They’re 19-0 in the league to secure the trophy with three games to spare, and they were four from four in the cup. They snatched victories against LYIT Donegal, IT Carlow and Sligo (away) through dramatic late scores and excelled against their main rivals Killarney and Fr Mathew’s.

The foundation for glory.

“There were some huge wins earlier in the season, between injuries and games we just had no right to win. It’s easy to forget about those now but that’s the winning of the league.

“We’ve a tough run-in, away to Donegal next week, in against Mathew’s and Celtics coming to Ballincollig, who are in great form. If you pick up a few losses early on, you’re a long way from a day like this.”

Coach Kieran O'Sullivan celebrates with his players. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Coach Kieran O'Sullivan celebrates with his players. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There were a few agonising defeats at Ballincollig Community School in the first two seasons at Division 1 level. O’Sullivan felt that fuelled their big performance against Sligo.

“It was certainly in our mind coming into this one, that we had opportunities before in this gym and on the rare occasion we underperformed it was in BCS, Neptune two years ago and Dublin Lions last season. Getting a performance in front of our own crowd was hugely important.

“The record over the three years is unbelievable really when you put all competitions into it. We were incredibly unlucky not to go up sooner, particularly last year.”

Promotion brings excitement but also heavier demands. The current squad is the strongest in Division 1 – highlighted by 19 points from Jack Kelly last weekend who started with Ronan O’Sullivan currently abroad.

There is talent in the underage ranks with Andrew O’Connor, Colm Blount, Issac James, Colm O’Connell, Sean O’Flynn and Daniel’s younger brother Luke, all featuring recently. However, the Super League, currently led by Pat Price’s Tralee Warriors unit, is unforgiving.

Tradehouse Central Ballincollig basketball club's Colman O'Flynn, Colin Murray, Sean O'Flynn, Ciarán O'Sullivan and Andre Nation and the league trophy with Ed Burke, manager of Tradehouse Central.
Tradehouse Central Ballincollig basketball club's Colman O'Flynn, Colin Murray, Sean O'Flynn, Ciarán O'Sullivan and Andre Nation and the league trophy with Ed Burke, manager of Tradehouse Central.

“There are some new challenges and some things don’t change at all. The new challenges are on and off the court. We’ve carried ourselves well off the court, had a vision and made the right decisions. I think the same people we’ve been behind that are going to be involved next season and that will help with the financial costs.”

Warriors, thanks to Kieran Donaghy, are a box-office draw across the country, while a derby with northsiders Neptune and showdowns against the likes of Killester, Belfast Star and Templeogue will also be hugely attractive.

“I think in terms of drawing the neutral Ballincollig people to games, being up Super League will be huge. We saw the crowd that was here for the promotion game and having big names like Donaghy and the Dublin clubs coming to the Village will be great.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“There’s great enthusiasm for this team around Ballincollig but obviously higher-profile games will take us to another level. I think there will be a lot of close games because the standard will be so high, whereas we have had more one-sided games at home in Division 1.

“We’ll earn everything we get in Super League so the neutral will get a lot of exciting games. Hopefully long into the future.”

The O'Sullivan clan celebrating. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
The O'Sullivan clan celebrating. Picture: Eddie O'Hare