MICHAEL O’LEARY has dedicated his life to Blue Demons basketball club.
He was a very accomplished player from a young age, then a trophy-winning coach, and is now in his second stint as chairman of the senior committee of the Sunday’s Well Club.
The Northside native started playing with Blue Demons as an eight-year-old and played right up to his 50th birthday in a game when he togged out with his two sons Stephen and Darren. He is not the only one of his family who have invested their time in Demons.
His wife Collette is always at his side and on hand to help out wherever she is needed. Their two sons Stephen and Darren, and daughter Shannon also have the Demons blood in them, as they have held various roles in the club over the years.
“My first involvement as a player with Blue Demons was with the juvenile section then called DePaul Boys club in the Summer Leagues of 1974. My first ever league game was with the DePaul Cubs in an U14 Tournament, aged eight.
“That was against a new club GH74 from the Gurranebraher area in their first-ever game as a club, we won 4-0, both baskets were scored by Johnny Higgins he was the only player in the team that could reach the rim at the time!” Micheal recalls.
“I played on the Dawn Milk team that won the 1988 National Championships, but I’m being kind to myself to call that playing. So, on the court, winning the Intermediate League final 1994 against Sligo All-Stars in Tallaght under Martin Aherne meant a lot. He sadly passed away this year.”
One of his biggest influences in his younger days was Mono McCarthy. As young players playing against a great Neptune team, featuring Tom O’Sullivan, Brendan O’Flaherty, Paul Fitzgerald, John ‘Dinny Bobs’ McCarthy and co was tough.
“Winning trophies for the club was not possible then, so your best chance of winning a trophy was to get picked by Mono for the Summer Leagues.
“Jasper McIlory, who I had the pleasure of training with on a nightly basis, was great. They say ‘never meet your hero he might disappoint...’ Not in this case.
O’Leary started coaching with Demons at a young age, and one of his greatest strengths is that he reads the game as a player when he is on the sidelines.
He always puts player-welfare first and puts all his success as a coach down to getting all his players to play hard, and for one another, which is a terrific trait in any coach.
“My first major influence in coaching basketball was my coach Connie Daly, and he stressed the point that being just a player was not good enough to be a good member, so he had us coaching 10-year-olds when we were 15, and I have been coaching at some grade or another ever since.
“I have been honoured to have coached many successful teams in the past and won four National Intermediate titles in the late ‘90s with effectively the same core of players. Those remain my go-to memories because they were a great bunch of friends.”
He coached the Super League as interim head coach in 2008 and back-to-back local derby wins against Neptune in a season-best forgotten was impressive.
“An a one-off occasion, coaching Blue Demons to the U20 National Cup against a much-fancied UCD Marian was possibly my greatest achievement at national level.”
Being a chairman of a club in these challenging times can be very difficult, however, O’Leary’s focus, vision and dedication for his club is incredible.
“I had always been involved since a young age at juvenile committee level but became chairman of Blue Demons’ senior committee in 1994 a position held until 2013 and I was reelected in 2018 until now.
“It’s a position I hold with the highest regard, however, I’ve done almost every job in the club from been chairman to floor-wiper and everything in between.
“The club has and will always be first and foremost a positive, safe, and sporting outlet for the children. We want to be the best we can, and to complete at the highest level.”
With Covid, everyone is wondering what’s next. Even before lockdown, Blue Demons were positive about the future despite dropping out of the Super League in 2019.
“We have an excellent juvenile structure in place and have some very good young coaches. We have recently focused our energy on our U20 squad, as we see this as the immediate future.
“Our ambition is to re-enter the national senior stage as soon as possible. The single biggest challenge to Irish basketball is that too many people believe in the narrative, that basketball was killed by the reduction of American players in the ‘80s.
“Therefore the fix should be an easy one, increase the number of Americans again!
“Basketball has increased then decreased the professional players a few times and repeated that cycle in my 22 years as chairman. This had a short-term positive effect on clubs but a long-term negative effect, so getting the timing right when to step back will determine whether you enjoy the long ride or a short term buzz.”