Neptune basketball legend Martin Aherne was a great player and coach but a better person

Neptune basketball legend Martin Aherne was a great player and coach but a better person
Niall Murphy, Blue Demons, Garry Walsh, Neptune, and Martin Aherne, Neptune, Assistant Coach, with the Irish U20 Basketball team, at Neptune Stadium in 2006. Picture: Cillian Kelly/News Digital

THE death last weekend of former Neptune player and coach Martin ‘Ernie’ Aherne at the age of 55 brought sadness to his wife Martina, daughter Áine, family, and the many friends he encountered during his life.

Martin was born in Churchfield and in his early days joined a club called GH74 that were based in the Parochial Hall, Gurranabraher.

Following a split in the club he moved to CG All-Stars and a few years this club disbanded that saw Martin join Neptune.

Since his death many of the people that witnessed Martin playing and coaching have spoken about his shooting and rebounding skills.

Tony O’Connell of Neptune coached Martin and he described his skills in those early days. “I can honestly say outside of American Bob Stephens he was the best I have ever seen dominating boards.”

As a young man Martin, along with his close friend and neighbour Dinny ‘Bobs’ McCarthy, soldiered together for many years that included winning three U19 All-Ireland’s back-to-back with Neptune.

In his community he played and won a Community Games with the Ascension parish and later the late Tony Hurley coached them to another title.

The enjoyment of playing stopped at a young age for Martin as Neptune had a swell of talent during the golden era of basketball and he decided that he wasn’t interested in competing for a place.

The Billy Kelly U17 National tournament in Cork is one of the most prestigious events in the Irish basketball calendar and Martin had the distinction of being on the winning team at Neptune.

After finishing his playing career Martin moved to Blue Demons where he coached them to their first ever Billy Kelly tournament in 1995.

Part of that team was the legendary Shane Coughlan who paid the following tribute to Martin.

“I played under a few coaches in my career but to me Martin would rate as one of the best as he knew the game inside out and he played a pivotal part in us winning the Billy Kelly,” said Coughlan.

In his coaching career Martin coached at schools level and was also at the helm in ladies basketball with the now disbanded Monte Cristo.

Probably one of Martin’s biggest achievements came in 2003 when he coached Neptune to win the SuperLeague, which was the last time they have won this prestigious championship.

I can vividly remember a crucial game near the end of the season when he substituted one of his Americans.

The player in question was angry and shouted at Martin: 'Why the hell have you taken me out?'

In a cool manner Martin bent over and replied, 'because I am the coach'.

Neptune won the game and afterwards Martin shook hands with all his players and in his own words players’ emotions never worried him as it showed they cared but at the end of the day a coach is judged on results.

Stephen 'Stodser’ McCarthy, one of the all-time greats of Irish basketball, was part of that winning team and in a recent message online he paid tribute to Martin’s contribution in winning the league.

“Martin was the best person I met in basketball.Playing with him in my young days in the Parochial Hall, he had a great influence on me.

“He gave me the confidence to play and I was thrilled when he led us to the league title in 2003 after Emmett Neville died and that’s a memory I will always have in my heart.”

This message was one of many that was relayed on the app of Irish Basketball memories in the 1980s and '90s a fortnight ago and although Martin was ill he still found time to reply.

“Don’t believe everything you read lads.”

In his final days friends like Don O’Sullivan, Dinny ‘Bobs’ McCarthy, Jim O’Sullivan, George O’Connor and Malcolm Thompson were very supportive of Martin.

After going back to college Martin began working as a social worker on Cork’s Northside and popular folk singer Myles Gaffney paid tribute in another message to his great friend.

“Martin rang me one day and asked me would I go to Eason’s Hill Community Centre and help him set up an Old Folks Trad group which I did and to this day it is thriving just one of the many things that he did for people throughout his life.”

Martin’s favourite song was 'Northside ’til I die' and Myles has decided to put the following lyrics into the song.

“Many Norries sing Northside ’til we Die

“To hear someone Sing Your Songs

“There’s no greater joy

“One man at Sing Songs

“Would sing it loud and Firm

“Thank you for the honour Martin Aherne

“Northside ’til he died.”

Martin Aherne was a genuine gentleman who saw no wrong in people and has left a lasting legacy that will be spoken about for many years to come. His legacy is one of kindness and compassion.

He will be missed.

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