IT will a huge day tomorrow for Tradehouse Central Ballincollig when they bid to win a third Hula Hoops President’s National Cup title when they clash with IT Carlow at the National Basketball Arena.
It has been a season to remember for Ballincollig as they boast a 15-0 record in the league and, coupled with their three wins in this championship, they remain the only unbeaten side across all levels of Irish basketball.
There are many heroes in the Ballincollig squad, but it has been a particularly good season for captain Ciarán O’Sullivan, with his exterior shooting and leadership proving crucial in his team’s quest for the title.
O’Sullivan is Ballincollig born and bred and steeped in basketball. His parents Francis and Grace were key figures in reviving the club's underage section when the 29-year-old was in primary school, and his younger brother Adrian is a now professional in Germany.
He started on the hardwood at the age of eight and, along with his close friend Daniel O'Sullivan, was at the heart of a team that won trophies all the way up, and suffered a few agonising National Cup losses.
He headed off to Trinity Pawling in the States for a year in 2009, after getting some sound advice from Niall Murphy of UCC Demons. Fittingly on his return he would become a team-mate of Murphy at the Sunday’s Well club.
“The choice was easy for me, as I was going into a team with players like Shane Coughlan and Niall O’Reilly and with a core of young guys like Kyle Hosford, David Murphy, and Carleton Cuff. We've some great success.
“I joined Demons in 2010 where Paul Kelleher was coach for three years and we were runner-up in the cup final of 2012 and won the Champions Trophy in 2013.”
The introduction of Colin O’Reilly as player-coach in the summer of 2013 sparked a golden era for Demons.
“There are real intensity at our training sessions because we'd such a deep squad. Colin was outstanding on the court as well."
His brother Adrian also was also part of the team that lifted a staggering seven titles out of nine across three seasons that included two Leagues, two National Cups and three Champion trophies.
O’Sullivan was also part of Demons’ unbeaten season of 2015/16, but with O’Reilly moving back to Chester Jets, the team was completely shaken up, according to O’Sullivan.
“I think when we lost Shane Coughlan, the heart was taken out of the team as he was our leader on court and in the dressing room."
Tim O’Halloran replaced O'Reilly at the helm: "To be fair he hadn’t the same group of players.”
Ciarán was at the crossroads, but the call from Ballincollig was too good to refuse.
“I was frustrated and as I was still only 27 and in the prime of my career — the Ballincollig move saw me go back playing with former team-mates from my juvenile days,” he said.
“My uncle Kieran is coach, and he gave me the freedom to do some coaching with the team, like running our sessions, and that’s what I am doing now with Kieran doing the timeouts and substitutions, and we work well together.”
In three years Ballincollig have only lost six games and are now on the verge of promotion to the Super League.
“Division 1 basketball was competitive a few years ago, but to be honest it wears you out. The time is right for us to compete against the elite.”
The signing last season of American Andre Nation was a major coup for Ballincollig and after a slow start this season, marred by injury, he is now playing superbly.
“I think we all have to thank Eoin Galvin, who did our pre-season training with his ‘Fit to the Point’ system, and we then brought Kevin Mulcahy in to help Andre and our Spanish ace Inigio Zabola and our results are clear to see,” he said.
Ballincollig will be hoping to go into the history books tomorrow, but O’Sullivan believes they will need to be wary of their threat.
“I think people saw the cup semi-finals in Cork with the amount of favourites that were toppled in various grades and the way I look at this game will all be about 40 minutes of basketball and who wants it most,” he said.
“You can be as cocky as you want but IT Carlow have nothing to lose and it will be up to us to show people why we are an unbeaten side on the biggest stage of all.”