Cork basketball special: Young talent will be vital for Ballincollig this season

Cork basketball special: Young talent will be vital for Ballincollig this season
Ballincollig veteran Ciaran O'Sullivan will need help from the club's young guns. Picture: Larry Cummins

HAVING only been beaten just five times across the past two seasons, Tradehouse Central Ballincollig can count themselves unlucky not to be competing in the top tier of Irish basketball.

With back-to-back President’s Cup titles captured amid joyous scenes in Tallaght, the club’s decision to move from the local leagues to the national competitions has been fully vindicated but the main aim going into 2020 is to join the elite in the Super League.

“We’ve a 90% record since we joined the National League,” explains head coach Kieran O’Sullivan, “but we just came up short in getting promoted. There was no one feeling sorry for themselves because that’s the sport. We have to come back as a better team and those cup victories in Dublin were fantastic occasions for the team and all the supporters.

“The cup is a distraction in some ways this time though. The focus will be on the league. This season it’ll be the top team going up and then a play-off between the second team in Division 1 and the second last team in the Super League. It’s very straightforward.”

They are back in league action this Saturday in Balincollig Community School at 4pm against Limerick Sport Eagles, while earlier this week they were drawn away to Killarney in the cup opener, which takes place at the end of October. The Collig will be expected to account for the Shannonsiders on home turf but are missing a host of key players, including Andre Nation.

The towering American was the undoubted MVP of the last campaign, regularly breaking the 40-point barrier, but his return has been slightly delayed. His absence is compounded by injuries to three-point specialist Stephen O’Sullivan and Ronan O’Sullivan, Kieran’s son who returns after a season with Reading Rockets.

New arrival Daragh Fleming is away, which means Ballincollig will lean heavily on their homegrown talent tomorrow and also back on a sharp debut from new Spanish guard Iñigo Zabala.

“The injuries and the issue with Andre are unfortunate because off the court we couldn’t be in a better place. We’ve Tradehouse Central back in as sponsor for the third year in a row and that’s been a great link-up for the club, we’re delighted to be involved with them again.

“The community has really got behind Ballincollig Basketball Club in the last couple of years and the numbers we have underage are incredible. It’s flying overall so hopefully, we can get through these first couple of matches. Having a good crowd behind us in BCS on Saturday will be a massive benefit.”

The experienced Ciarán O’Sullivan is integral to how Ballincollig play, in terms of tempo and shooting, while Dylan Corkery can move up another level having pulled on the Irish singlet at senior level for the first time recently. He operated in the guard spot previously will now be able to operate further up the court provided Spaniard Zabala clicks.

“Dylan and Ronan really enjoyed being in the Ireland set-up over the summer. It was great for the club because you’d Adrian (O’Sullivan, Ciarán’s brother and Kieran’s nephew) and Kieran O’Brien as well, so there were four players who had been involved underage with Ballincollig.”

Jack Kelly and Ian McLoughlin are now mainstays of the Collig unit, while natives Daniel O’Sullivan and Colin Murray ensure there is depth in the squad.

O’Sullivan is confident some of the U18 team can also make the leap to the National League.

“Issac James and Andrew O’Connor got minutes last season and we’ve Seán O’Flynn, Luke O’Sullivan, Daniel’s younger brother, and Colm Blount as well. Cillian O’Connell has joined from Youghal and we’d be hoping to develop him across the season.”

The experienced coach feels having a National League team is essential in a growing club like Ballincollig.

“It’s not just about winning trophies for ourselves. We want to push up to the Super League so all the promising we have coming through from U12 up can play at the highest level eventually.”

With Kieran’s brother Francis overseeing the club academy, a stream of talent won’t be an issue.

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