FR Mathew’s will be hoping to build on last season’s impressive campaign that culminated in them winning the Women’s Champions Trophy that ultimately denied Liffey Celtics that elusive treble following their league and cup wins.
There are not many changes in personnel for Mathew’s, as head coach James Fleming will have the retired Niamh Dwyer and Mark O’Raw as his assistants.
Fleming, a former football star with Dr Crokes in Killarney, is now a basketball addict as he explained when recounting his introduction to the sport.
“I began coaching at Killarney in 1995 and I also played in the Men’s Super League up to 2006, but that has been the trend in Kerry for many years — football players just loved to play basketball,” said Fleming.
The successes for Fleming continued as he led St Paul’s to a National Senior Women’s cup in 2003 as well as helping the local college to a Schools National title in the same year.
“I had a great squad of girls in Killarney, as we won further cup titles in 2007 and 2012, and when I look back on these years, the fun was incredible, working with wholehearted players,” added Fleming.
So how did a man based and living in Killarney end up coaching Fr Mathew’s?
“I got a call from Kathryn Canty in 2015 and she asked would I help Fiona Lynch, who was player-coach in the Women’s Division 1 side, and I duly accepted her invitation.
“The one sad aspect is not one of this group of players are still with the club, and that’s a pity, as they were a fantastic group of people.”
The coming Women’s Super League season will be Fleming’s fifth at the helm with the club, and his dedication and generosity should be commended.
Travelling from Killarney three times a week, and all over the country, without receiving any payment in his coaching capacity is a task not many coaches in the current climate would do in this country.
“I am not in the sport to make money as I enjoy what I do, but to be honest the travelling takes its toll, and how long more my energy will last is something that I know will be facing me sooner rather than later.”
Looking back on the first season in Women’s Super League, coach Fleming found it a far tougher assignment.
“It was really hard, as you were coaching with and against far better players and you have to be really on your game, but credit to Niamh Dwyer and Mark O’Raw, they gave me great help and that made it a little easier.”
This season Dwyer announced her retirement from playing, and the former Irish international will now be putting her energies into having a bigger role with the Super League side.
“Niamh’s experience should give us a huge lift, and when you have her sister Grainne, plus two Americans, you have the nucleus of a very good side.”
The Mathew’s side last season consisted mainly of former Glanmire players, and coach Fleming believes it took them longer than expected to gel as a squad.
“Losing the cup semi-final to Brunell was a huge disappointment when we were expected to win, but looking at the big picture, we finished third in the league and winning the Champions Trophy was a huge achievement,” he said.
“Now it’s a case of building on that.”
The forthcoming season is going to be another test for the southside club, and Fleming says there will be no easy games.
“When you look at Liffey Celtics, they won the double last season and their coach Mark Byrne is no longer at the helm and to me, that surely gives you an indication of what some clubs are about.
“Surely when you coach a team to a league and cup double you should be immediately reappointed, but that’s not the case with them and word has it they have signed two crack Americans for the coming season.”
The Mathew’s boss believes derby games in Cork are always special occasions, as playing Brunell and Glanmire always brings the best out in players from all clubs on Leeside.
“I was really impressed with Glanmire last season, and when you look at the number of players that departed they really excelled, and I am expecting them to be very competitive again this season.
“Brunell are always a competitive team to play and Tim O’Halloran did a great job with them in his first season, leading them to a cup final, and I am expecting all three Cork clubs to be competitive in the coming months.
“Word is strong that DCU Mercy have recruited well, and Killester will be good, so I feel it’s all play to play for again this season.”
Keeping the squad positive is the biggest challenge in the Super League, according to Fleming.
“Players have to be enjoying what they do and especially young players that break through to the Super League team who have been used to playing 25 to 30 minutes a game.
“Speaking to other coaches in the league, the demand for players to get court time seems to be getting worse, with some parents getting involved.”
There is little doubt that Fleming’s record in basketball is impeccable and in what could be his final year coaching in Cork, a win next weekend against Kilkenny on their patch is imperative.
“I am confident the team will be ready for what we are anticipating to be a very tough game on the road,” concluded Fleming.
Players have to be enjoying what they do, and especially young players that break through