WHEN the announcement was made that UCC Demons were withdrawing from the Super League it sent shockwaves through basketball.
We are not talking about a club with no structures like Swords Thunder, who pulled out midway through last season. Blue Demons, in their various guises, have the record number of wins at this level over their 53-year history.
They were out of the league before and bounced back impressively, but it’s a body blow to the game that they’ve been forced to pull their senior side after one of their most memorable eras, filled with trophies.
Where did it all go wrong since the 2014/15 season when they went through the campaign unbeaten winning the Grand Slam?
Clubs and teams will always go through cycles of success, but Blue Demons have enough of an underage network to tap into so they should at least hold their own in the top flight. It didn’t help that they lost some hugely experienced basketballers since 2015.
It began when Shane Coughlan retired after a trip to China with the Irish team in 2015. While Coughlan was at the end of his career, he was still good enough to offer something but was disappointed with his game-time in China, where his club coach Colin O’Reilly was at the helm.
Since then Niall Murphy, Ciarán and Adrian O’Sullivan, Roy Downey, Liam Carmody, Lehmon Colbert and Darko Bucan and more have followed. When the deepest rosters in Irish basketball regressed to the stage where Demons barely had enough players to train.
Despite their magnificent home court at the Mardyke through the UCC link and their storied base in Parochial Hall, the zip and confidence drained from Demons.
In Friday’s Irish Examiner Kieran Shannon pointed to the magnificent administrators that Demons have had over many years. Founder Jim Dineen was understandably very upset that three years after the 50th anniversary they are no longer involved on the biggest stage.
“We have teams competing in the Super League that are playing on sub-standard courts, like the Calasnctius College in Galway.
“I think the most worrying aspect is teams being allowed in the Men’s Division 1, in particular clubs attached to colleges that have no underage structures. What good are they to Irish basketball? You have three teams from Limerick competing in Division 1, which is just mind-boggling.”
The Super League structure is also unfair to clubs.
“You have six Dublin teams and for five of their games it’s a short trip all across their city but when you look at the distance from Cork, Tralee and Killorglin to Belfast and Dublin. Basketball Ireland should be financing clubs for extra mileage.”
Ballincollig and Fr Mathew’s are now in Division 1 but the pool of players on Leeside is small, diluting the standard.
The cost of funding a Super League side is up to €50,000, which requires a significant sponsor as only Tralee Warriors are pulling in decent gate receipts. In Cork you could have three games taking place within an hour of each another, as was the case last season with only 152 paying spectators between the venues.
One stalwart that is definitely qualified to give his opinion is Seanie Murphy.
“Of course I am disappointed but from running the club nursery over the last 30 years I can see a major decline, not alone in Demons but in the sport in general,” said Murphy.
Murphy, a former Irish international, believes the game that became one-dimensional since the golden era. He isn’t a fan of the obsession with shooting three-pointers, evident in the NBA since Steph Curry came to prominence with the Golden State Warriors.
“When the sport was thriving, it was all about the board-banging, blocks and most of all defending as if your life depended on it,” added Murphy.
“Although Demons had the cream of Americans, the one player that stood out to me was the former North Mon star Deora Marsh because he was so athletic. He could bring fans to their feet in any quarter.
“Nowadays the game is all about three-point shooting and that to me makes it a very boring spectacle. That’s the trend.
“The fans and major sponsors are no longer interested. All clubs are doing is hanging by a thread for survival,” warned Murphy.
In the last week the volume of people that have commented to this scribe about the Demons withdrawal is staggering. But then the Sunday’s Well club are a powerhouse of Cork sport and an institution of Irish basketball.
Losing my late brother Peter last year was heartbreaking in every sense. I’m sure he is looking down on us wondering how a club he gave over 50 years to could be forced to withdraw from the Super League because of a shortage of players.
Credit to Neptune and Killester of Dublin, they tweeted and thanked Demons for the joy and contribution they gave to Irish basketball and it will be interesting to see who basketball choose to replace them.
Neptune, relegated from Super League recently, and Ballincollig, will be pushing to make the step up.
There will be no winners though because the Super League without Demons is a void that will not be easily filled.