IT will be a special occasion for the Neptune U20 side on Saturday at 10am when they clash with favourites Templeogue in a National Cup semi-final that is too close to call.
The teams met in an epic U18 final last January in the National Basketball Arena, with the Dubliners prevailed after what was on one level a shoot-out between Neptune's Darragh O'Sullivan and Templeogue's Kris Acrilla.
For 18-year-old O’Sullivan, one of the game's brightest up-and-coming young stars, these are the contests you want to be involved in. Particularly on home turf.
“Of course these are the games you want to be heavily involved in as you are strutting your skills against the best players and hopefully we will give our fans something to cheer about,” said Darragh O’Sullivan.
It all began for Darragh and his brother Conor, who is currently in the States, following in the footsteps of their father Tom, one of the marquee players of the great basketball era of the 1980s and ’90s.
“My dad brought me into basketball at a young age but, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure whether I liked the sport until I was about 11 or 12. But from there I soon got my liking for it and have never looked back,” said O’Sullivan.
“My dad was my first coach so he showed me the basics and I have played with Neptune from U11 and to be honest they were best years any young players could have wished for as I have made some great friends over the years.”
Neptune have produced some gifted ballers in recent years, with the likes of Adam Drummond and Sean Jenkins currently in the US. O’Sullivan is this season playing in the Super League for the first time in his career and is enjoying the experience.
“I suppose the start we got is now well documented, but credit our coach Paul Kelleher and the experienced guys like Ger Noonan, Lehmon Colbert, Gary Walsh, and Roy Downey — they have helped us steady the ship.”
He believes the Templeogue game will be a dogfight.
“It will be our toughest game of the season as many of Templeogue’s players were part of their U18 side that defeated us in the cup final last season, so we know what to expect.
“We are looking for redemption from our loss last season but, in my opinion, but wasn't a true reflection of the quality in our side, we have improved as a team since.”
Having played with the Irish U18 men’s team, O’Sullivan has a good idea about the quality players Templeogue have in their squad.
“They will have Kris Arcilla, who is a tremendous athlete, and with Finn and Iarla McKeon coupled with Mathew Harper they have the nucleus of a solid side.”
Darragh thinks the cup draw was very unbalanced — but he does feel the winner of this game has a serious chance of winning the title.
“I suppose it’s the luck of the draw, but all the good sides were on one side, as we have already defeated Kubs and Moycullen — two top-class sides — so I would like to think we are rewarded for our efforts.”
In his career to date, O’Sullivan has also got the bug for the cup but he had interesting thoughts on it.
“I am no different to any other player in this country as a fan of the cup weekends. But, look, they are one-off games and, in the back of my mind, I think the league shows who are the most consistent teams over a season.”
Neptune have some quality U20 players, with Cian Heaphy clocking up big minutes this season in the Super League too, but Darragh paid tribute to some of the team’s unsung heroes.
“The Hannigan twins, Scott and James, give us the battling qualities you need in every team, but I do feel what David Murray gives our team is something very special.
“Murray does things for us that probably go unnoticed, and I do believe he will be our key to defeating Templeogue. It’s a pity he doesn’t get fully recognised for what he really gives us on court.”
Every successful sportsman or woman needs an inspirational figure, and Darragh took the opportunity to praise the contribution of his father over many years.
“My dad is a basketball fanatic and the progress I have made over the years is down to his encouragement and advice.”
It looks like O’Sullivan will follow his brother Conor to play college ball in the States next season.
“I have always wanted to play in the States, and that’s the plan right now and hopefully all going well my dream will be realised. My brother Conor is playing in Alabama and is loving every minute of it and hopefully he continues to be happy.”
Outside of basketball, O’Sullivan realises that the academic side is important.
“Your basketball career is never going to be a long one, so I think it’s important you get the necessary grades so that you have something to fall back on.”
O’Sullivan is presently a student at Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, and has been under the school coaching of Francis O’Sullivan from first year.
The sudden death of Liam Chandler in 2017 was a shock to many young players in this country, and Darragh believes he will always remain in their hearts.
“Liam was like a brother to us and there is not a week goes by in the Neptune Stadium that we don’t think about him and hopefully if we can win the championship this season it will be dedicated in his memory.”
You can sense from speaking with Darragh O’Sullivan he is a young man who definitely knows where he wants to go in life and winning the semi-final against Templeogue is the first priority on his radar.
“It would be nice, as the lads I have had the pleasure to play with for many years are determined to win this championship — but it will not be handed to us.”