Ballincollig on the brink of more basketball glory as shrewd recruitment and homegrown talent reap a reward

Ballincollig on the brink of more basketball glory as shrewd recruitment and homegrown talent reap a reward

Issac James of Tradehouse Central Ballincollig in action against Jordan Hehir of Limerick Celtics. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IT’S hard to imagine that this time two years ago, Ballincollig were on the outside looking in for cup final weekend.

The club didn’t even have a team in the National League at that stage but their local level group was motoring well and expected to get past UCD Marian in the intermediate semi-final. Instead, they suffered heartbreak at Neptune Stadium, falling short against the Dubliners after a sluggish first half that left them 11 points adrift.

The margin was only four when the final buzzer sounded but the bottom line was — there wasn’t going to be a trip to the National Basketball Arena at the most important stage of the season. That was a crushing disappointment for a side that appeared to be in the ascendancy.

Disappointed Ballincollig players after the defeat by UCD Marian. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Disappointed Ballincollig players after the defeat by UCD Marian. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Some of the key members of the current squad, Daniel O’Sullivan, Dylan Corkery and Colin Murray were on the floor for the loss two years ago, while Daire O’Sullivan featured too.

There were other well-known faces in the set-up in 2016-17, including Bishopstown hurler and footballer Denis Crowley, Ballincollig’s Stephen Coughlan, Neil O’Sullivan — a younger brother of Daniel — and Maris Brusevics, who suffered a cruciate knee injury last year. On the sideline was Nicky Bohane, a club man to the core who coaches all the way from U9 up to the current local league men’s teams.

As it turned out, the loss to UCD Marian’s second-string was only a blip. The more ambitious members of the club knew the time was still right to make the step up to the National League.

Ever since Francis and Grace O’Sullivan rebooted the club in the 1990s, they have produced a steady stream of Irish internationals. Yet moving into the adult ranks, they had to depart to further their development.

The O’Sullivans’ sons Ciarán and Adrian won multiple trophies with UCC Demons, where their cousin Ronan also played, as did Daniel O’Sullivan, with Colin Murray spending time with Neptune. Ciarán and Ronan returned under the guidance of Ronan’s father Kieran — vastly experienced across his playing and coaching career — and the nucleus of a homegrown National League team was in place.

Ballincollig coach Kieran O'Sullivan on the sideline. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ballincollig coach Kieran O'Sullivan on the sideline. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

They recruited a nimble American guard in Cam Clark and a post-option in Waterford’s Jack Kelly and headed off on what became a wonderful trip into the unknown. By the end of their maiden campaign, they were Presidents Cup winners and came close to promotion to the Super League.

Obvious highlights were the cup semi-final and final, where Clark was the MVP on both occasions, but the tenacity of Dylan Corkery on defence was also critical. There was also the come-from-behind league wins over Neptune and Killorglin. Ciarán O’Sullivan nailed an ice-cool clincher from beyond the arc against Killorglin in a 77-76 epic, after trailing by 20 points at one stage.

Ultimately, Killorglin still went up as champions and Neptune as runners-up, via a play-off. Whether Ballincollig would have been as well equipped to handle the sporting and financial demands of the top tier is moot, they were disappointed to miss out.

Undoubtedly that has been a driving force across the 2018-19 season so far. They’re back in the Presidents Cup final having obliterated Limerick Celtics in the semi-final in front of a raucous home support, though the key result was on the road to Eanna in the quarter-final.

The Dublin team remain on course for a return to the Super League. They have Ballincollig at home in the league and are unbeaten. Kieran O’Sullivan’s charges suffered their first league loss to Kubs earlier this month and have a tougher run-in.

That’s not a concern this weekend of course. They are utterly focused on going back-to-back in the cup.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

This season’s American, Andre Nation, is a beast who slam-dunks with ease, and a different threat to Clark, who was more adept at three-pointers. Nation’s heft has compensated for the absence of Ronan O’Sullivan, now working in England and playing for Reading Rockets alongside his cousin Adrian.

Ian McLoughlin — a former Neptune star who was underutilised by Killorglin when the Village upset the odds against them in last year’s cup decider — has a swagger about him again since his switch to Ballincollig. He’s scoring heavily, especially on the fast break.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

Ballincollig’s other new recruit, Steven O’Sullivan, is capable of nailing deep threes and has an outstanding attitude off the bench. It’s incredible that they’re a stronger unit now despite the departures of Ronan O’Sullivan and Clark, currently playing in Luxemburg.

Their leader on the hardwood, Ciarán O’Sullivan, is better than ever, Daniel O’Sullivan’s return to fitness is a boost, and Nation has been electric. Soaring to finish off alley-oop passes from McLoughlin and O’Sullivan in the semi-final, he had the crowd on their feet time and again.

There’s just a genuine feelgood factor about the Ballincollig club at the moment, helped by a thriving underage and the strong local sponsorship deals with Tradehouse Central and various other businesses also drives that sense of community. To further expand, they need more training slots and coaches because the female section is on the up as well, led by George Meade and Ken Quinn.

In the medium term, the aim is to be a key stakeholder in a proposed new community centre.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

For now, though, there’s the Presidents Cup clash with Tolka Rovers. It will be impossible to replicate the magic of 2018.

However, true champions repeat.

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