FOR the group of Bantry basketballers who will compete for schools championship glory next Tuesday, it all began with an U16 play-off defeat.
Of course their hoop dreams started when they were kids, but the sense of mission came from that U16 loss when they vowed to capture silverware at senior. Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí teacher and coach Pa Curran duly guided them to a C league title last year and now they’ve upped the ante again by making the B championship decider.
“They’re a very solid group,” explained Curran, “and for most of them basketball is their number one sport, which is unusual in a town that’s very strong on GAA.
“They did fantastically last year in the league and in fairness to the school they made a huge deal of that win the next day. It’d be a dream come true really to be champions at B.”
Kevin Clifford and Shane Murray – who are regulars in Bantry’s Division 2 men’s team – along with Liam Cotter, whose presence around the rim at 6’ 7” is crucial, Thomas Flynn and Sean Brady are the vital cogs in the team. Yet it’s a collective effort, with a commitment from all the panel to train hard and achieve as much as they can.
After ousting Abbeyfeale from Limerick in the semi-final, they’ll meet a Galway school in the decider in the National Basketball Arena.
“I actually got a chance to watch their semi-final and they’re like us last year, young, fast, hungry. They drive at the basket a lot and we’ve to be ready for that.”
The preparation has gone smoothly and the squad will head up to Dublin on Monday to stay the night before the final, though that meant conceding a league play-off, which was scheduled for Sunday in Leitrim.
“The majority of our lads are in their Leaving Cert so this opportunity won’t come again,” said Curran.
Basketball in Bantry is in rude health, with booming numbers across all ages. Curran runs the U8s, where his youngest son plays, while his older son’s U12 team have a shrewd coach in Tim O’Leary – the uncle of rugby international Tadhg Furlong.
“Tim is a great supporter of the school actually, he goes to all the games. We’ve two men’s Division 2 teams in the club and there’s a massive interest underage.
“Hopefully we can develop the female side of the club to give young girls the opportunity to play. We face the same challenges as most basketball clubs in Ireland – there aren’t enough coaches and there certainly isn’t enough court time.
“We’re lucky in that we’ve a fantastic facility in the school but, especially, at the younger ages, the demand is huge."