Neptune 78 Dublin Lions 65
There is a great Mohammad Ali quote that came to my mind after Neptune’s U20 National Cup final win over Dublin Lions in the National Basketball Arena.
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Neptune won by 13 without being at their brilliant best. Dublin Lions outside game kept them close for long spells, but Neptune know, if they had brought their A game and shot the ball better, they would have blown this team away.
It was their defence that won them the game and the Hannigan twins, Scott and James who were incredible defensively and in rebounding the ball set the tone.
But as we all know in sport, you can’t be at your best every day, but this team knows how to win and they got the job done in style.
This is a great Neptune team coached by Kieran Leahy, but it is a ready-made team, full of great athletes. No disrespect to Kieran, but even I could probably win games with them, they are so talented.
It has five players that are going to be superstars in the sport for both club and country, that is, if they remain here as a few have ambitions and are been courted by colleges in the USA.
They are Scott and James Hannigan, David Murray, Cian Heaphy and Darragh O’Sullivan.
This team should also have a certain Sean Jenkins and Adam Drummond in their ranks, but they have been snapped up by American colleges already.
The likelihood is that both Cian Heaphy and Darragh O’Sullivan will go to America this summer but that is not the point. These lads are ambitious and want to pit their wits against the best in the world and they deserve this chance.
Neptune will find others to step into their shoes, that’s how it works. They know this. Kieran Leahy knows this. Senior club coach Paul Kelleher knows it.
It has been that way for years but the winning goes on and that is credit to those who have helped make these kids and this team a great one.
Current coaches Leahy and Kelleher deserve credit for pushing them to the next level, but these players were made years ago and far away from the bright lights of the National Basketball Arena.
That’s why I love the Muhammad Ali quote I used above. These players were made years earlier. And a different coach did it.
Jim Hannigan was that man. On Saturday he sat in the stands with his partner Sharon O’Neill and they both cheered on their sons Scott and James, who were two of the Neptune stars on the day with Scott winning the MVP award.
Jim can take huge satisfaction from this win and performance. He played a huge role away from the lights in making this team. He coached them from U12 right up to U17 level.
Over those years he had help from various people including Kieran Fitzgerald, Tom Sullivan, Darragh’s dad, and Aidan O’Shea, the man who was responsible for bringing David Murray to Neptune from St Anthony’s in Ballinlough, but Jimmy was the ever-present during the development years of these young stars.
Darragh O’Sullivan, his twins Scott and James, Cian Heaphy, Jake Collins and David Murray all learned, developed and honed their skills under the watchful eye of Hannigan, who himself was one of the best point guards the North Mon and Cork has ever produced, from any era.
He was a winner and he has turned this team into winners and winners they have been for years. Hannigan has led to All-Ireland titles at U14 (twice), U16 and the Billy Kelly All-Ireland tournament, which is ranked the most important U17 event in the country each year.
They also went unbeaten in the local Cork league for years, winning numerous leagues, championships and tournaments all over the country.
Typical of the person he is, Hannigan was slow to take credit for helping develop these kids and turn them into great players.
“These are great kids and they always have been since I first starting working with them at U12 level,” Jim Hannigan said.
“I was very lucky. All these kids come from basketball families and they were always very interested in their kids.
“They were always there watching them train and play and all I had to do was steer them in the right direction.
“They are gifted great players.” That they are but its thanks to Jim Hannigan they are.