FOR any team that plays in any final as a major underdog as was the case for Singleton’s SuperValu Brunell against Liffey Celtics in the Paudie O’Connor National Cup final this afternoon, they need to get everything right to stand a fighting chance of winning.
To put it simply, Brunell didn’t get anything right defensively for far too long in this final. They started very poorly defensively.
They were not focussed, they were not ready for the challenge and they got all their key matchups wrong.
Particularily, so, at the top of the key where Liffey’s Sorcha Tiernan tormented Brunell with her shooting.
To be fair to Tiernan, she shot the ball very well in the first quarter, hitting three three pointers, but it’s a lot easier to do so when you are unmarked and given all the time in the world.
That was crazy defence from Brunell. They would have known Tiernan is a great player and shooter ahead of the final, so why they would let her do what she did was unbelievable to watch unfold in front of our eyes.
That set the tone for a sloppy defensive display from the Cork team who ironically had reached the final thanks to their incredible defensive effort in the semi-final win over Fr Mathew’s.
They did try and move away from their man-to-man defence for a spell, but the 3-2 zone didn’t stop Liffey from shooting the lights out.
With Allie LeClaire and American Briana Green also able to find their form in the offensive court and do so at their ease, when Brunell did eventually wake up in the third quarter, it was way to little too late.
At that stage with just under six minutes remaining in the final they trailed by 22 points (31-53) and that gap was never going to be breeched, regardless of the efforts of Simone O’Shea, Tricia Byren who was incredible in this period and Laura Morrisey.
Up to this point Brunell were struggling to score whereas Liffey were scoring at will. Linda Rubene and Madelyn Gansar are great players defensively and under the boards, but they do not score enough points.
That job usually falls to Danielle O’Leary and Byren but by the start of the third when they trailed 23-43 O’Leary was zero from seven and Byren, who was hampered by foul trouble, had only nine while Liffey’s two top scorers all season Tiernan and Briana Green had 36 between them.
Byren did pick it up offensively in the third and fourth quarter hitting eight quick-fire points to keep Liffey Celtics honest, but it was never going to be enough.
Brunell do not have the scoring power in their team to win games that run into the 90s, and that was a huge problem. Once they realised they could not stop Liffey from the outside, they were in trouble.
But there is no disgrace in losing to a better side and Liffey are the best team in the league by a mile this season. They will win the league title in a few weeks to seal the double and Brunell can take huge amounts from this cup run.
They know that if they get it right on the day, they are a match for anyone in this league, unfortunately for them, they picked the biggest day of the year and live on TV to put in their worst display in weeks.
Their form was excellent coming into the final, but when your big players don’t perform and the oppositions do, then you won’t win and Liffey are capable of beating all teams in this league by 25 points.
For Brunell and their incredible loyal bunch of fans the wait for the first senior trophy goes on.
It took them three attempts to reach this national cup final, losing two previous semi-finals to Glanmire and now they are zero from three in senior finals.
Seven years ago in their first year playing at SuperLeague level under coach Kieran O’Leary and with a young Danielle O’Leary and Amy Waters in the side, they lost the SuperLeague Shield Final to Ulster Rockets 77-81.
In 2015, again under coach Kieran O’Leary they should have beaten Glanmire in the SuperLeague final in Galway, but in the end Glanmire’s experience saw them home on a scoreline of 77-64.
But they must not lose heart. They, under the direction of Timmy O’Halloran are heading in the right direction. They will learn much from this defeat and if they can fine tune their defence and find a scorer, they will be the real deal.
The wait for a senior trophy goes on, but it is not far away. They need to remember that this evening. They are close to being a top side, but they are not ready to win yet.
That’s the challenge they must embrace in the weeks and months ahead.