'At the end of the day, the heart of Irish basketball is in Cork, and you can’t really argue with that...'

'At the end of the day, the heart of Irish basketball is in Cork, and you can’t really argue with that...'

Edel Thornton has been outstanding since her switch to the US and excelled in the NCAA Championship. March Madness begins this Friday. Credit: Quinnipiac University

QUINNIPIAC were unstoppable, but that was no surprise to anyone.

The Connecticut school had won 21 contests on the bounce before tip-off, but this one was just that extra bit special.

The final buzzer brought with it an overwhelming yet familiar feeling to the Quinnipiac team. Not only did the victory grant the program its third Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference trophy in four years, but they were now on their way to contest for the holy grail of college of basketball, the NCAA championship. Again.

Last season, former Brunell phenom Edel Thornton became the first Irish player to play in the last 16 of the competition, known affectionately as the Sweet 16. It was a Cinderella story for the Connecticut school, who had never come close to making it past the first round of 64.

After knocking off favourites Marquette and Miami, the powerhouse of South Carolina were eventually the undoing of Quinnipiac.

However, a perfect record in conference play, thanks in no small part to Thornton, could be indicative of a similar run to come this season.

It wasn’t long ago that this incredible talent was racking up National Cup MVP awards from her Leeside base as though it was a simple hobby. Performances in excess of 40 points were commonplace. 

The name Thornton became synonymous with both Brunell and Irish women’s basketball, and this upward trend shows no signs of slowing just yet.

“Everyone on the team has a winning mentality,” Edel says of her American squad. “None of us want to lose, it’s as simple as that really.” 

Cork basketball star Edel Thornton is thriving in the States.
Cork basketball star Edel Thornton is thriving in the States.

The draw for the championships took place last Monday and the opening game of the 'March Madness' tournament, begins Friday.

But after making shockwaves with their stellar run in last year’s tournament, Edel now has big expectations for the program this time around.

“Making the tournament is just the first step for us this year,” she continues. “We’ve set high standards for ourselves this season, and we’re right where we want to be.” 

This hunger for success has stood Thornton is good stead throughout her whole career.

In her last campaign with Brunell, the point guard led an underrated U18 team to the National Cup final, taking out favourites DCU and Meteors before falling to old rivals Glanmire by one point in the National Basketball Arena.

“That year was huge for us, no doubt,” Thornton explains. “We just all came together as a team and even though we didn’t finish the job, we showed a lot of people that counted us out what we were about.” 

Edel Thornton in action for Brunell in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Edel Thornton in action for Brunell in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

That cup run holds a very similar narrative to what unfolded in Quinnipiac’s historic run last year: a squad disregarded by many, taking down some top programs before falling in the final stretch.

This was no surprise to Edel however, as she knew when she left three years ago that winning, as it was in Brunell, was very much to the fore of the team’s culture.

“When I left I knew this was a winning program,” she says. “It was easy to fit in because we all just want to win.” 

Flying the flag.
Flying the flag.

A lot has changed for the former St Vincent’s student since swapping SuperLeague for central Connecticut.

“Life over here has made me grow as a person really,” Edel claims. “I’m a lot more independent and open to so much more living here, and I just love it.” 

The support from her own county does help when the homesickness starts to kick in, though.

“I couldn’t believe the amount of texts I got last year from people staying up late to watch our games,” she enthuses. “The support from home is just something else.” 

However, the Cork support doesn’t just stem from this side of the Atlantic. At present there are five Cork players in either high school, prep school or college in the US.

Neptune’s Adam Drummond is 40 minutes north of Quinnipiac at The Taft School, while his former teammate Sean Jenkins is making waves in South Carolina. Blue Demons product James Beckom and the highly touted Jordan Blount round off the Cork representatives stateside.

Edel says this reflects the true nature of the Irish basketball scene at present.

“It speaks volumes really about Cork basketball to be honest,” she says. “At the end of the day the heart of Irish basketball is in Cork, and you can’t really argue with that.” 

The capital of Irish basketball will look to show off its wealth of talent when the European Small Countries tournament rolls into town this summer.

Mark Scannell, Edel Thornton, Grainne Dwyer; Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh and Francis O'Sullivan. Picture: Howard Crowd
Mark Scannell, Edel Thornton, Grainne Dwyer; Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh and Francis O'Sullivan. Picture: Howard Crowd

Under the tutelage Mark Scannell and Francis O’Sullivan, Glanmire and Brunell head coaches respectively, the Irish squad hopes to make waves on home soil, furthering the status of basketball in both county and country.

Along with former Brunell teammates plus a handful of other Cork stars, Edel will undoubtedly play a big role in the Irish charge come June.

For now, though, the focus is solely on Friday.

While Cork is represented well on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s clear that wherever you are we will all be tuned in to follow the rise of an incredible talent on the biggest stage.

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