IRELAND completed the group stage with an impressive win against Cyprus in the FIBA Women’s European Championships for Small Countries at the Mardyke Arena.
Credit to the home side they showed enough of class from start to finish to grind out this comfortable win but the disappointment was clear to see from the players and fans who were frustrated that they failed to qualify for the semi-final. In truth, Ireland didn’t play well enough in their opening two games but when you are facing teams with three and four professionals it can be a tough task for the 11 amateurs in the Irish side.
The only professional in the Irish side is Fiona O’Dwyer who plays in the Spanish second division. Lack of funding stopped Ireland bringing in their star player Orla O’Reilly who plays professional ball in Australia and that’s a shame to miss a player of her quality at this level.
The opening exchanges were furious and frantic with both sides playing high tempo basketball. At times it wasn’t pretty but Ireland were getting murdered low base and when Petra Orlovic nailed a basket in the third minute it edged the visitors into a 10-5 lead.
Claire Rockall was doing well with her deft drives to the hoop and when Fiona O’Dwyer nailed a monstrous three-pointer with three minutes remaining in the quarter Ireland edged into a 12-9 lead.
There was little to choose between the sides and a Woods three-pointer ensured Ireland commanded a 16-14 lead. The big plus for Ireland in this period in comparison to their previous games in the group is they managed to restrict their turnovers.
On the restart Ireland played some classy basketball and with Fiona O’Dwyer showing flashes of class it helped her side extend their lead to nine points.
Just when we thought the turnover syndrome had almost vanished it returned once again with Ireland amassing eight in this period.
Indeed Cyprus came at the home side and the physicality of Petra Orlovic saw them take a 26-24 lead with three minutes remaining to the interval. To be fair Ireland didn’t panic and it was ironic the shooting skills of Woods would come to the fore as she drained a buzzer beater that helped them restore a six-point lead at the interval.
On the restart, Ireland showed plenty of energy and the roof of the Arena almost lifted off when Edel Thornton sunk a three-pointer that helped surge her side into a 10 point-lead. Credit to the Gurranbraher native her energy and effort over the week has been incredible but she struggled on the scoring front with many of her shoots failing to drop.
In this game Thornton and many other Irish players found a new confidence, particularly the UCC Glanmire trio of Gráinne Dwyer, Áine McKenna and Claire Rockall. In the case of McKenna her minutes were limited in the previous two games but she bounced back with a 12-point contribution.
Rockall was also high in the scoring charts with 13 points and captain Dwyer had her best game of the tournament she finished with 11 points and four assists.
Entering the final quarter Ireland had a nine-point cushion but once they took the handbrake off the baskets dropped at will as the intensity that Cyprus had shown for long periods was nowhere to be seen.
The chant of the Irish fans singing Olé, Olé, Olé was a welcome sound at the Arena but the frustration of not making the semi-finals on Saturday is bound to be in the players’ minds after this testing week.
Ireland Scorers: Fiona O’Dwyer (14), Áine McKenna (12), Sarah Woods (14), Claire Rockall (13), Gráinne Dwyer (11), Edel Thornton (5), Sorcha Tiernan (4).
IRELAND: A McKenna (Ambassador UCC Glanmire), S Woods (DCU Mercy), E Thornton (Quinnipiac University), C Rockall (Ambassador UCC Glanmire), D O’Leary (Singleton’s Supervalu Brunell), S Tiernan (Liffey Celtics), A Waters (Singleton’s Supervalu Brunell), G Dwyer (Ambassador UCC Glanmire) (capt), F O’Dwyer (Duran Maquinaria Ensino Liga), C Grace (Ambassador UCC Glanmire), S O’Shea (Waterford Wildcats), H Thornton (Killester).
CYPRUS: A Kasapi, E Oikonomidou, A Pitisillidou, S Papadopoulou, V Akanthiotou, T Raca, S Koniali, C Rossaki, C Melelaou, S Theologou, A Papadouri, P Orlovic, E Pilakouta, S Nikolas.
Referees: S Unsworth (England), B Vassalo (Malta), R Ressel Karsen (Denmark).