Irish coach Scannell appeals for support as build-up begins to basketball tournament in the Mardyke

Irish coach Scannell appeals for support as build-up begins to basketball tournament in the Mardyke
Ireland's Aine McKenna keeps possession against Iceland in 2016. Picture: David Keane.

IT’S rare that Ireland — let alone Cork — gets to hold a top-class international event.

That’s the scenario this June, when the 2018 Basketball Women’s European Championship for Small Countries takes place in the Mardyke Arena. Eight countries, including Mark Scannell’s Irish side, Denmark, Norway and Malta, will compete for the title from June 26 to July 1.

Now the club season has concluded, preparations are ramping up for the prestigious event, which comes on the back of last year’s U18 B Championship in Dublin, where home advantage propelled Ireland to the final against Germany. The Irish were underdogs last summer and will have to defy the odds again at senior level in two months.

Glanmire's Annaliese Murphy in action for the Ireland U18s. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Glanmire's Annaliese Murphy in action for the Ireland U18s. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

“Look it’s a great honour for Cork to get to host the Championship,” explained Ireland coach Scannell. “FIBA were very impressed by the bid put together and we’re luck that we’ve such a fantastic facility in the Mardyke. Patsy Ryan, the general manager, Wayne Falvey, and everyone in the Mardyke, as well as Basketball Ireland, deserve huge credit for bringing the event here.

“They’re upgrading the court, the baskets and the venue and what we’ll need is a rocking Mardyke to give us the best chance at doing well. The standard will be very high. Just because we’re at home it won’t be a case of just turning up and expecting to get results. The aim has to be to reach the semi-finals first and take it form there.”

Ireland made the final of the Championship for Small Countries two years ago, losing to Malta. They’ve faced Luxembourg and Iceland before and – with Norway and Denmark dropping down from the B grade – are fully aware of the quality across Europe at all levels.

Grainne Dwyer and Edel Thornton at the Mardyke Arena. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Grainne Dwyer and Edel Thornton at the Mardyke Arena. Picture: Howard Crowdy

“The hard work starts now really,” said Scannell. “We’re a 12-week run-in but there’s a huge amount to get through, not just on the court and at training, but off it.

“That’s why we’re running a golf classic on Thursday, May 3 in the Lee Valley. We’re appealing to the basketball community to get behind us but also the wider group of sporting clubs in Cork because this is an international event in our own city.”

There’s a buzz around basketball again though, helped by the restoration of the national team programme in 2016 after a seven-year absence due to funding issues, but also the competitive nature of the league. DCU Mercy denied Scannell and Ambassador UCC Glanmire a National Cup final in a row in January but the Leesiders rebounded to lift the SuperLeague after the top-four play-off, while Liffey Celtics topped the regular season table.

Mark Scannell, and assistant coach Ronan O'Sullivan, on duty with Ambassador UCC Glanmire in the Mardyke Arena last season as Claire Rockall comes back to tackle IT Carlow's Maeve Parahus. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Mark Scannell, and assistant coach Ronan O'Sullivan, on duty with Ambassador UCC Glanmire in the Mardyke Arena last season as Claire Rockall comes back to tackle IT Carlow's Maeve Parahus. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In Division 1, Fr Mathew’s were National Cup and league winners before losing their treble bid in the Championship Trophy decider against Ulster Elks. That’s a notable spread of winners across the two tiers.

“We’ve a lot of very good players to chose from for the squad. It’s very tough. There’s a balancing act when you’re selecting your panel because sometimes a player who dominates the ball with her own club might not fit in as well with the system we have at international level.

“The U18s were outstanding last year but it might be too soon for a few of them. We trained this weekend and we have to start narrowing it down now because we’ve a trip to Poland planned in preparation and we’ll have a game with the Victory Scholars, the American basketballers in college in Ireland.”

The northside’s Edel Thornton is a certainty in the Irish squad, after excelling for Quinnipiac in Division 1 college ball in the US during the ‘March Madness’ championship section for the second year in a row. However two other Corkonians, Mark’s daughter Jessica and Orla O’Reilly, won’t be available as they’re tied up with their professional duties in Australia.

There will still be a Cork backbone to the Ireland team, with the likes of Claire Rockall and Gráinne O’Dwyer shining on the hardwood for Glanmire at the business end of the 2017-‘18 campaign.

Among Scannell’s backroom are outgoing Fr Mathew’s coach and Ballincollig stalwart Francis O’Sullivan, whose wife Grace is the team manager. Current Neptune and ex-Glanmire and Demons boss Paul Kelleher is also involved, along with Demons legend Colin O’Reilly, in a strength and conditioning capacity.

“There’s no shortage of experience, but we could say that about the squad as well. We’ve a busy 12 weeks coming up but we’ll try and enjoy them too.

“The extra challenge comes from the fact the Championship is on in Cork. When you travel away to a tournament you can just go into a bubble but we’ve to look at the bigger picture. We’re hoping to set up a committee to make the most of this opportunity.

“We’d love to see the seven visiting teams paired up with local primary schools, whose pupils could act as a flag-bearers and could do projects on the countries involved. It’s vital this is inclusive and we’re lucky in Cork because it’s such a basketball stronghold.”

And there will be some serious basketball on display come June. While Ireland might not lift the silverware, with the likes of Thornton, Dwyer and Rockall in action, there will be plenty of moments to savour.

Coach Mark Scannell at training. Picture: David Keane.
Coach Mark Scannell at training. Picture: David Keane.

To book a team for the Mardyke Arena UCC Golf Classic in support of the Irish Women’s Basketball Squad on May 3, contact: 0866015657. A team of three is €200 and includes dinner.

Ireland's Sarah Woods shoots under pressure from Iceland's Johanna Sveinsdottir. Picture: David Keane.
Ireland's Sarah Woods shoots under pressure from Iceland's Johanna Sveinsdottir. Picture: David Keane.

More in this section

Sponsored Content