“IT will be the biggest honour in my sporting career.”
That is how Irish Senior Women’s Basketball captain Grainne Dwyer described leading the National team into Tuesday night’s Small Countries opening European championship game against Norway at the Mardyke Arena (6.15pm).
Dwyer also participated in the last European championships at Gibraltar in 2016 and is anticipating much of the same from the competing countries.
“I suppose Gibraltar and the Mardyke are going to be similar as we know little about our opposition and it’s case of pulling our sleeves up and getting the job done,” said Grainne Dwyer.
The training programme under coach Mark Scannell and his staff has gone to plan according to Grainne.
“We have prepared well and trained very hard but we have a lot of new players in the squad from our last championship so we are still gelling and our recent games against Poland showed us where we need to be,” added Dwyer.
“Personally I was disappointed with our two defeats in Poland but hopefully we will learn as a team as we are still trying to find our rhythm but the plus side is that we are battling for spots and the attitude in the camp is very positive.
“It will all be about getting ready and looking at ourselves in how we can improve to compete against some decent teams.”
Dwyer, 34, keeps herself in superb shape, so what is a week in the life of Grainne?
“In the offseason I try to get to the gym three to five times a week but in reality I have time to do this as I don’t have outside commitments so it’s a lot easier for me.
“For this tournament its great we have all our coaches in Cork so we have been training three nights a week that includes working on the track and in the gym.”
The cost of playing for your country has put many players under pressure but Grainne says the price one has to pay is unavoidable.
“Don’t get me wrong I am always proud to play for my country but for the last few years the reality is that we are out of pocket for our petrol but to be fair we have done a fair bit of fundraising and that has reduced our expenses in the last three years.”
The game against Norway this evening will be a huge test for the Irish as Dwyer believes they have invested heavily in getting their country back to competing at a decent level of European basketball.
“We are aware they have a few players involved with clubs in Europe and with some others playing college ball in the States you know that they will pose us problems if we are not ready to play.
“When your budget is not there it affects you not being able to play more international games and that’s no reflection on our coaching staff because that’s the hand we have all been dealt.”
The contribution of the Mardyke Arena has proved crucial in the build-up to this championship and the Irish captain took time to thank all the sponsors.
“The facilities at this venue are simply state of the art and may I take this opportunity on behalf of the team to thank Patsy Ryan and his staff for their incredible contribution in the build-up to this championship.”
When you have been playing in the Women’s Super League for 14 years with some superb Glanmire teams you get to learn the trait of winning and Dwyer will take that attitude into these championships.
“I hate losing and hopefully this will be a tournament to remember for all the squad as the home fans will be expecting something special from our team.”
Playing club and international basketball are miles apart according to the Irish captain.
“I could get away with stuff in the Super League that I wouldn’t attempt in international games because you simply wouldn’t be allowed by experienced and quality players.
“Remember many of opposing players in the various teams are playing professional ball and they are not going to allow you get away with silly moves or passes so I guess as a team we know that playing smart basketball is a must.”
This is going to be a tough week for all the Irish squad playing three pool games in three days but Grainne believes the fitness of the team is at the required level.
“I think we are in good shape physically but now it’s about getting there mentally as it’s the toughness in that department could prove the difference about winning or losing this tournament.”
Age catches up on everybody involved in sport and Grainne was philosophical when summing up her future playing in an Irish jersey.
“Look I am a realist as I know this journey at international or club level cannot last forever but nothing would give greater pleasure than to win this tournament as time is not on my side and we have some good young players coming through in this country.”
On a final note Dwyer had a special appeal to all basketball fans in this city and county.
“This is the first time the European championships have been hosted in Cork and I would like to think we will get the support needed because having the backing of the fans could prove the difference between winning and losing.”