As sweet as it gets... Ballincollig basketball club defied the odds to make history

As sweet as it gets... Ballincollig basketball club defied the odds to make history
Tradehouse Central Ballincollig captains Ciarán O'Sullivan and Ronan O'Sullivan raise the trophy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHEN the buzzer sounded in the National Basketball Arena on Saturday night, Ciarán O’Sullivan was clutching the ball.

It didn’t stay in his paws for long. The Tradehouse Central Ballincollig co-captain turned to the small but passionate crowd and hurled it into them, leaving out a guttural roar. His eyes were popping, that mix of relief and joy that only sport brings.

O’Sullivan has tasted success before in Tallaght, during his stint with Demons before his return to his beloved club as they stepped up to the National League. Ten years ago he suffered the bitterest of defeats there: in the last-second of an U18 decider when Ballincollig were the hottest of favourites.

This time they were the underdogs coming in; they departed as National Cup champions, history-makers and an inspiration for the next generation. Ciarán and his cousin Ronan were able to walk on to the supporters’ bus with the silverware after, erasing years of heartache.

Ballincollig players celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballincollig players celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

American-import Cameron Clarke hadn’t heard of Ballincollig before he got a call from coach Kieran O’Sullivan to jump on a plane from Texas. Now he’ll be remembered forever in ‘the Village’. He dropped 29 points and was undisputed MVP – on the back of his 39-point haul in the semi.

Ballincollig's Cameron Clark. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballincollig's Cameron Clark. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The 24-year-old sank seven three-pointers, four in the last quarter and all of them to give Ballincollig the lead. Incredible stuff.

Yet in the closing stages, home-grown Dylan Corkery was just as influential. He’d two vital turnovers, got Kevin Grey fouled out, and nailed pressure free-throws.

Ballincollig's Dylan Corkery. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballincollig's Dylan Corkery. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Ronan O’Sullivan also came up big down the stretch, an abrasive, gritty display before he emigrated to London yesterday to take up a new job.

The President’s Cup would have gone to Kerry if Clark hadn’t delivered when it mattered, but there really was a strong local flavour. Particularly in a breakaway move just before the end of the first quarter when Daniel O’Sullivan released Ciarán, who fed Colin Murray for the lay-up and one. It gave Ballincollig a seven-point lead having trailed 8-5 after the early exchanges.

Murray played for almost eight minutes off the bench, Daniel over nine and in tandem with import Jimmy Puha, the back-up contributed nine points. Killorglin didn’t get a single score from the reserves, but then apart from former Neptune ace Ian McLaughlin they were completely banking on their starting five.

It was a factor because their star man Daniel Jokubaitis tired in the latter stages, notwithstanding one terrific three to trim the gap to 62-61. Killorglin have been outstanding in this campaign, losing only once in the league, but – despite their passionate support – had far less home-grown players than Ballincollig.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Collig’s drummers in the Arena were Emmet Murphy and Nicky Bohane. Murphy was a member of the U18 unit pipped in the National Cup final 10 years ago; Bohane is the coach of the club’s second team, who recently lifted the Cork championship.

Both are former Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin pupils, as is Ciarán O’Sullivan, but few were more animated in the stands on Saturday evening than school principal Gabriel Ó Cathasaigh. Ciarán’s family – parents Francis and Grace and brother Adrian – were so nervous they sat separately in different sections.

Everything that could have gone against Ballincollig in the build-up – sickness in the case of Ciáran, a broken wrist for Ronan, an elbow injury for Daniel – did. Yet they kept the faith.

Coach Kieran O’Sullivan and his nephew and on-court lieutenant came up with a game-plan to hold Killorglin to less than 70 points. Jack Kelly was the unsung hero, scrapping for every possession, but then again the team left it all out there.

And this time, they got their reward.

Tradehouse Central Ballincollig celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Tradehouse Central Ballincollig celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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