The big interview: Glanmire's dynamic duo Buckley and Breen held court in cup deciders

The big interview: Glanmire's dynamic duo Buckley and Breen held court in cup deciders
Former Glanmire basketball players Donna Buckley and Marie Breen. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Glanmire landed their first cup title back in 2007. Éamonn Murphy caught up with two of the stars of that game Donna Buckley and Marie Breen to reflect on their time on the hardwood.

Marie Breen. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Marie Breen. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THE drive for five is on this Sunday.

Glanmire are hoping to go one better than the great Kilkenny and Kerry teams and match the Cork ladies footballers in Tallaght.

A fifth successive National Cup triumph would frank the club’s status as one of the powerhouses of Irish basketball.

Yet the story didn’t start with the first of those victories in 2014. Like those outstanding GAA teams, Glanmire’s dominance has stretched over a decade. The cup was initially captured in 2007, on the back of a SuperLeague win a year earlier, as part of a three-in-a-row.

They’ve also been a regular feature in underage deciders, and are the only club from Cork with two teams at the National Basketball Arena this weekend, as their U18s take to the court tomorrow.

Mark Scannell has been the figurehead of the senior team for the majority of these halcyon days, apart from a stint with Neptune and their only National Cup in the modern era. Paul Kelleher guided Glanmire to the cup in 2014, with Scannell at the helm for the other six wins and again on Sunday.

While they’re more than capable of producing their own players, including current rising stars Annaliese Murphy and Louise Scannell, Glanmire have benefited from some incredible talent moving to Leeside.

That includes the modern marquee trio of Gráinne Dwyer, Áine McKenna and Claire Rockall, and before them Niamh Dwyer – who has a cup final of her own with Fr Mathew’s Division 1 team tomorrow – Denise Walsh and Michelle Fahy, as well as Cork camogie senior Amanda O’Regan and ladies footballer Nollaig Cleary.

A duo from Mallow were also critical components of the Glanmire set-up in the noughties, and top-scored in that breakthrough cup upset over UL in 2007, Donna Buckley and Maire Breen.

With 19 and 29 points respectively they were the MVP contenders in that scintillating display against the holders, with Breen the captain.

Donna takes a shot in the 2007 final.
Donna takes a shot in the 2007 final.

Family and work commitments saw Buckley decide to return to play for Mallow in the Cork league at the start of the decade, while Breen bounced back from injury to capture another two cups. In their early 30s, they both married natives of Mallow, where Donna lives with Peter and their two children, while Marie and Damien have a house in Glanmire.

It all started, though, when they first went through the doors of the community centre in Mallow and started bouncing a basketball.

Donna: “I started when I was eight, just wandered into the youth centre when they were playing. I’d just joined Brownies and my poor mother had only bought me the full uniform and I told her I didn’t need it because I was playing basketball instead! My brother Mark plays basketball but he could have joined after me.”

Marie: “I just randomly started with a few friends because my older sisters weren’t sporty.

Gerard, my younger brother, is into sport alright. I was average really when I started before I sprouted up.

“We won everything in Cork underage. We were the top team and that’s not trying to big ourselves up. Year after year we were winning.”

Donna: “Johnny Murphy coached every team basically. He ran the whole club.”

Marie: “He was big into the fundamentals. Nothing fancy, but it gave us a really sound base. Passing drills, ball-handling, lay-ups and shooting, with a match at the end. It was the exact same session every time.”

Donna: “Everybody was taught to carry the ball. You’d be expected to be comfortable in every position until you got older and naturally found your spot. It worked.

“Friday night was the only time you couldn’t get into the youth centre because the chairs were laid out in the morning for bingo. We went to boys training on Monday, girls on Tuesday and then when we were around U14 we’d fall in with the senior men’s training after.

“On Saturdays, we’d go from 10am until 1pm.”

Maire: “Training with every team, all the ages.”

Donna: “We’d go home then for our lunch and our houses came down the back into the youth centre, so we’d make sure we were back down from 2pm. The seniors would always be short a couple of players so we’d go on one team each, mark each other. That would go until 4pm and the senior women would train for two hours after. The whole day was basketball.”

Marie: “Sunday we’d 10am until 1pm again and Johnny would give us the key to head back in on Sunday evenings.”

Donna: “My mum kept warning me ‘you’ll get hurt playing with the men’. One Saturday they called my mum to come down because I’d got a black eye. She said ‘I told you so’ but it was actually Marie! A stray elbow when I was chasing after her.

“If you missed a training session Johnny would be at your door.”

Marie: “Johnny devoted his life to basketball. He ran everything and if he wasn’t training a team he was watching training, sitting inside the front door watching the men play. 

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Marie: “Winning from an early age, U12 up, it was addictive. Getting a bag of chips next door to the Parochial Hall after winning finals.”

Though Donna would end up winning a county medal on the football front with Mallow and lose a decider to Gabriel Rangers on a coin toss after a draw, basketball was always the undisputed number one for both.

Donna: “The school followed from the club. We were B the first year I was in, and we won the All-Ireland. Louise Heaven, which is her married name, came down from Dublin and got the teams up and running. She still does it now.

“After winning B we went up to A but we’d a lot of heartbreak there.”

Marie: “We kept coming up against very good teams. Castleisland. Thurles, with Gráinne Dwyer.

“Tara Brosnan was a very good player down in Kerry and she ended up going to Fr Mathew’s. We were always winning the Cork section. I got to finals in Cadet and Senior and lost both.

Donna: “In my final year we should have gone to the All-Ireland, but we got robbed by Thurles up there. It was our best chance I think.”

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

Donna, 18 months older, was the first to make the move from Mallow to Glanmire. As Buckley and Breen were underage internationals, progressing to the top adult level in Ireland was natural, even if it was a shock to the system to depart their local club.

Marie: “Glanmire were our biggest rivals down in Mallow as we got older. The two of us contested all the finals. Sarah Jane O’Connell, who has since passed away, was a brilliant player. Audrey Scanlon, Amy Stewart, Hansey Sexton, all very talented.”

Donna: “It was playing well in the Regional Leagues that gave us the confidence to want to step up to SuperLeague. Angelina Myers came in. Michelle, who is now assistant coach in Brunell, and Sharon O’Neill. They were leaders for Glanmire but going up to SuperLeague was tough.

“We lost every game for the first couple of years. Kieran Doherty was coach and he was a very good guy but it was a learning curve.”

Marie: “Seán O’Regan came in then in 2004 and we won two games. Tipperary Talons were the only team we beat but we came close to beating UL down in Little Island having led the whole way through.

Donna: “Seán had us meeting in Glanmire at 11am to train on the morning of a game. We were the only two who didn’t live in Glanmire or nearby. We were lucky with Connie Allen who took us up to his house and Connie and his wife looked after us.

“Connie, Timmy Murphy, Mick O’Riordan. They were the life of the club. If you’re telling the story of Glanmire then they have to be in the middle of it.”

Marie: “Seán O’Regan was from a GAA background up in Tipp and he drove us very hard. It was extremely tough but it kick-started the thing because he got us SuperLeague fit and he was into psychology so we had to set out our goals and write them down.”

Donna: “After games we had to write down what we felt. He was forward thinking. Around then Mick O’Regan, Amanda’s father, starting taping games and we used to analyse that. It was very intense.”

Marie: “It was a massive commitment. And we were still living in Mallow, going to college and we didn’t drive! I was 18 then and Donna was only 20.

“We used to live on the trains and buses up and down to Mallow. We got the train at eight o’clock from Mallow, two buses, into town and then out to college. We’d college all day and we’d walk to Patrick’s Church to get collected for Glanmire training.”

Donna: “We’d get a lift into town then after training in Little Island to get the 9pm bus back to Mallow. It was a 14-hour day.

Marie: “We’d training in college too. Sometimes you’d go from UCC training to Glanmire.

“One time we tried to get out of SuperLeague training, one time to go on a college night out, and we told Seán we’d a removal. He wanted to know whose removal it was and he said he’d pick us up outside it. That was the end of our night out. We just trained.”

Donna: “Seán had coached some internationals through school: Sarah and Ann Marie Healy and Áine and Aoife O’Dwyer. That’s where his interest in basketball developed. He put down the foundation for us.”

They were primed to go to the next level. Enter Mark Scannell, whose daughters Jessica and Clodagh were dazzling underage basketballers with Glanmire.

Marie: “There was no overnight success even though Mark made an incredible impact. It was four years building towards that first National Cup.

“Still, in Mark’s first season we won the SuperLeague, 2006, and then the following year we won that first National Cup.”

Donna: “Mark has a great basketball brain, huge experience and a winning mentality and he brought that in from the get-go.”

Marie: “It was never about just competing. He expected us to be up there going for every trophy. The standard of player helped. We’d Michelle Fahy, Denise Walsh, even though they were both badly injured the year we won that first cup, April Cahalane, Nollaig Cleary.”

Donna: “We’d an American, Marverly Ettles, I don’t know if anyone remembers her, but she only played three minutes or something in the 2007 final. UL were going for four in a row and Michelle and Denise weren’t going to be able to start.

Marie: “We still had belief though because we’d come really close to beating UL before and we were spurred on by the girls missing out.”

Donna: “I remember I didn’t think I’d be able to make the cup final over Christmas because I was really sick and the doctor was advising me not to.”

Maire: “You got 19 points so it didn’t matter!”

Donna: “I still didn’t get MVP though, Marie had 29.”

Marie: “She easily could have got the MVP but it was the sweetest of them all. It was the first, we both played well, nobody gave us a chance in hell and it was on RTÉ.

Donna: “My parents still watch the DVD of that every year! My cousin sorted it out. I walked in one Sunday and they were after randomly throwing it on.”

Marie: “I hate watching myself back. I get nervous looking at it!”

Donna lived up to her nickname as the Pocket Rocket’ – a 5’ 1 ½ creative force — in that 2007 decider. Her connection with Marie as an inside finisher had developed naturally. From U10s upwards.

Donna: “With Johnny (Murphy in Mallow) it didn’t matter what height you were. He expected you to ‘box out’, to go for rebounds, to be an all-rounder. Playing with the older girls, senior men, you become harder. You get on with it.

Marie: “I don’t think you used it as an excuse. It never affected your game at junior or senior. Plus you were a three-point specialist!”

Donna: “I always felt I should be scoring more.”

Marie: “But you were never selfish. You were happy to be a playmaker.”

Donna: “In my view, a proper point-guard shouldn’t be too worried about how many points they get, but I know the role is changing a bit. If your point-guard is too focused on scoring then they can’t run the game.”

Donna in action in 2009. 
Donna in action in 2009. 

Marie: “She was one of the best players I ever played to feed the post. You could play a lob pass inside, you knew where to put it. It helped we knew each other so well of course.”

Donna: “Marie always found the right position and she’d kick it back out. That’s what I found hard when I went back playing with Mallow. The players didn’t have that same understanding, but Miriam Byrne — who is with Glanmire now and married to James Loughrey, the Cork footballer — came along and she was great.”

Marie: “I think the philosophy of getting to the post, going early, frees up the outside and you end up with more jump shots and three-pointers from better positions. You need an unselfish point-guard for that or it’s to the detriment of the team.

“My game changed loads throughout the years. I would have been a big scorer underage with Mallow and probably the same at Glanmire, but when the dynamic of that team changed I ended up as more of a defensive, rebounding player.

“It just depended on what the team needed. It’s always nice to put scores up for your own confidence, but you have to appreciate what works based on the players the coach has. I could shoot the three as well which was an asset, especially in the early years. That dried up though!

“In the latter years for Glanmire we didn’t have an American so my main job was to negate the opposition’s American. When you’re winning you don’t mind!”

Jessica and Mark Scannell and Marie Breen with the cup. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Jessica and Mark Scannell and Marie Breen with the cup. Picture: Brian Lougheed

It’s a testament to the standard set by Scannell, the players and the small core than run Glanmire that they’ve sustained their dominance.

Marie: “Nothing came easy. We’d buy our own gear, pay for our own transport. The club would pay for one night over the cup final weekend, but you’d to pay the other yourself. And this was even after all the effort they had put in for sponsorship.

“The intensity we had in training was what made us as a team. There was a genuine tension there at times because the squad was always competitive and players were fighting for minutes.

“If you went up against someone like Gráinne (Dwyer) at training it was a serious battle. You mightn’t be too happy with someone at the end of training and it would seem like you’d never talk again, but you need to leave it on the court.”

Donna: “Training needs to be harder than matches. Pressure is on younger players coming in to reach the level set by the older players. It doesn’t matter what age or who you are.

“Annaliese (Murphy) was a baby when I joined Glanmire so it’s amazing she’s now doing well. She was born with a basketball in her hand, bouncing it up and down the court when she could walk. She’s small but has all the skills.”

To be the best, sacrifices had to be made. While Donna had a sojourn to Australia and Marie toured Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and South America, life generally went on hold in favour of basketball.

Donna: “I remember my parents wondering if I was going to the teenage disco in Grenagh with my friends but I always had a match or something. I didn’t have a 21st either. There was no good weekend to fit it in.”

Marie: “I never minded missing my own stuff, but you do feel guilty when you can’t go out for your friends. We had great nights out in the early days of the SuperLeague though, that helped us bond. And obviously after those cup finals. There were some great sessions then.”

It was through circumstance more than a grand plan that the dynamic duo fell in love with basketball so their sporting idols came from these shores, rather than the NBA.

Donna: “I was a huge fan of Adrian Fulton and I got a one-on-one session one time. I rang Marie straight away after. I was out shooting at the Rip N’ Run camp because I was waiting for the rest to finish up in the showers and he was there and we were shooting. He was such a stylish guard. I always wanted to play like him.”

Marie: “Michelle Aspell was the bane of our lives for a while, you’d love to hate her but that was a compliment. There have been a lot of outstanding camogie players and ladies footballers for Cork in the last 15 years.

“One player who stands out is Lindsay Peat. Four sports – basketball, ladies football, soccer and now rugby.”

Lindsay Peat. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Lindsay Peat. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Donna: “I remember coming up against her first at the Rip ‘N Run camps that Mark (Scannell) and Mark Ingle held, and she was a few years older, but one of the best players I ever came across.

Marie: “At Ireland training Lindsay was just so powerful. Nobody could mark her. Her toughness was like nothing I’d seen and then she was so nice off the court. A leader as well. She deserves a way bigger profile.”

Donna: “It’s her longevity as well. When I was younger I expected I’d be like Sandy Fitz, playing well into my 40s. Didn’t happen!”

They’ll enjoy watching Glanmire’s experienced core lead their cup charge this Sunday too.

Marie: “Claire is an incredible player. She does it all, work that goes under the radar. Gráinne and Áine are absolutely top-class too. They set the tone.”

Understandably, Donna and Marie miss the feeling of pulling down a rebound or seeing a lay-up roll around the rim and crawl through the net.

They’d love to be able to wear the Glanmire geansaí again, even if it came with slogs around the country over Christmas holidays on icy deserted roads to Sligo and Dublin.

Donna: “It is difficult. When we went to Australia they had pick-up games in the Aquatic centre. You just had to show up with your boots. Ireland doesn’t have that, certainly not for women. At least the lads can play a bit of five-a-side.”

Marie: “The social aspect of it as much as the sport is something you can’t match. I do yoga, cross-trainer, walking. I have to be careful because of my lower back. I go to games a bit and you would love to be out there but you’ve appreciate how good sport was to you as well.”

One undoubted regret is that they couldn’t deliver on the international stage at senior level when the plug was pulled back in 2010.

“Thankfully the programme is back in place, with a core management from Cork led by Mark Scannell, Francis and Grace O’Sullivan, and a Small Nations tournament coming to the Mardyke at the end of June.

Donna: “The loss of the senior teams was a huge blow to basketball. You had players competing up through their teens and then left without any opportunities to pull on the Irish jersey at senior.

Marie: “I was lucky enough to play in the 2009 Irish team when Mark was coaching. I had the time that summer to get up to the standard required and that was an incredibly talented Irish women’s team — Susan Moran, Michelle Aspell, Michelle Fahy. It folded the following year and that was when I was at the peak of my game. It was such a pity."

Marie Breen in action in 2015. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Marie Breen in action in 2015. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Donna: “The Cork teams’ structure is back so that’s very beneficial to players and there are U18 and U20 National Cups instead of U19, which is all we had, which is makes it easier to make the step up to senior.

“The structure has improved because Glanmire have the academy now for the young girls and I think that generates a buzz through parents.”

There’s a vibrant scene, locally and nationally, these days. Even if basketball is a minority sport on these shores.

Marie: “Social media has helped basketball.

Attendances at games don’t help. It can be soul-destroying if you’ve only got 20 supporters at a match. That’s where double-headers are great, the crowds at the Glanmire-Brunell games in the cup semi-finals were encouraging.

“With games streamed online you can watch them and they’re doing a great job of promoting the sport. Now you’d still love if RTÉ carried the men’s and women’s finals on a Sunday afternoon. That brought in a huge audience of people who wouldn’t be interested in basketball but would watch sport on television.”

Donna: “I can’t get to as many games as I like but I know I can watch them online. It keeps you in touch.

“I’d love to see basketball getting the audience it deserves, but I’d be hopeful there is plenty of talent coming through across the country to keep the league strong and the Irish teams as well.”

Donna Buckley and Marie Breen chatting with our reporter Éamonn Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Donna Buckley and Marie Breen chatting with our reporter Éamonn Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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