Cork's promising young basketballers desperate for a return to Ireland duty

Cork's promising young basketballers desperate for a return to Ireland duty

Neptune's Eli Lenihan should have been on duty for Ireland in the U18 basketball championship last summer. Picture: Larry Cummins

FOR underage Irish basketball teams, it has been a particularly frustrating few months for players and coaches alike.

With players learning about the cancellation of their European Championships along with tedious efforts to get back on the court, the national basketball teams have been no exception to the struggles at local level.

For international coaches Pat Price and Paul Kelleher, devastation ensued following FIBA’s press release in April stating that all European Championship games were to be upheld.

The men’s U16 and U18 coaches have a huge amount of experience both at club level and on the international platform.

The news put the dreams of several young men on hold, forcing them to wait at least another year before getting their opportunity to don the Irish jersey.

Men’s teams across Cork were certainly well-represented by the promising players due to play for their country in Bulgaria and Romania respectively.

For Price’s U16 men, a Ballincollig trio of Brendan Douanla, Isaac Eroutteh, and Jamie Cotter along with Cian O’Sullivan of North Mon AG and Blue Demons were among the Cork prospects in the squad last April.

Price was noticeably downbeat reflecting on “what could have been” with the promising young group of players that he had at his disposal.

“With regard to the 2020 European Championships, it was obviously hugely disappointing, mostly for the kids.

“It was they who committed all that time and preparation, and of course this could have been a once-off opportunity for them.”

Irish U16 coach Pat Price: “It was disappointing that the European Championships were postponed, especially for the kids.”
Irish U16 coach Pat Price: “It was disappointing that the European Championships were postponed, especially for the kids.”

On the U18 side of things, Neptune’s national-cup winning duo of Eli Lenihan and Sean McCarthy teamed up with Ballincollig’s Luke O’Sullivan to complete the Cork representatives named in the side by Kelleher.

“The 2020 European Championships was regretful more than frustrating.

“A group had been constructed full of legitimate talent, length, athleticism, experience, and loaded with scholarship athletes which we’ve never seen before.”

On the back of 16th place finishes by both coaches at the 2019 European Championships, the construction of this year’s panel has already begun, with the next batch of players desperate to get their chance to play in the green jersey.

However, initial preparations have been hampered by restrictions from the governing bodies, creating a substantial “grey-area” between what are being classified as elite-sports and non-elite sports.

Following Basketball Ireland’s statement declaring that they were forced to cancel the National League and Super League seasons, the players and staff of the international teams are confident that they won’t be the next set-up to lose out.

“I’m very optimistic. In fact, I’d be more surprised if the championships don’t go ahead rather than if they do.”

This optimism and determination from Kelleher has made it easier to assemble a squad, with many past players already recognised for their efforts at the U16 and U18 levels.

“We’ve tried to combat [the situation] with online sessions including ball-handling and scoring.

”We’ve also been just chatting and creating the culture we want to have in our group for when we finally get back on the floor.”

Irish U18 coach Paul Kelleher, with Keith Daly, Jim Leahy, Jim Donoghue, and Kieran Leahy. Kelleher admits that the cancellation of the European Championships was regretful. Picture Gerard Bonus.
Irish U18 coach Paul Kelleher, with Keith Daly, Jim Leahy, Jim Donoghue, and Kieran Leahy. Kelleher admits that the cancellation of the European Championships was regretful. Picture Gerard Bonus.

With the panel already whittled down to 25 members, including seven guys playing their regular basketball abroad, promising times lie ahead for Kelleher’s side.

The team boasts another five Cork players, with four clubs being represented from across the county.

Neptune’s Joseph Ensko and Daniel O’Sullivan play alongside Jack O’Leary of Blue Demons, Ballincollig’s Cillian O’Connell and Fr Mathew’s Michael O’Mahony in the hope of making the final cut of 12 players for August 2021.

Before the second lockdown, Kelleher and his side were fortunate to get some on-court training under their belt.

Challenge games against Galway Titans’ senior side and NABA, a Dublin basketball academy, allowed Kelleher’s players to develop their skills and implement the coaches’ tactics in a live scenario.

For Price, on the other hand, getting off of the mark has obviously been tricky, with the previous Tralee Warriors head coach unable to host any form of trials for the U16 Men thus far.

While being incredibly restricted by the current climate, Price admits that an effort to conduct some form of event for the next cohort of eligible players is in the works.

“We’ve discussed back and forth with Basketball Ireland about creating ways to conduct our player evaluations, whether it be in pod systems or provincial only.

“We’ve been unable to settle on a system, largely because some of the guidelines coming out have been a little inconsistent with regard to basketball. As soon as we get an idea of that, we’ll be able to lay out our trial dates.”

More than anything, the coaches and players involved are all seeking clarity, claims Kelleher.

“It is imperative we win this appeal. Other countries are preparing right now. In fact, nearly every country in our division except us, putting us at a huge disadvantage.

”Not being left on the floor to practice and prepare will have a huge impact on our athletes and the massive improvement we’ve made in recent years will be eradicated.”

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