AFTER three years of dominating the Division 1 league, 2020 was expected to be an exciting season for Tradehouse Ballincollig who would have been competing in the Super League for the first time.
The Covid-19 pandemic struck and for coach Kieran O’Sullivan it’s been a very disappointing time for all concerned at the club.
There is little doubt O’Sullivan is determined to help his club make a big impression in the top flight and here he looks back to the beginning in 2017 when he pushed hard for the club to take the big jump and enter the national league.
“We had to do it because it was the right time on and off court for Ballincollig club. We haven’t looked back since, everything is going to plan,” said O’Sullivan.
With no basketball in any part of Ireland O’Sullivan knows the frustration of players at all levels.
“It is demoralising for all my players as I can wait a year. We will get there and the lads will have their day in the sun.
“The direction of Basketball Ireland could have been better as we had professional players in Cork, but look, we have no business looking back as all we can do is hope this virus somehow disappears from our lives.”
It began for Kieran when he followed in the footsteps of his older brother Francis who was, and still is, steeped in basketball.
“I was active in other sports playing soccer with Shandon View and I was also involved with Togher Athletic club, but gradually basketball became number one in my priority list.”
While attending the North Mon he came under the guidance of coach Connie Daly and as the years went on, the progress continued and winning the prestigious 1984 Billy Kelly U17 tournament was the start of a great career for O’Sullivan.
“We were the first North Mon team to win it and to defeat Neptune in the final was a huge achievement, but in reality, that’s where the bug for basketball really set in.”
Basketball in Ireland, particularly in Cork, was huge in the 1980s and O’Sullivan moved on to playing under Liam O’Connell as the Mon entered the highest league in the country.
“In my first season in the Super League I was a starter where the Americans were Bob Stephens and Ray Broxton, but we were useful as we went 11-0.
“Neptune broke our unbeaten record in the next game, but in fairness, they were a superb side with Ray Smith and Terry Strickland.”
In 1989, O’Sullivan moved to Blue Demons and in his first season they won the Super League; it was a year he will never forget.
We clinched the league in Ballina and I think our starting five of Mono McCarthy, Jasper McElroy, Timmy McCarthy, Paul Fitzgerald, and myself was on par, if not better, than any I previously experienced.”
Losing the cup final was a huge disappointment for Kieran.
“We lost in the cup final after we defeated Neptune by 25 in the semi-final but then lost to Corinthians by one point.
“We were missing Timmy McCarthy and that was a huge loss and looking back on my career that was one major blow.”
The experience of playing with Demons is something O’Sullivan looks back at with pride.
“Demons always did more right than wrong as they always put the best teams on the floor when they could, and I was sad they withdrew from the league in 1992 and again in 2019.”
It was then over the county bounds for Kieran as he joined Tralee Tigers where he won a league title in 1995, fittingly under former teammate Timmy McCarthy.
When you are coaching at the highest level you are in a good position to compare the modern-day player to the present one.
“I think right now there are so many things players in comparison to the years when I played, but I do think the players were more streetwise back in the '80s.
“In my book, I think the modern-day coaching is of a higher level than that of the '80s, but they have an advantage as the amount of access to social media and TV where you can get plays from all levels of basketball.”
O’Sullivan also pointed to a core of Irish players who would have slotted into the best teams in the '80s.
“Colin O’Reilly, Shane Coughlan, and Ciaran O’Sullivan are a few of the Cork players who would have made a huge impression in the golden era of basketball.”
Married to Fiona, they were blessed with three children, Ronan, Daire, and Michael, who all love basketball too, and they reside in Togher.
On a final note, while many people are willing for the National Leagues to get up and running, Kieran believes it is important kids get some kind of basketball to play even if it’s in the summer months.
The problem for the sport is the damage that can be done at juvenile level as kids find other hobbies. With outdoor sports higher on the priority list, there's a danger of losing them.
“Basketball Ireland need to come out shortly and give us some guidance as I think it will give clubs an opportunity to prepare hopefully for an early start in September.”
But for now, the O’Sullivan dream of his club playing in the Super League will have to be put on hold as the country battles to erase the deadliest pandemic in modern history.