The Fitzgibbon sisters were a force of nature on Cork basketball courts

Mary, Patsy, Dolores, Sandie and Denise Fitzgibbon were a joy to watch on the hardwood
The Fitzgibbon sisters were a force of nature on Cork basketball courts

The Alpha Pandas team won the Pretty Polly Tournament. Back: Tom Rawley (RIP), Helen Mullins, Patsy Fitzgibbon, Sponsor, Sandie Fitzgibbon, Susan Courtney, Joe Ahern (coach), Sponsor. Front: Mary Fitzgibbon, Marian Chute, Catherine Roche, Claire Twomey, Dolores Fitzgibbon.

THE Fitzgibbon family are one of the most unique and dedicated sporting families in Cork.

Very few, if any, can match their dedication to the sport they love. Sisters Mary, Patsy, Dolores, Sandie, and Denise have given more than 150 years of dedication, and loyalty to the game of basketball: an incredible achievement.

Sandie was this week voted The Echo Rebel Legends winner for her exploits both in basketball and as a camogie icon with Glen Rovers and Cork.

All the girls started playing basketball with the North Presentation primary school at a young age, and continued playing in the secondary school under coach Joe Aherne.

The sisters then played with Neptune Pandas for a number of years, before they formed their own ladies club, Alpha Pandas. The girls had a lot of great times, making some great friendships when playing with Alpha Pandas, and had great success over a 20-year period.

Patsy, Mary, Sandie, and Denise are all still involved today coaching with Brunell Basketball Club.

The sisters grew up at Rathmore Park, Popes Road, with their other siblings Anna, Micheal, Cecilia, and Patsy; Sandie still lives in the same house.

Mary started playing club basketball with Blue Demons under Dommie Mullins before transferring to Neptune Pandas to join her sisters to play National League.

“I first began playing basketball with the North Pres school under Joe Aherne,” Mary said. “I soon got the bug of playing basketball, so I joined Blue Demons with some friends from school.

“I played there for seven years before joining Neptune to play National League with my sisters.

“We played in Neptune under coaches Joe Aherne, and Cathal O’Flaherty at National League level, however, one of my greatest memories was when we played Solent from England in the Federation Cup.

“We played our home game at the Mayfield Community Centre where we lost by a very narrow margin.

“The following week we travelled to Southampton where we eventually lost out by a few points.

”Then the girls went on to form our own club Alpha Pandas, and we went on to win multiple trophies, but more importantly we made for friends for life.

The Neptune Pandas team played the French team Caussade in 1970. Back: Geraldine Sheehan, Patsy Fitzgibbon, Dolores Fitzgibbon, Cathal O’Flaherty (coach), Catherine Roche, Claire Sweeney. Front: Phil O’Flynn, Mary Fitzgerald, Sandie Fitzgibbon, Susan Courtney, Kathleen Hinchon.
The Neptune Pandas team played the French team Caussade in 1970. Back: Geraldine Sheehan, Patsy Fitzgibbon, Dolores Fitzgibbon, Cathal O’Flaherty (coach), Catherine Roche, Claire Sweeney. Front: Phil O’Flynn, Mary Fitzgerald, Sandie Fitzgibbon, Susan Courtney, Kathleen Hinchon.

“I started coaching over 25 years ago with Brunell where I have coached various teams over the years, however, one of the greatest teams I coached was (the dream) team with Meagan O’Leary, Edel Thornton, Amy Waters that won the U14 All-Ireland title.

“That has to be one of the greatest my coaching memories.”

Mary said Patsy has done it all in the game as a player, coach, and as an administrator with various clubs.

She was a powerful inside player that could hold her own with any American in the National League at the time.

“After playing with Neptune I joined Kyer Celts a club from the Southside to continue to play National League,” Patsy said. “I loved playing, however, on one occasion when I was playing a local league game against Pandas in the Parochial Hall, I got a rebound under my own basket.

“As I was making my way up the court Mary and Dolores jumped on my back.

“I shouted at the referee looking for a foul, only for the girls to tell the referee ‘it’s OK she’s our sister’,” as laughter broke out between the girls.

“I now do some coaching with Brunell underage, and also have held a committee position as registrar for a number of years,” Patsy added.

Dolores would have been known as one of the most underrated players in the country. She was the first player to be linked with the Senior Irish team from outside Dublin at the age of 19. 

She could play in any position on the court with her versatility and could have played at the highest level, however, when she got married she decided to play with her sisters at Pandas.

Dolores now lives in Allihies in west Cork with her family and helps out coaching the local school.

Sandie exploit’s in both basketball and camogie are well documented. She played camogie with the Glen Rovers where she won 10 Cork senior medals that included a seven in a row and landed six All-Ireland medals with Cork.

On the basketball front she helped Blarney win four National League titles and three National Cups under coach Dommie Mullins.

Sandie was one of the best defensive players this country has seen, and she has worn the Irish jersey on numerous occasions in the 1990s. She now holds a level one coach cert and helps out coaching with Brunell underage.

Denise, followed her sisters playing basketball as a nine-year-old with the North Pres. She also played with Neptune, Alpha Pandas and Brunell.

She is coaching Brunell at U12 level, and also is a member of the Cork Referee’s Association.

I followed my sisters playing basketball at a young age, however, the most enjoyable period was my time with Pandas.

“We were very competitive on the court, but once the game finished we were all very friendly with our opponents.

”We travelled all over the country playing in various tournaments, however, the Pretty Polly, and the Dingle tournaments were our favorites.

“The girls on that team Susan Courtney, Martina Curtin, Terry Kedellan, Claire Twomey and Marie Barry still keep in touch, and we still go away on weekend trips."

The Fitzgibbon family at a function: Denise, Cecilia, Micheal, Dolores, Patsy, Anna, Sandie and Mary.
The Fitzgibbon family at a function: Denise, Cecilia, Micheal, Dolores, Patsy, Anna, Sandie and Mary.

The Fitzgibbon girls are very unique and it is amazing to see how close they are as a family, despite all being very different characters.

Their love for one another is easily seen, and I could see this when I interviewed them. 

This was a very enjoyable experience as they slagged, mocked, and laughed with one another during what was one of my favorite interviews as time and time again they contradicted each other.

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