BASKETBALL has been devastated by Covid restrictions.
Like other indoor sports, a whole season has been lost to the pandemic, while the shutdown of schools basketball means a host of youngsters who are introduced to hoops at second level have missed out.
There's still some distance to travel before a return to the hardwood is permitted for clubs, but U18s are permitted to train outdoors in a non-contact setting from Monday, April 26, like other sports.
The difficulty for the sport is underage basketball is now going to run directly in line with the GAA as we head towards the summer, as well as soccer and rugby.
On a more positive note, Sport Ireland has granted Basketball Ireland permission to use the National Basketball Arena for their senior international sides from Friday.
Basketball's governing body put together stringent Covid-19 protocols, which gives Ireland a chance to finally start prepping for the upcoming FIBA European Championships for Small Nations. Jordan Blount, Adrian O'Sullivan and Edel Thornton are among the Leesiders in the mix to feature.
Ireland are slated to host the men's tournament from June 28 to July 3 in Limerick while the women's event is set for Cyprus at the same time. Ireland's underage sides also have competitions on the horizon, though they can't train collectively for now and must continue to link up via Zoom.
A final decision on this summer’s men’s and women’s FIBA European Championship for Small Countries and the youth competitions will be made at a FIBA Board meeting on May 11.
Basketball Ireland CEO, Bernard O’Byrne, said: “This is a welcome first step for basketball’s return. We’d like to thank Sport Ireland, particularly Paul McDermott and Shane Califf, for their continued support and allowing our senior international sides the opportunity to train once again.
"A lot of preparation has been put in to make sure that it is a safe environment for our players and coaching staff. I would like to thank Charles Higgins, the Chair of Basketball Ireland’s Return to Play committee, for all his hard graft in getting us to this point.
"Naturally, we hope in the coming weeks that our underage international sides will also be able to return to collective training ahead of this summer’s European Championships and we are in constant dialogue with Sport Ireland on the pathway for our sport at all levels to return.”
Mark Keenan, senior Irish men’s head coach, said: “We are obviously pleased to be able to gather our squad together, after a long period without competitive action.
"I’d like to thank Sport Ireland for giving us the green light to train once more, so we can put in some valuable groundwork ahead of the European Championship for Small Countries, which will hopefully take place in Limerick this summer.
Ireland senior women’s head coach, James Weldon, added: “This is great news for our squad. The girls have been incredible over the last year or so, really engaging in the zoom meetings, along with the strength and conditioning programmes that we’ve set out for them. That groundwork will be of great benefit for when we can get back on the court to train.
"I’d like to thank Sport Ireland and Basketball Ireland for all their hard work in getting us to the point where we can return.”