History of North Mon Basketball club: Where Cork hoop stars held court

Kieran Doherty reflects on the great days in the Mon, which produced some of the best players and coaches we've seen on Leeside
History of North Mon Basketball club: Where Cork hoop stars held court

Micheal O’Sullivan dribbling the basketball past Aaron O’Connell during a game in the outside court at the North Monastery School.

FOR years they were the envy of every basketball club in the country.

Every club wanted to be like them and every player wanted to be part of their underage structure.

The North Mon Basketball Club is long gone now. However, the memories and great times at the outdoor courts and the gym at the Northside School lives proudly in the hearts of many players, coaches, and administrators.

They produced winning team after winning team, developed great players who went on to play for their country and senior with clubs all over Ireland, but ask anyone who came through the famed North Monastery Juvenile Basketball Academy at that time in the 1980s and '90s, and they will all say the same thing.

A North Mon Basketball Club pennant. 
A North Mon Basketball Club pennant. 

It was never about winning. It was about learning, having fun and developing your skills as a person, a basketball player and an administrator.

More importantly, it was all about inclusion. No man was left behind.

If a C or D team needed to be formed to include all those players who just wanted to play, then it was done without fuss.

Every player was important. Not just the great ones. Every person that put on the famed blue jersey was equal. There were no stars.

And what made this so special and unique was it was all done by a group of young coaches and administrators who probably didn’t have the experience to know what and why they were doing certain things, but they all agree they were doing their best and all that mattered to them was the kids.

Developing them as players and people was the goal, and boy how they succeeded.

Coach Francis O’Sullivan taking a training session at the North Mon outdoor court. 
Coach Francis O’Sullivan taking a training session at the North Mon outdoor court. 

They developed a fantastic underage structure and culture that was very different to other clubs at the time, as their sporting philosophy was simple: coach the players to the best of your ability, let the players express themselves, always treat every child equally, and let the winning look after itself.

People like Noel Lane, Br Roche, Jim Ahern, Aaron O’Connell, and Edward Hoare had great vision on how the underage was shaped with the help of coaches like Eugene O’Sullivan, Martin Cleary, Mark Scannell, Roger Kelleher, Kieran Doherty, Conny Daly, and Francis O’Sullivan. These were all great people, then great coaches.

They were way before their time in terms of their thinking.

Kieran and Colm Doherty with the National Cup, Cork Championship, Cork League and All-Ireland Billy Kelly Cup, from the very successful 1993 U17 season. 
Kieran and Colm Doherty with the National Cup, Cork Championship, Cork League and All-Ireland Billy Kelly Cup, from the very successful 1993 U17 season. 

Some of the above coaches went on to coach Irish International teams with Mark Scannell, coaching the Irish women’s senior team, Roger Kelleher coaching the Irish U15 girls team, and he was also the assistant coach of the men’s national team, and finally, Francis O’Sullivan who coached an Irish U20 girls team, and was assistant coach to a national women’s team.

Mark Scannell began coaching career as a 15-year-old when he coached an U13 team.

He went on to be one of the most successful women’s coaches in the game, winning multiple trophies with Glanmire Basketball Club.

“I have some great memories of the Mon when I was growing up, as my friends Kieran O’Sullivan, Joe Hoare, and Bobby Kelleher spent hours on the outdoor court in the school,” Mark said.

“The vision of people like Noel Lane, Conny Daly, Edward Hoare, Kieran Doherty, and Br Roche shaped the way we all coached back in the day, as we were all asked to help out coaching or get involved with the juvenile committee. I look back with pride to have been involved such an incredible set-up, and I still use some of the great traditions to this very day."

A North Mon underage team. Back: John Justice, Terence Higgins, David Dwyer, Brian Ahern, and Coach Noel O’Reilly. Front: Gordon O’Callaghan, Ronan Dynan, Trevor O’Callaghan, Brian Lenihan, Ted Williamson.
A North Mon underage team. Back: John Justice, Terence Higgins, David Dwyer, Brian Ahern, and Coach Noel O’Reilly. Front: Gordon O’Callaghan, Ronan Dynan, Trevor O’Callaghan, Brian Lenihan, Ted Williamson.

Roger Kelleher with doubt was one of the greatest teachers of the game of basketball and was a great mentor not just to the players but to all of the coaches in the club.

Roger was a quiet, and humble man, however, he had a great way about himself, always on hand to give advice to whoever needed it, but never overpowered his option on any person.

“I remember looking back now that I’m in my 60s, and realise how privileged I was to get to coach such wonderful people,” Kelleher said.

“I owe them all a great debt. They say about coaching that the players forget everything you taught them, however, they never forget how you made them feel about themselves at the time.

“I hope that all the people that played for me are better for being part of what we trying do at the time.

North Mon 1983 minor team. Back: Coach Ronnie Hurley, Robert Lee, Paul O’Callaghan, Tony Collins, Colin O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Sullivan, and Joe Hoare. Front: Bobby Kelleher, John Collins, Mark Scannell, Micheal O’Sullivan and John McHale. 
North Mon 1983 minor team. Back: Coach Ronnie Hurley, Robert Lee, Paul O’Callaghan, Tony Collins, Colin O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Sullivan, and Joe Hoare. Front: Bobby Kelleher, John Collins, Mark Scannell, Micheal O’Sullivan and John McHale. 

“I certainly feel very proud of what we achieved, and very proud to have been given so much loyalty, and trust from every player who played on a team that I coached.

“What we created together out of nothing, with no or little resources, except a dream, was extraordinary. What is gone is sad but inevitable and the good that was done is forever woven in the fabric of Cork sport.”

WELCOME TO THE MON

Francis O’Sullivan is one of the most respected coaches across the country, as he still gives his time coaching the kids in Ballincollig Basketball Club.

He is also one of the finest tutors for Basketball Ireland going around the country sharing his knowledge

“My first memory of the Mon was been greeted by Noel Lane, Edward Hoare, and Roger Kelleher with a handshake, ‘welcome to the Mon’,” Francis recalls. “I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions of my life that I ever made, as I found a place where I many young fellas felt important and encouraged to try be my best self.

The only expectation was of me was to give my best, and be committed to the Mon and the kids under my care.

“It’s only with hindsight that we can reflect that what should have been done is what should have been done in sports clubs for young men. It was a place where every child was encouraged, and where every child got the opportunity to play.

“We were empowered to develop in many ways, not just as players, but as coaches, and help out in many ways possible, to try to be leaders, and take responsibility in running and organising the basketball affairs of the club.

“It’s not an accident that so many old Mon boys populate Cork and Irish basketball as coaches and administrators.

“So many great memories looking back, however, I would like to think that the experience of coaching in the Mon stood to me."

So many North Mon players played international basketball for their country, it would be impossible to name them all. However, two players, Francis O’Sullivan and Eugene O’Sullivan, who played in the 1979 European Championships in Bulgaria under coach Liam O’Connell were the first from the club to do so.

Francis O’Sullivan, coach Liam O’Connell, and Eugene O’Sullivan represented the Irish U19 Team at the European Championships in Bulgaria in 1979.
Francis O’Sullivan, coach Liam O’Connell, and Eugene O’Sullivan represented the Irish U19 Team at the European Championships in Bulgaria in 1979.

Both players went on to be excellent coaches with the club, with the latter winning the World Youth Championship in 1987.

“Looking back on the great days in the Mon, I still don’t think we knew exactly how special the club was at the time, as it formed and shaped the lives of a lot of young boys,” Eugene recalls.

“I probably was one of the luckiest coaches, as I coached the minor team for a number of years, so most of the players would have gone through our juvenile academy under some excellent coaching by Conny Daly, Roger Kelleher, Kieran Doherty, Francis O’Sullivan, and Mark Scannell just to name a few.

WORLD CHAMPIONS

“By the time they got to me, they were great players. The hardest job was to pick an A team as we would have over 30 players trying out, so then we would have to put two more minor teams into the leagues.

“The one year which always stands out for me is our 1987/88 season when Jerry Rodgers and Mick Regan helped me and the team to win the National Cup and the World Youth Championship at Crystal Palace when we beat Kingston in the final.

The U19 team won the World Championships in London and were also National Cup champions. Back: Mark Long, Brian Murphy, Derek Twomey, Ian Gosnell, Paul Barrett, and Coach Eugene O’Sullivan. Front: Jim Hannigan, Darren Mc Guinness, Jason Finnegan, Tony O’Reilly, and Thomas White. 
The U19 team won the World Championships in London and were also National Cup champions. Back: Mark Long, Brian Murphy, Derek Twomey, Ian Gosnell, Paul Barrett, and Coach Eugene O’Sullivan. Front: Jim Hannigan, Darren Mc Guinness, Jason Finnegan, Tony O’Reilly, and Thomas White. 

“We were presented with the trophy by American star Steve Bontrager, and he gave our team the greatest compliment when he said: ‘this North Mon team has really impressed me as they play defence like North Carolina’; that summed up the sprit in the whole group.

“As I meet players from those days, I now know why so many of them are after having knee, and hip replacements, it’s because of playing on the outdoor courts,” Eugene said with a hearty laugh.

Another player who played his whole career with the famous club was Jim Hannigan, he emphasised everything good about the Mon at the time. He had a great attitude, was a hard worker on the court, and gave up his time coaching the kids.

“One of my first memories, when I was eight-years-old, was being taught how to play one v one in the primary schoolyard by Ronnie Hurley.

“That was the way in those days; as young players, we learned the art of playing one v one, two v two, and so on, before we could play full games,” Hannigan said.

A North Mon U17 team. Back: Coach F O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan (RIP), P O’Donovan, P O’Donovan, P Looney, D Collins, R Lee, and coach M Scannell. Front Row: M Smith, J Hannigan, T Barrett (RIP), J Finnegan, P Fenton and N O’Reilly.
A North Mon U17 team. Back: Coach F O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan (RIP), P O’Donovan, P O’Donovan, P Looney, D Collins, R Lee, and coach M Scannell. Front Row: M Smith, J Hannigan, T Barrett (RIP), J Finnegan, P Fenton and N O’Reilly.

“Another great memory is from when I played under Conny Daly at U17 level, and we had training at 9am one Christmas morning.

The whole team were at the outdoor court when it starting snowing. We thought we'd be going home so players, myself included, started walking down the Lodge only to meet Conny with his bag of basketballs over his shoulder.

“Come on what’s wrong we have a training session to go to. Happy days.”

Darren Geaney and John McHale both came through the ranks of the Mon juvenile system and went on to play National League for the club.

However, all that experience stood to them as both finished their playing careers as players, assistant coaches, and mentors to a very young Fr Mathew’s National League team at the age of 44.

“I have so many memories of my younger days playing for the Mon, as I remember going to the Parochial Hall every Saturday morning to play, and then stay for the day watching and supporting our other teams,” Geaney said.

“I also remember when I travelled to America to play in the World Youth Games in Milwaukee.

“It was a great experience with over 40 teams playing from all over the world. When the tournament was finished, at the closing ceremony, all the plays from the different teams joined hands, and sang the famous Micheal Jackson song We Are The World, spine-chilling stuff.”

The North Mon team that played in the World Youth Games in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Back: Coach Kieran Doherty, Tony Sexton, Owen Crowley, James O’Donovan, coach Conny Daly, Cormac McGrath, Brian Ahern and coach Jim Wolfe. Front: Denis Crean, Ger Gibbons, Brian Horgan, Daren Geaney and Gerry Galgey.
The North Mon team that played in the World Youth Games in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Back: Coach Kieran Doherty, Tony Sexton, Owen Crowley, James O’Donovan, coach Conny Daly, Cormac McGrath, Brian Ahern and coach Jim Wolfe. Front: Denis Crean, Ger Gibbons, Brian Horgan, Daren Geaney and Gerry Galgey.

John McHale, now the sports editor of this parish came late into the sport at 15.

Soccer was his first love, but basketball became the love of his life and he loved everything about the Mon.

“What I remember most is how the club empowered us to learn and give back from an early age,” McHale said.

“There was no such thing as too young to do anything. If you wanted to coach and help the younger teams you were given that responsibility and thrust by those running the club.

“That always stuck with me. Trust the younger people and give them a chance and they won’t let you down.

“It was a lesson for life. It was also a great place to meet friends, some of whom I still consider my best friends 40 years later.”

Paul Manning, who joined the club with his brother Alan also has a special place in his heart for the Mon. Both brothers now live in the States where Paul is an assistant coach with Westtown High School.

“I remember my late father Jerry bringing Alan and myself up the Mon to meet Eugene O’Sullivan and Kieran Doherty about joining the club.

“We were greeted by a handshake by both coaches, and we told that the only expectations of us was that we both to help out with the academy which was held every Sunday mornings.

As for playing, we were told to enjoy and express ourselves at all times, which is something that sticks with me today. The other thing I remember is that all the players were treated equally no matter who you were.

“I was an U17 international player with Eddie Cooke at the time, and the team were sent for a run around the Farranree area when Eddie and myself decided we didn’t have to do it, and we went to shop instead.

North Mon coaches Jim Wolfe, Kieran Doherty and Conny Daly at the World Youth Games in Milwaukee in 1989.
North Mon coaches Jim Wolfe, Kieran Doherty and Conny Daly at the World Youth Games in Milwaukee in 1989.

“When the lads returned we met them at the end of the Lodge; however Coach Doherty was after spotting us, and both Eddie and myself were sent on the run again.

”Lesson learned.” 

Aaron O’Connell, who played, coached, and was an administrator with North Mon in the early days is now one of the brightest minds in the sport of basketball and has just finished an Masters in Applied Sports Psychology under the tutelage of former international coach Gerry Fitzpatrick at WIT in Waterford.

“I believe we coach the way we were coached until we learn differently. In coaching over the last 37 years I’ve certainly learned that lesson, but my time as a player in the Mon definitely shaped my coaching practice.”

“When I joined the club, Br Noel Roche was my coach. He taught me discipline and the need to work hard at your game physically and technically.

“When I think of it, Br Roche was ahead of his time; he taught me the value of being organised and continuous as a coach.

“Conny Daly was meticulous in his preparation for training and games and that’s something I’ve taken forward in my coaching.

“He was dedicated to his teams. At the end of the season, he would also present each player with a handwritten account on the number of sessions you attended, down to the last minute, as well as an account of all the games we played.

“Conny taught me to treat every player fairly. I also served at committee level with the club as assistant secretary to Ed Hoare and PRO over a couple of years.

“What I learned working in that committee I took forward in other roles. More recently, I’ve served on various Basketball Ireland committees including Coaches’ committee, the Men’s National Competitions Committee, and as company secretary with the board.”

The 1981 North Mon U17s. Tony Ahern, Mark Scannell, Bobby Kelleher, Barry O’Reagan, Joe Hoare, Colin O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Sullivan, Jim Daly, John Collins, Micheal O’Sullivan, with coach Conny Daly in front. 
The 1981 North Mon U17s. Tony Ahern, Mark Scannell, Bobby Kelleher, Barry O’Reagan, Joe Hoare, Colin O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Sullivan, Jim Daly, John Collins, Micheal O’Sullivan, with coach Conny Daly in front. 

Another player who took everything he learned from the Mon is Trevor O’Callaghan, who now runs his own club Cork Celts who play in the Cork Leagues.

“We were surrounded by people who loved the game, but also the club, “ O’Callaghan said.

“People like Roger Kelleher, Eugene O’Sullivan, Kieran Doherty, Francis O’Sullivan, and Noel Lane instilled a sense of spirt and camaraderie to every player no matter what their abilities, and that were equally important.

We were all treated with respect, and an U13B or C player was just as important as a player playing at National League level.

“So I learned to treat every individual equally no matter who they were, but more importantly, I made friends for life in the famous club.”

Graham Boylan is another example of a Mon boy who has gone on to do very well for himself.

PRESIDENT

Now the owner and president of Cage Warriors, Boylan was a super shooter and a great player for the North Mon underage sides.

His company is now one of the best MMA company in the world and he is in the process of staging his first event in the States (California) in August after conquering and dominating the sport in Europe.

So too did Ronnie Hurley and Martin Wills.

Both players came through the juvenile section of the club, both are now huge fish in the pharmaceutical world, with Ronnie owning his own company and Martin, now based in China after first conquering England and then Europe.

North Mon U13 A team. Back: Coach Francis O’Sullivan, Terence Higgins, Kieran O’Connell, Tony O’Reilly, Brian Forde, Tony Ahern. Front: Ronan Dynon, Stephen Hannigan, Gerry Galgey, A-Another, Ted Williamson. 
North Mon U13 A team. Back: Coach Francis O’Sullivan, Terence Higgins, Kieran O’Connell, Tony O’Reilly, Brian Forde, Tony Ahern. Front: Ronan Dynon, Stephen Hannigan, Gerry Galgey, A-Another, Ted Williamson. 

Ger Gibbons, who was the first player who came over from the southside to play with the Mon, went on to great things with other clubs as a coach and administrator.

He was followed by Billy Kelly winners Niall Martin, Mark Gaffney (RIP), and then James O’Donovan, Owen Luttrell, and Des O’Brien.

Ger used all of the experience he learned in the Mon and put it into use when he started Fr Mathew’s underage club with his good friend Peter Lyall some years ago.

“My first experience of the Mon is when I joined the club in 1986 to play with the U17 team under Conny Daly,” Gibbons said.

“I also started my coaching career when I became a assistant coach to Kieran O’Sullivan helping him with the different U13 teams.

The traits I learned as a young boy shaped my life as coaching basketball became a big part in my life, and I still love coaching to this present day for my sins.”

EMOTIONAL

Since I started on with this project on the North Mon a few weeks ago, I have experienced every emotion.

I remember those great years. I want to thank everyone who contributed to this project as it was a special time in all of our lives.

Some of the great young players that came through the North Mon Academy and had great juvenile careers with the club are listed here.

Apologies to all those I missed or forgot about when compiling this list of players.

Some of these went on to play for their county, their province and for their country.

Martin and Roy O’Keeffe, Jim and Stephen Hannigan, Eddie Cooke, Gerry Galgey (won three National League with three different clubs North Mon, Tralee and Neptune), Owen Crowley, Charles Meehan, David Brosnan, who went to Iona College in New York for four years, Mark Scannell, Joe Hoare, Bobby Kelleher Paul Lenihan, and Jason Finnegan, who all went on a one-year scholarship to the States, Mark Long, who spent four years in college, and still resides in America today.

North Mon U13 C team. Back: Coach Martin Cleary, Owen Crowley, Niall Browne, Tom Twomey, Brian Lenihan, Brian Ahern, and John Crowley. Front: Roy O’Keeffe, Denis Crean, Pat O’Brien, Ken Murphy, Trevor O’Callaghan and Gordon O’Callaghan. 
North Mon U13 C team. Back: Coach Martin Cleary, Owen Crowley, Niall Browne, Tom Twomey, Brian Lenihan, Brian Ahern, and John Crowley. Front: Roy O’Keeffe, Denis Crean, Pat O’Brien, Ken Murphy, Trevor O’Callaghan and Gordon O’Callaghan. 

Liam Moynihan also spent many years in the US, Noel and Tony O’Reilly, Thomas White, Brian Murphy, Graham Boylan, Paul Barrett, John Lynch, Tom Kelleher, Alan Trought,

Tom Twomey (who now resides in New Zealand), Brian Ahern, Colin Higgins, Kevin Collins, Robert Lee, John McHale, Darren Geaney, Robert Cronin, Colin O’Sullivan, Kieran O’Sullivan, Paul Murphy, Gerry Emery, Simon and Kevin Reddy, Timmy O’Halloran, Micheal Regan, John Raggett, Terry Barrett (RIP), Kieran O’Connell, Ronnie Hurley, Tony Ahern, Eugene O’Sullivan, Niall Martin, Mark Gaffney (RIP), Brian Horgan, Barry Kelleher, Dave and Eoin Lehane, Aidan O’Shea and Micheal O’Sullivan.

GAME-CHANGER

I coached in the Mon for 14 years, and when I arrived I was a coach with plenty of flaws. However, it was a game-changer for me as I learned from so many great people, and got to coach so many great players.

I had many mentors at the club steering me in the right direction, people like Conny Daly, Eugene O’Sullivan, Noel Lane, Francis O’Sullivan, and Roger Kelleher who guided me (with great difficulty at times) for which I will be forever grateful for their time and patience shown to me.

North Mon captain Colin O’Sullivan receiving the All-Ireland Billy Kelly Cup from Dan Wallace at the Parochial Hall in 1982.
North Mon captain Colin O’Sullivan receiving the All-Ireland Billy Kelly Cup from Dan Wallace at the Parochial Hall in 1982.

My grandmother Mary Doherty was also a huge influence on me, and she struck up many friendships with coaches who would call for a cup of tea and the players who would call to get her messages when I was in America every summer.

She used to help them without even knowing it with her great sayings: ‘don’t ever try to control the uncontrollable. Fix a problem when it needed to fixed,’ and ‘IT WILL PASS,’ the most important message she often said regarding people’s problems.

The club certainly shaped my life as a person as it gave me the skills to get through life, and more importantly, it gave me a sense of gratitude to the great people that were involved with this great club.

So I will finish with one simple note.

“Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated yourself.”

An Mhainistir Thuaidh Abu.

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