A NIGHT of what-ifs, buts and maybes for UCC Demons as they lost the U20 National Cup final by a single point to a bigger, but not necessarily better, UCD Marian at the National Basketball Arena.
Across a dramatic last quarter, and in typical Blue Demons fashion and tradition, they died with the boots on but there will be so many questions to torment the players.
They started poorly, looked very nervous and one wonders if their late arrival hampered their efforts. They landed 40 minutes before the tip-off, after their bus was blocked in by cars at the team hotel and could not get out for 45 minutes.
Their opponents were there 90 minutes before the start and opened brightly. Lessons to be learned there.
Despite this setback, the future for UCC Demons remains very bright and a return to the top table of the sport in Ireland remains very much on the cards.
Coach Shane McCarthy can be very proud. Defensively, his youngsters were superb.
Offensively, well, that’s another story.
They kept battling and on another night, maybe those missed shots, especially three-pointers, shots would have fallen. The lesson is, you need to have awhen the shots are not falling.
Have no doubt this group of players will move on to bigger games and senior finals in the seasons to come. When it does, it will have happened with home-grown players and thanks to their coaches, and the hard-working committee led by chairman Mick O’Leary behind the scenes.
This U20 team has great potential. They've been very well-coached over the years by various players who have won the blue of Demons with pride: Stephen Hannigan, Brian Foley, Dave Lehane, Dee Looney, Carleton Cuffe and the legend that is Seanie Murphy.
It was great to see Seanie, his wife Breda and his family at the game. Nobody represents Blue Demons like that man does. He has dedicated his life to coaching kids at the club and he will have taken great pride in seeing several of his former Academy players play on a national stage.
Club stalwarts Jim Dineen, Barry Deacy and Mick O’Sullivan were also in Dublin keeping an eye on the next generation of Demons senior stars.
All bar one of this U20 team is underage again next season. Jordan Ukah, who is a serious player, is the one to miss out on another shot at U20 glory.
Jack O’Leary and Mathew McCarthy will also be involved with the senior squad in Saturday's President's Cup final and I expect them to play their part under coach Danny O’Mahony.
The club’s U18 side under coach Carleton Cuffe won the Michael Heffernan tournament only last October beating 17 other clubs to this prestigious national tournament. These guys are the future and what an exciting future it is going to be.
Blue Demons exited the national league in 2019 and they were missed greatly. They are the powerhouse of Irish basketball and having won the double in 2015 and '16, it won’t be long before they are challenging for silverware in the Super League again.
It could even be as soon as next season.
The sport, the Super League and all the other clubs need them and their very large and vocal band of supporters.