Neptune left to reflect after a great game but a cruel defeat

Wait for a Super League title goes on after Cork basketball powerhouse blew a massive chance to beat Tralee
Neptune left to reflect after a great game but a cruel defeat

C&S Neptune head coach Colin O'Reilly talks to his players. Picture: INPHO/Ben Whitley

CAST your mind back to January of this year and the first quarter of the National Cup final meeting between these pair which Tralee went on to win easily.

It was probably the worst opening 10 minutes of basketball ever seen in a senior men’s final.

At the end of the opening quarter, it was 17-12 to Tralee with both sides shooting less than 30% and turning the ball over for fun. Terrible fare.

Fast forward to April. These two sides met again on Saturday in the SuperLeague final and the contrast could not have been greater. At the end of a crazy, superb opening quarter C&S Neptune led 28-25 and the tone had been set.

Irish international Roy Downey had eight and started superbly, Gittens and Sabata had five each as Neptune shared the scoring load.

This was a great game. Played between two very good teams, no quarter was asked or given and Neptune were up for the challenge.

And it took a Tralee side at their very best to beat them, but only just. Neptune deserve great credit, for the way they finished the season to reach this final.

This was a hard loss to take and when they look back, they will see a lack of scoring in the fourth quarter when it mattered cost them.

Nil Sabata, who made the All-Star first team was the Neptune star man. He hit 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, but if there is one area of his game he needs to improve it is this.

For a big man, he needs to finish when he is fouled under the basket and must improve his free throw technique. In this final, he missed seven from 10 and when you lose by so little, that hurts.

Neptune were far more aggressive, their defensive intensity was huge, were more organised and played to a pattern, all united in the one goal — to stop Tralee and win the league for the first time since 2003.

The Cork side led by three at the end of the first and by the half it was four, 42-38 with Downey now leading the Neptune scoring with 12 points.

Tralee’s height, strength and speed was a huge problem for Neptune matching up and they were picking up fouls at an alarming rate. Cian Heaphy had four by the middle of the third and had to come out.

Sabata, who had three, also needed to be careful. Neptune could not do without his height if he picked up his fourth foul.

Nil Sabata of Coughlan C&S Neptune shoots a basket. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Nil Sabata of Coughlan C&S Neptune shoots a basket. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

But at the end of the third Neptune had ridden out the Tralee storm and led 60-54 with 10 minutes to go in this classic final. It was now going to come down to the small margins, the lucky call and the piece of individual magic from a player to become a hero for his team.

Or who would foul out and cost their team glory?

With 7.52 to go, Neptune led 64 to 57 with Sebata carrying the scoring threat for Neptune. Tralee called a time out with their coach John Dowling looking for one more huge effort from his side.

With four to play Neptune led 67-66 and now it was a battle of nerves and big men.

Tralee went ahead 68-67 but a bad reaction from Neptune coach Colin O’Reilly to a missed call cost his team a technical. Thankfully for Neptune, Tralee missed the free throw.

But from here to the finish Tralee kept their noses in front. First it was 71 -69, then 72-69 before a Cian Heaphy free-throw reduced the led to two 72-70 with 90 seconds remaining.

Donaghy used all his experience hitting a big three and making great passes in this period, but Neptune still had plenty of good looks at the basket but unfortunately for Roy Downey, his three three-point attempts fell short and Tralee ran out worthy winners by six points to complete the double.

For Neptune the wait goes on for a league title. It will be 20 years next year.

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