It has been some year for The Ambassador UCC Glanmire player Claire Melia as in her first season playing with the club, she helped them complete the Grand Slam in Irish basketball.
Melia is now a household name in Irish basketball as her displays throughout the campaign earned her MVP in the National Cup and Champions Trophy finals.
Claire grew up in Monasterevin, Kildare, when the town had no basketball court and was primarily geared to be a Gaelic footballer until the age of 16. Yet Melia's class mean that after playing club basketball with Portlaoise before securing a Division One scholarship to St Joseph’s Philadelphia.
Everything about Melia’s sports life is underlined by her honesty both on and off court, but many people were shocked when she quit after a season with the American college.
“I know probably people were thinking I couldn’t handle the workload, or I was homesick, but those assertions were totally wrong as I was getting plenty of court time and was treated great. But I couldn’t handle how some of my fellow players were getting over a game of basketball.”
It was what she felt emotionally that forced her to depart the American college scene, having had a tremendous first season that saw her chip in with 18 points in the first game and in her cool way she glided through the season. However, Melia could clearly see what some of her teammates were going through as the season matured.
“It wasn’t nice, what I was witnessing after training sessions and games as I hate to see people treated badly. I wanted to take some of their hurt. To be that upset over a game of basketball at the age of 19 and 20... these are the years you should be really enjoying life and not crying over a sport.”
In her 12 months in the US, she soon felt that women’s sport is second class.
“It was always hard to get a ticket for the men’s games, although they were not doing as well as us.”
Claire would like to see more people support women’s sport in general as she recalled playing underage with Ireland.
“When we got on a roll you could see the arena filling up and I remember clearly feeling gratified that we were achieving something to the general public.”
In the words of Melia, she knew that she had a good home and friends to come home to and she decided that life in American college basketball wasn’t for her.
The one question that many people will ask Claire is how she ended up playing basketball for The Address UCC Glanmire in the Super League?
“Truthfully, I always wanted to be coached by Mark Scannell as I missed playing in 2018 with the Irish senior women’s team when the Small Countries European were held in Cork in 2018 as I was recovering from injury.”
After returning from injury Claire discussed her move to Cork with her parents and on their advice, she was told to give it a go and have no regrets.
In the Covid-19 year, Claire trained pre-season with Glanmire and just when the season was ready to start the curtain came down and she had to wait another year to get back playing again.
Over the years, the influence of coach Mark Scannell has attracted some wonderful players to the Cork club and Claire was quick to praise his ability.
“Outside of his coaching knowledge, it’s his honesty with players that really impresses me and after playing one season with him, it’s little wonder he has helped bring so much silverware to Glanmire.”
When Claire was a young girl, she used to watch Glanmire playing quite a bit where stalwarts Aine McKenna and Casey Grace were always key players. Little did she ever think that one day she would one day rub shoulders with them.
“To be honest, there is such a family environment down in Glanmire that I now feel after 12 months, that I am very much part of it because that’s how well they have treated me.”
In September 2021 Claire lost her mother Shirley and again she pointed to the incredible support she received from her new teammates and club officials at Glanmire.
“It certainly was the correct season to be with this group of girls as they were a rock for me through the dark days.
“I have two sisters that played Gaelic football with Kildare and I also have two brothers, and with Daddy, we all help one another. That’s what family is all about.
Back in January Glanmire won an epic National Cup final against DCU Mercy with Melia giving one of the best performances ever witnessed at basketball headquarters.
Trailing by 14 points in the last quarter, Melia decided to go on a solo mission that saw the Cork side comeback to snatch the title with the Kildare lady deservedly claiming the MVP award.
“We looked in trouble and when I banked a three-pointer, I actually felt mammy was court with me and somehow my teammates and I found another gear to win the final.
“I was delighted for Aine and Casey as they had a little drought in the years before this final and to get back on the winners rostrum was very special for everybody associated with the club.
“May I also add that having good American players is crucial. Although it took a while to get the right pairing, Carrie Shepherd and Tierney Pfirman were outstanding both on and off court.”
The Scannell factor was once again brought up by Melia as she praised the man at the helm for his contribution over the season.
“I think the word ‘respect’ springs to mind when I try and describe Mark Scannell because – not alone me – but the majority of players have a lot of time for him in the manner he conducts his business.”
When a team wins a National Cup title, the majority of players would be setting their sights on celebrations. But for the Glanmire team, after the January win it was time to show Claire Melia respect before they headed back to Leeside.
“The players accompanied my family and I to mammy’s grave and that was a touch that was actually better than winning the title and something that I will remember and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.
“My family were astounded on how a group of basketball players could show that humanity and yes it was a very special touch.”
Glanmire lost two games this season and both were when Claire was sidelined through injury and that shows the incredible contribution she made over the campaign.
“I think after winning the cup, all we had it in our heads was to complete the Grand Slam and I think few would doubt the quality we had in the team.”
The one negative for Melia this season has been the frustration of not getting protected by referees in certain games.
“I am 6’3” and I am well able to mix it and don’t expect any special treatment, but in many games this season I have been hit hard with no punishment to the offenders and then when I try to protect myself, I get hammered.”
At the moment, Claire Melia is her final year at Carlow IT. Looking to her future; that is up in the air for now.
On weekly basis during the basketball season before games, Claire Melia visits her mother’s grave with her father and brother, Stephen.
“I suppose it gives me inspiration and when I go on court I feel she is with me all the time and that’s a great feeling.”
There is little doubt Claire Melia is a class act in every sense. At the tender age of 22, to be rated the best player in this country is no mean feat.