IRELAND'S senior 3X3 teams got another busy summer of international basketball underway in the FIBA 3X3 Europe Cup Qualifiers over the bank holiday weekend.
A disappointing ending to the mini-series saw both the men’s and women’s sides fall short in the knockout stages after topping their groups.
Limassol, Cyprus played host to a handful of ten-minute outdoor three versus three games in a modern format of play that has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years, especially following its debut at the 2021 Summer Olympic Games.
Cork-based Colin O’Reilly and Paul Kelleher coached the two senior sides which featured three Cork natives among the eight travelling players.
The men opened their account with a comfortable win over Albania on Saturday morning. They surged out to a 6-0 lead on the back of some stellar scoring and overpowering defence from Jordan Blount.
The Irish maintained their advantage with flashes of impressive athleticism and playmaking from Neptune’s Cian Heaphy to win the race to twenty-one points, 21-10.
They continued their dominance with a win in similar fashion that afternoon against Cyprus. Sean Flood featured prominently in this matchup against the hosts, returning to familiar pastures after playing professionally an hour from Limassol with Omonia Nicosia last season.
His efficient outside scoring saw Ireland coast to a 21-13 victory, winning their pool ahead of the semi-finals.
The women got their campaign off to a similar start, downing Kosovo in their first group game. Fr Mathews’ Gráinne Dwyer helped to lead a comeback late in the game to secure victory as the final buzzer sounded, 16-13.
A narrow defeat to Andorra was enough to see Ireland remain top of their group as they would await Luxembourg in their semi-final.
Day 2 saw the men take on Cyprus once again and it was evident that the hosts were eager for revenge.
A feisty and physical matchup saw the two teams locked at five points apiece after three minutes.
A high-flying drive to the basket and a three-pointer from Heaphy bought Ireland some much-needed breathing room as they headed into the first timeout of the game.
John Caroll, who just finished his season playing professionally for Albacete in Spain, was vital for Ireland as they surged towards victory.
The 6’8” forward offered scoring from all over the court to compliment the inside presence of Blount.
An 11-3 run to close out the game meant Ireland would reach the final of the qualifiers with their second win over the hosts, 21-13.
The women’s side struggled against the intense defensive pressure of Luxembourg as they forced countless tough shot attempts and numerous shot-clock violations.
Falling behind by five with four minutes to play, Ireland simply could not put together the efforts needed to mount a comeback, eventually losing out by eleven points, 21-10.
Twenty-one year-olds Enya Maguire and Lynn Tunnah of Houston Baptist University and Templeogue BC certainly impressed over the two days alongside experienced senior internationals Fiona O’Dwyer and the forementioned Gráinne Dwyer.
Azerbaijan stood between the men’s team and a spot in the FIBA 3X3 Europe Cup in their Sunday evening final.
Another physically testing battle was on the cards and it became apparent that Ireland simply didn’t have enough left in the tank to battle with their opponents on the interior.
Colin O’Reilly’s men began to substitute even more rapidly than before in an effort to keep fresh legs on the court.
A late Jordan Blount step back found the bottom of the net before being quickly followed by a flurry of hopeful heaves from the Irish in a hurried effort to regain the lead.
It proved to be too little too late for Ireland as their rescue mission proved unsuccessful, losing out after time had elapsed, 20-16.
While both outfits will look back on what could have been, the qualifiers will be a springboard for what is to come for Ireland in this competition in the coming years.
Basketball Ireland have made their intent clear by selecting the country’s most talented pro’s and U.S. college athletes to represent Ireland in 3X3 competition.
The governing body will also host their first 3X3 focused basketball camp next month in the effort to grow interest in 3X3 at the grassroots level.
The players involved will now rejoin the regular international squads as they prepare for the remainder of the summer competitions, including a Men’s FIBA Eurobasket 2025 Qualifying game against Switzerland in the National Basketball Arena on July 3rd.