A combination of returning mainstays and talented transfers has bolstered the Blue Demons U20 squad as they seek to go one step further than a season previous.
After trailing by 17 points in the fourth quarter of last year’s Hula Hoops U20 National Cup Final, the Leesiders cut the deficit to three before they simply ran out of time in their comeback.
The heartache still resonates with well over half of the squad as many of last year’s young stars will have a second shot at reaching the pinnacle of underage club basketball. Equally heartbroken was Shane McCarthy will retake the reins as the head coach of this promising group alongside Troy O’Mahony.
“Last year’s loss left a real sour taste with our guys. We preach to them that every possession counts and to lose by the narrowest of margins really hit home with them.”
A convincing semi-final performance against Ballincollig in Neptune Stadium preceded their shortcoming in Tallaght, with the younger stars shining brightest.
One of those exciting players making a return for his final year of underage basketball is their starting point guard and underage international, Jack O’Leary, 19. He was one of the key orchestrators of last year’s cup run, complementing the ever-threatening Matthew McCarthy.
In my opinion, we have the two best guards in the age group with McCarthy and O’Leary.
"Ben Horgan who is one of the best shooters in the country regardless of age will play a bigger role and Colin Hannigan returns from a year out with exams.”
The absence of the frontcourt pairing of Jordan Ukah and Luke Sutton has been counteracted by the acquisitions of Ballincollig’s Isaac Errouteh and Fr Mathew’s Marvyn Konan.
Errouteh’s energy attracts rebounds and defensive stops for an otherwise undersized Demons outfit and Konan’s ability in the open floor lets Demons play an up-tempo brand of basketball.
The emergence of younger talent Jake Orji has been pivotal also, with the versatile forward allowing McCarthy to experiment with different lineups and rotations.
“Both Konan and Errouteh are exciting and athletic players. There will be a lot of pressure on Orji this year to fill the boots of Ukah and Sutton who are over the age limit.” McCarthy reckons that the most pivotal of all the acquisitions is the return of Daryl Cuff who was set to move to Florida to play high-school basketball before US Visa issues halted his plans.
“We are a deeper team this year so the national cup, national league and all local competitions are what the guys are really after.”