CLAIRE O’Sullivan just came off an amazing journey this season by winning the Women’s Super League with Glanmire a year after giving birth to her daughter Emma.
Claire grew up in Oranmore, Galway and played club basketball there for Maree. Stepped in the sport as a member of the Rockall family that backbone Maree, she lifted the U18 National Cup in 2008. She also played schools basketball with Calasanctius College in Oranmore, sweeping all before her with First Year, Second Year, U16 and U19 Schools All-Ireland titles.
Her obvious talent on the hardwood left to the Ireland squad, shining for her country in the U16 and U18 European Championships four summers in a row from 2005 to 2008. She later backboned the Irish team at senior level but having spent a year in the US with Iowa State University after school before joining Glanmire in 2009. That's where she's spent her career aside from one season with home club Maree in 2018.
“I moved to Cork in September 2009 for college to study PE teaching at UCC and Glanmire, at the time, was the only women's Super League club in Cork.
"In 2018 Maree entered the National League Division 1 and an opportunity to play with my home club alongside some of the girls that I grew up playing with was a no-brainer for me."
After picking up silverware in Galway, she switched back to Glanmire in 2020, but that season was cancelled by Covid. She then played the first five games of the 2021 season when she found out she was pregnant.
Now a veteran, on her comeback this season, she's now playing the best basketball of her career; at the end of the regular season, she was averaging over 25 points a game as a vital clog in Mark Scannell's team.
"Last year I was on the bench supporting for all our home games and was delighted for the girls winning all three trophies. Watching the big games from the bench was difficult, especially the cup games but we were so excited for my pregnancy journey which led to the birth of our daughter Emma last June.
“Personally this season has been the most challenging yet the most rewarding season for me. It has been so special to have Emma there at games but also trying to leave the house for a game or training with a small baby requires more organisation than I ever realised!
“I went back playing three months after having Emma which in hindsight was probably too early. I was breastfeeding for the first half of the season and that meant that Emma needed me every two or three hours, day and night. This made playing Super League basketball quite difficult! But thankfully we made it work."
Her husband is Cork Emporium Basketball player-coach Ciarán, so family support is crucial.
"We are lucky that our families helped out with minding Emma so we could go out to training and games. We are very grateful to them, especially my mum and Ciaran's mum. Training and games clashed, we couldn't have done it without them.
“For the first few weeks and months, I found it extremely tough. I couldn't commit to all of the training.
"But my coaches and teammates were very understanding so that made it a lot easier for me."
She was getting fitter with every training session but reaching Super League match speed was a different story.
"My reactions were slow and my speed with the basketball took some time to return. Pre-game routines went out the window with a newborn baby. My whole focus would be on Emma and getting her ready for the game until I got to the gym and could then shift my focus to my own preparation.
"On one hand that made me more relaxed that I wasn't overthinking the game. On the other hand I wasn't as prepared as I could.
“To be league champions with two games to play was a great achievement when you see the talent across the league and how competitive every team is.
"We will take a break at the end of the season for the summer and see then. No doubt the motivation will be back to play again but will have to wait and see!"