Jan Winner – Letterkenny Blaze
THE Letterkenny Blaze players didn’t hang towels over their heads or sulk as they spoke to family and friends in the moments after the final buzzer sounded.
Following their 48-57 loss to Templeogue in last month’s U18 Men’s National Cup final at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght they were all disappointed but not devastated.
Instead, the players and coaches chose to focus the future and the next grade (U20 National Cup) in a bid to ease the hurt associated with losing a National Cup final.
Twins Tadhg and Cian Hickey have been stand out players for the Blaze all season – their performances earning them both call-ups to the Irish U18 national squad who travel to Ukraine for the European Championships in July/August.
But when reasons are given for the success of the Blaze this season, the contribution of young guard/forward Andrew McGeever should not be overlooked.
“Cian and Tadhg deservedly get a lot of attention. The twins are by far the best players at the club,” McGeever, a fifth year student at St Eunan’s College, modestly said.
But McGeever, who stands at 6 foot 1 inch, is also a really good player in his own right and together with the Hickey twins, Matthew Deeney, Peter Lynch and Mark Thornton, he lines out with LYIT Ravens men’s team who ply their trade in the Ulster League.
McGeever top scored for Blaze in the final, hitting 16 points, but Templeogue captain Sean Flood proved to be the match winner for the Dublin side, hitting more than half of their scores in the decider which was played at Dublin’s National Basketball Arena.
“When you lose a national final it’s only natural to be disappointed but, overall, it was a great experience and we really enjoyed the occasion,” he said.
“It was a historic day for the club – our first ever national final. The whole place was buzzing and the support we had in Dublin was brilliant,” he added.
Blaze topped their qualifying group with minimum fuss, setting up a home quarter-final clash against last year’s National Cup champions, Belfast Stars. A tight game was expected, but the Letterkenny men blew away their opponents winning by 45 points.
They defeated Fr Mathews in the National Cup semi-final at the Neptune Stadium in Cork, setting up a final showdown with Templeogue.
“The final was in their backyard but we didn’t get going on the day and didn’t run our stuff properly. Templeogue were deserving winners but if we played them the following day I really think that we would have beat them,” he sighed.
While Andrew top scored for Blaze in the final he was quick to point out that basketball is a team spot.
“It doesn’t really matter how I play, or the twins or Peter or anyone else if we don’t win. Each and every one of the lads has given it their all at training throughout the year and the competition for places is so high. At training everyone is diving on the loose ball and we’re all fighting for a spot every day. It’s the same out on court. We’re like a brotherhood and we work together as a team – we’re like a family almost,” he said.
Basketball has been in Andrew’s blood from a young age. His father Ian is the team’s coach where he is assisted by Mark Cannon.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was about six. We don’t get as much coverage as the soccer and GAA players but everyone saw last month how good we are when we reached the cup final,” he said.
Andrew and his team mates have since returned to the court in style, beating Blackwater Steelers 103-44 with McGeever (34), Tadhg Hickey (24), Cian Hickey (20) and Peter Lynch (10) all reaching double figures while they extended their unbeaten league record with a win away to Newry Fliers last time out.
“We’ve three games left to play so the Ulster league title is looking good at this stage,” he smiled.
With that his mind is already looking forward to next year and possible schools success with St Eunan’s College.
They are through to the National Cup semi finals and games against St Malachy’s, Belfast, Presentation Bray and Kinsale next month but Andrew feels that 2015 presents them with a more realistic opportunity to secure some silverware.
“Next year most of us will be in sixth year and I honestly think that we can give the All-Ireland Schools competition a real go. As a club, we also would like to take part in the U20 National Cup,” he said.
At present, Letterkenny Blaze offers basketball to children between the ages of six and eighteen and, as a result, Andrew and his team mates might have to link up with LYIT Ravens to play in the U20 competition.
“We’ve lost a good few semi finals at schools level but have never won a final. We won two Ulster finals on the bounce but the national cup is on a different scale altogether. We enjoyed the experience this year but we would like to come back and win it next year,” he said.
The Letterkenny side have enjoyed a very impressive season but you get the feeling that it’s not quite over just yet.
Letterkenny Blaze panel: Tadhg Hickey, Cian Hickey, Andrew McGeever, Matthew Deeney, Peter Lynch, Mark Thornton, Sean McGettigan, Kevin Kealy, Raymond Rodgers, Thomas Vaughan, John MacIntyre, Oisin Clarke. Coach: Ian McGeever, Asst Coach: Mark Cannon