Shannon Ní Chuinneagáin will bid farewell to Coláiste Ailigh in the coming weeks, but her talent on the basketball court will always be fondly remembered at the Letterkenny school.
After inspiring her school to an All-Ireland title three years ago, Ní Chuinneagáin returned to the National Basketball Arena in January and helped them pick up more silverware.
Coláiste Ailigh defeated Laurel Hill 48-27 in the U19B Girls final of the Pinergy All-Schools Cup.
Ní Chuinneagáin was phenomenal in the decider and helped herself to 33 points.
This week she was awarded the Donegal Sports Personalty of the Month for January in conjunction with Brian McCormick Sport & Leisure, and talked of her determination to succeed in her sixth and final academic year at Coláiste Ailigh.
“We started training early in the season and we set the goal to finish the year out with an All-Ireland title,” said Ní Chuinneagáin.
“It was great to be able to do that, especially as a lot of the team are leaving now this year.
“To do it in sixth year is nice. I’ll be sad to leave.
“The girls were great to play with and we had great coaches with Máistir Ó Comháin and Linda McGuinness.
“It was lovely to be with them right from first year to sixth year. We definitely put the work in and deserved to win.”
Ní Chuinneagáin and the other Leaving Cert students knew there would be no second chances if they didn’t perform so there was some pressure on the team.
“I think there was. After winning the All-Ireland Under 16 title back in 2019, we knew what the feeling was like when we won.
“So that pushed us on and we wanted to finish out with another All-Ireland title.
“After everything with Coronavirus and so on, it was great to get another All-Ireland under our belts.”
Ní Chuinneagáin was named MVP in the final for her impressive performance and Laurel Hill just couldn’t stop her from scoring.
However, she is adamant that it was far from a one-woman show.
“It was a good day. We trained really hard. We were out once or twice a week with the school team and then even more with club teams so it was definitely well deserved.
“The girls work so hard in offence and defence to try and get me the ball.
“It was definitely a big team effort.”
Coláiste Ailigh saw off St Louis from Kiltimagh in the semi-final.
That then set up a final with Laurel Hill and they knew they could win that as they defeated the Limerick school in the All-Ireland final at Under 16 level.
“I would say they won’t want to be seeing us any time soon,” said Ní Chuinneagáin.
“It was nice to be able to play them again. They put it up to us but thankfully it just went our way in the end.”
There were no major celebrations after the final, but there was a lot of goodwill for the players from their fellow students, and they do plan to mark the success soon.
“The restrictions were still kind of in place when we won so we’re trying to plan a nice wee dinner out now with the team in the coming weeks.
“We did have a big cavalcade back to the school after the game and everyone was delighted.
“The whole school was together and everyone enjoyed it.”
Ní Chuinneagáin’s star has been on the rise for some time now. She caught the eye in the National League last year, and was awarded December’s MissQuote.ie Division 1 player of month while playing for LYIT Donegal.
Just last week, it was announced that she was named Young Player of the Year for Division 1 and will be honoured at Bastketball Ireland’s Annual Awards on May 14.
“I played in the National League last season with LYIT.
“Before Covid hit, I was playing with them but the season was cut short, so for two years we weren’t really doing much.
“Last year was my first proper season, and it was great. We got a few wins and I had one or two personal achievements as well.”
The Leaving Cert is the next big challenge for the Letterkenny woman, and if all goes well she will continue her basketball career in America later this year.
“I’ve just finished up with the National League team and I’ve finished my career with Letterkenny Blaze as well.
“I was playing with them from when I was six year old so I was sad to leave.
“As of right now, I’m just trying to find somewhere to go to college, and I’m looking at prep schools in the States.
“If I don’t head to the States, I’ll play for another National League team next year or a Super League team in Ireland.
“But I’m hoping to get to the States. I need to make sure I get the grades.
“I’ve worked hard but I think I found the right balance between training and studying.
“Hopefully everything goes to plan.”
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