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Killarney hoopers ready for long-awaited tip-off

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by Adam Moynihan

After a frustrating year-and-a-half of inactivity due to COVID-19, Killarney’s two Men’s National League teams will finally take to the floor this weekend as the race for the 2021/22 Division 1 title gets underway across the country.

While other sports have gone ahead intermittently in 2020 and 2021, and most have been back in full swing for a number of months now, basketballers in Ireland have been forced to sit on the sidelines throughout the pandemic. This has been due to stricter guidelines when it comes to indoor activities but with those restrictions now (hopefully) a thing of the past, it’s time to play some ball.

It promises to be a very interesting season indeed for Killarney basketball fans, who now have two teams to follow at National League level. It is a remarkable turn of events considering the fact that in the not too distant past we had no teams at all competing at this grade.

More learned observers than this journalist have questioned whether or not a town of Killarney’s size can maintain two National League teams. Well, readers, we’re about to find out.

COUGARS

Let’s start with the new kids on the block.

We say “new” but in reality many of the Killarney Cougars players will be very familiar to local basketball supporters, and even more familiar to their crosstown rivals. Mark Greene, Justin Tuason, Andy Fitzgerald and other squad members have previously represented the Lakers in the National League, a fact that is sure to add some extra spice to the December 30 fixture between the two town clubs.

The 2020/21 campaign was meant to be the Cougars’ first at national level but COVID put paid to those plans. Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week, Greene said he and his teammates can’t wait to get out on the court.

“We’re very excited to finally get going,” the Killarney native said. “We had a long time off the court – I think we had around four weeks of proper training last year – so it’s great that the new season is starting now on Saturday.”

Basketball seemed to take a back seat in the public discourse around the resumption of sporting activities but Greene is not surprised. Like other Irish basketball players, he has grown accustomed to his chosen sport playing second fiddle to the big-hitters.

“We all know that soccer and the GAA are going to take precedent. They’re more professional and more popular in this country, and they’re outdoor as well which helps with the COVID restrictions. With the nature of basketball being indoors and close contact, it’s always going to be bottom of the pile. Especially, as I said, with the popularity of it as well. It hasn’t been too frustrating from that point of view because it was to be expected.”

Under the guidance of experienced head coach Ignas Sijanas, the Cougars, who will play their home games in the Pres Gym, have assembled a decent-looking squad. It’s one that Greene feels is capable of being competitive at the second highest level of Irish basketball, although he is still hopeful that they can bring in a couple more players to bolster their roster.

“We’d probably want one or two more bodies,” he admitted. “We have four or five guys on the fringes, we don’t know if they’re coming with us or not, and we could do with one or two of them to get a nice rotation going. But we’re not too bad. We’ll be competitive anyway.

“Mark O’Shea is after joining from Ballincollig, he’s looking very good. Conor Flynn has joined from Killorglin. Con O’Mahony is coming in from Farranfore, we’re expecting good minutes from him. Billy Wiseman is there to give Andy a break. And Jack Lynch is looking like a promising young player as well.

“We want to see if this project can work: building a solid foundation with local players, not being heavily reliant on imports.

"Let’s see if we can get some good results, be competitive and maybe that fourth spot (the final qualification spot from the southern conference) won’t be a million miles away. I think UL, Mathews and Demons look like shoo-ins on paper anyway, so I think that fourth spot could be between ourselves, Paul’s (Lakers), Portlaoise… That could be in the sights.”

The Cougars get their season up and running by welcoming one of those top teams, the UCC Demons, to the Pres Gym on Saturday. Tip-off: 7.30pm.

LAKERS

Although they are now facing into their fourth season back in the big leagues, the Scotts Lakers are also heading into uncharted waters. They have a new coach in Jarlath Lee and a young roster that is virtually unrecognisable from the last time they took to the court for an official game.

That being said, they certainly have plenty of talent at their disposal. Local lads Mark O’Shea and Dylan O’Sullivan will be joined by former St Paul’s Super League player Dainius Varanauskas, 6’5” Bulgarian Emilian Grudov, and Canadian point guard Ben Miller, who has returned to the club having initially signed up for the abandoned 2020/21 season.

Miller says the initial set-back of missing out on his first season in Irish basketball due to COVID was a “little frustrating”, but he is now ready to lead the Lakers to a run at the playoffs.

“I think our goal is to be at the top of the league, or at least in the top couple of spots. I know we’re a bit younger (as a squad), but I think that will be a realistic goal for us.

“We’re filling in some pieces now and adding a bit more depth. The squad is shaping up pretty well. Our young players have a lot of talent and a lot of potential. They’re really willing to learn and work at the game; it’s been fun meeting them and trying to teach them a thing or two.”

Miller will be the team’s primary ball carrier and he hopes he can use all his experience to propel the Lakers to a successful season.

“I hope to be a steady, consistent player who shares the ball with everyone and does what it takes to get wins.”

This year the Lakers will return to the Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their first home game coming on November 13 against UCC Demons. The side’s opening fixture sees them take on the Limerick Celtics away on Saturday.

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Fleming and Doherty top Killarney crew at Boggeragh

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The Boggeragh Rallysprint, organised by Cork Motor Club and based in the forest complex of the same name, took place over the Christmas break.

Based near the village of Nad, the event attracted a strong 60-plus car entry and was won by West Cork driver David Guest and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan in a Ford Fiesta Rally 2. The latter is a member of Killarney and District Motor Club.

The first all-Killarney crew to make the finish were David Fleming and Kieran Doherty in their Honda Civic. The Killarney-based crew finished 20th overall on what was only their second time competing on a gravel rally.

World Rally Championship launch

The new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid that Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive in this year’s World Rally Championship is set to be unveiled on Saturday in Austria.

The World Rally Championship will undergo major environmental changes this year when new technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.

The season launch takes place at Red Bull’s headquarters near Salzburg ahead of the first round of the WRC, next week’s Rallye Monte Carlo, as a new era for the sport dawns.

Breen and Nagle will be in attendance and the launch will be live streamed on WRC.com

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Killarney Valley athletes rubbing shoulders with the best

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Killarney Valley AC continued their upward curve last Sunday when they entered men’s and women’s teams in the prestigious National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held in Abbotstown in Dublin.

Despite going up against the best of the best in terms of Irish athletics, the Killarney Valley contingent gave a good account of themselves at the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena, with coaches Tomás Griffin and Con Lynch coming away with plenty of positives to reflect upon.

The women’s team was comprised of Sarah Leahy, Ciara Kennelly, Alison Butler, Grace O’Meara, Ellen Moloney and Melissa Ahern, while the men’s team included Conor Gammell, Oisín Lynch, Kevin O’Callaghan, Sam Griffin, Jason O’Reilly, Dara Looney and Darragh O’Leary.

The nature of the team event presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the forward-thinking club, as coach Tomás Griffin explained to the Killarney Advertiser this week.

“The indoor league is senior elite level so you’re competing against really strong athletes, including some Olympians,” Griffin said. “Part of the criteria is that you try to cover as many of the events as you possibly can within all of the athletic disciplines. You compete as a team, as opposed to normal athletics competitions which are very much based on the individual.

“If you are 16 or you turn 16 in the year of competition, you can participate. That allows us to give our up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to compete as part of a representative team alongside our more established, older athletes.

“There are two rounds with half the events in all disciplines covered in Round 1 and the other half in Round 2. Last week in Round 1 the track events were the 50m sprint, the 200m sprint, and the 800m, along with the 4 x 400m relay. So, for those events alone, you have to have sprinters and you have to have middle distance athletes all stepping up to compete against one representative from all the other clubs.

“The field events were the shot putt, the long jump, and the pole vault. You can see there you’ve got to have a pretty diverse club that is trying to focus on as many disciplines as possible on the development sides of things.”

POINTS

Individual athletes earn points based on where they finish in their event (12 points for first etc.), with points tallied together to make up the team’s overall total. There are 12 clubs vying for the women’s title and 13 fighting for the men’s. After Round 2, which takes place on January 23 in Athlone, the top six clubs will advance to the finals.

The demands that such a competition place on a club mean that it is a major achievement to be able to take part at all. Apart from Killarney Valley, Leevale AC from Cork were the only other club in Munster who fielded a team.

“For us to have enough athletes of that age or above, that are competent enough in their disciplines to be able to represent us and compete – and score – is a significant breakthrough. We scored quite well across some of the events. There were some events that we struggled to cover because we’re still trying to develop the full range, but as a club we know that we need to develop those disciplines.

“And we have some younger athletes who are 13 or 14 and they’re now learning pole vault, for instance. If we can maintain the momentum then we will have pole vaulters in a couple of years’ time.”

ENJOYMENT

Griffin says the Killarney Valley competitors really enjoyed the experience, while also putting in some impressive performances.

“They loved it. The bigger powerhouse clubs have very high-profile athletes at their disposal; there were four Olympians whom our athletes got to compete against and interact with.

“Our own Sarah Leahy did exceptionally well in the 60m sprint. She ran the joint fastest time in the league, a personal best of 7.61 seconds, which is the fastest she has ever run 60m indoors.

“In the men’s 60m sprint, Conor Gammell made the top five and ran a personal best. We also had Sam Griffin, who is normally a long jumper, who ran a personal best of 7.58 seconds. He finished third in his race. Dara Looney, another long jumper who was doubling up on sprints, finished fifth and also had a personal best.

“Melissa Ahern, an up-and coming sprinter, ran 8.43 seconds, and Ellen Moloney, who was a first-timer at this level, ran a personal best as well. We have a good batch of sprinters competing and it’s good to expose them to this level.

“Alison Butler scored some valuable points for us in the 800m, and in the men’s 800 Oisín Lynch ran a massive personal best. Our shot putt thrower Kevin O’Callaghan is new to athletics; he had to throw an adult shot (7.2kg) for the first time and he did well, scoring five points for us. In fact, he threw the heavier weight nearly as far as he had been throwing the lighter weight.”

Griffin was keen to stress the importance of each individual team member to the overall group effort and whatever happens in Round 2, he is convinced that entering the competition will have huge benefits in the long run.

“We set ourselves of goal of having a team at National League level by 2023 so we’re a year ahead in that regard. It shows that we’re on the right trajectory.”

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