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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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Kerry ladies must bounce back at home to Waterford

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All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2

Kerry v Waterford

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

The Kerry ladies will be looking to get back to winning ways against Waterford on Saturday following last weekend’s frustrating draw against Donegal in Ballybofey.

The Kingdom led with seconds remaining in treacherous conditions but a late Donegal free snatched a draw for the home side (Donegal 1-6 Kerry 0-9). It was a game that Kerry would have been expecting to win and the result puts a lot more pressure on them this weekend as they try to top the three-team group and earn a home quarter-final.

If they beat Waterford and Donegal do likewise next week, Kerry and Donegal will be level in first place on four points each. The top seed will then be decided by the head-to-head record between the teams. As Kerry v Donegal was a draw, the deciding factor will be whoever scored the most points in that draw. That would be good news for Kerry as they scored nine points to Donegal’s six.

When Kerry and Waterford last met (in this year’s Munster Championship), Kerry needed a late winner by Fiadhna Tangney to prevail by narrowest of margins (1-8 to 1-7). If Waterford beat Kerry and then lose to Donegal, Kerry would be eliminated from the championship.

The Kerry squad has been boosted by the return of Síofra O’Shea who came off the bench against Donegal following a lengthy period out with a knee injury.

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US-bound Kerry runner Lynch hopes to emulate Mageean magic

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by Adam Moynihan

Killarney middle distance runner Oisín Lynch is taking inspiration from newly crowned European 1500m champion Ciara Mageean as he gets set for the next stage of his career in the United States.

This week Lynch confirmed that he will be heading Stateside after accepting a scholarship at Adams State University in Colorado. The promising 800m and 1500m competitor caught the eye of coaches at the leading American college after representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics and also by winning two national titles in recent months.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, the 18-year-old Killarney Valley AC athlete, who is currently doing his Leaving Cert at St Brendan’s College, says he one day hopes to emulate Mageean’s heroics on the international stage.

“The Irish are on the up at underage and at senior level,” Lynch notes. “We have been improving a lot in recent years. When you see Ciara Mageean winning the 1500m it just shows that it can be done by Irish people.

“Sometimes Irish athletes don’t really believe in themselves when they’re getting knocked out of championships by English or European athletes. Mageean winning that European title is definitely something to drive me on. It shows that I can actually do it.”

DREAM

For Lynch, moving to the United States is a hugely significant step, and one that he has dreamed about making since he was a child.

“It’s unbelievable. I always hoped I could earn a scholarship. I worked hard over the last few years, so it’s nice to see that work paying off.

“I had a few schools onto me but when Adams State got in touch, I sized it up and I knew it was a really good opportunity.

“The fact that the college is at 7,500 feet… That’s a crazy altitude. It’s double the height of Carrauntoohil. Altitude training has massive benefits for distance running and nowadays nearly every pro spends most of their year training at altitude. The chance to get that training for the next couple of years is great.

“And their athletics programme is unbelievable. Coach Damon Martin has been there for 40 years and he has coached 12 Olympians. Adams State is in the top 15 for distance in the country and the standard out there in America is very high.”

STRIDES

Killarney Valley AC have made enormous strides since building their new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020 and Lynch is a grateful beneficiary of that progress.

“I can’t thank the club enough. Going back a couple of years we were training on grass in parks. When you want to be a track runner, it’s just not the same. After a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, we managed to get a 200-metre track in Killarney. That’s massive for us and it’s all we need for training.

“The coaches down there are putting in the hard work, including my dad (Con), Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, Jerry Griffin, Bríd Stack, Alan Delaney… I could go on. It’s a great club and there are some good athletes coming through. It’s an exciting time for Killarney Valley.”

After Lynch completes his Leaving Cert, he will start preparing for life as a college athlete. He will study kinesiology in Colorado and on the track he hopes to keep on moving in the right direction. That means getting his times down (his current PBs are 1.50.59 over 800m and 3.51 over 1500m), representing Ireland, and hopefully winning a national title in America.

“Obviously I’ll take every step as it comes,” the ambitious Kerryman says, “but the Olympics is the main long-term target, hopefully in LA in 2028.”

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