This week Adam Moynihan caught up with Sofia Paska, the 6’4” Toronto native who is hoping to lead St Paul’s to National League glory
Hi Sofia. Thanks for speaking to me today.
No problem. Thanks for asking.
How have you found Killarney since arriving last year?
Killarney is a refreshing change of scenery, especially for myself coming from a big city back home.
You were in Limerick before you came to Kerry?
Yes, I played for the Limerick Celtics for two years.
Tell me about your background in basketball before coming to Ireland. Has the game always been part of your life?
I started playing basketball when I was 10 years old. Once the doctor told my parents I was going to be quite tall they decided to put me into basketball. Growing up I played on club teams, school teams, and summer travel teams. I played five years of college ball at Ryerson University (Toronto Metropolitan University) in Canada, where I got my degree in Early Childhood Education and a certificate in Human Resources.
Then I went on to play professionally in Denmark before I came to Ireland.
Was a professional career always on the cards?
I only saw myself playing professionally when I was near the end of my university career. My mom and dad and coaches back home really pushed me to play overseas because it’s an experience and an opportunity that not everyone gets.
What do you think of the standard of basketball here, and the style of play?
I think the standard of play in Ireland is comparable in some aspects to how it is at home. It’s very physical and can be fast-paced at times.
What attracted you to the St Paul’s project?
I wanted to sign for St Paul’s because they were a new team in the National League and I thought that being part of a new club in a different part of Ireland would be good for me. Especially teaming up with Yuleska Ramirez Tejeda (my rival last season), I knew playing together would bring a new level of competitiveness and talent to the team.
I was also coached by James Fleming last season in Limerick and we have built a good relationship over the last couple years.
How would you sum up this season so far?
This season has been very rewarding. Coming in as a new team after not having a women's team in years, we have really showcased the talent that we have. We’re finishing the season as one of the top teams in the National League and I think that’s really great for the club.
Tell me about your teammates and your coach. What kind of relationship have you developed?
James has played a pivotal role in the team’s success. If you don’t know who he is, he’s usually the loudest coach on the sideline! He’s tough on us but he knows what we need to do to win games.
And my teammates this year have been great. We have all built a good relationship with each other and I think the relationship has gotten stronger as the season has gone on. I think we have all learned something from each other and that has helped the team to be successful.
What’s the mood like in the camp as the regular season draws to a close?
We’re all very tuned in during trainings. This Saturday we play our last game of the regular season before playoffs. It’s a big game for us - with a win Saturday we place top in the Southern Conference.
Then with playoffs around the corner we really need to improve on our strengths as a team and dial in on what we need to work on.
As it’s Women in Sport Week, I wanted to ask you about the issues facing female athletes today. What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in sport?
I would say the lack of exposure, financial support, and lack of confidence women have compared to male athletes. Female athletes at any level really go under the radar or get overlooked because they’re not advertised or acknowledged for their achievements as much as male athletes are.
I know this has been circulating the internet recently too about the wage gap between female and male athletes at any level which makes it harder for female athletes to make a living just off of playing a sport.
I also feel from my own experience that female athletes lack confidence and self-esteem when talking about themselves or comparing themselves to others. A big message to all female athletes is to believe in yourself and know your worth!
That’s great. Thanks for your time and good luck on Saturday.
National League Division 1
St Paul’s v Moy Tolka Rovers
Saturday at 7.30pm
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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