Top six still the target for Moycullen Basketball

Linley MacKenzie

Moycullen Basketball Club, with neither a home nor a gym in which to train, continues to cherish hopes of making it into the top six in Ireland's Super League.

For some 40 years or more, Moycullen has consistently battled to stake their claim in the top echelons of Irish basketball. Given the club's locality, drawing from the western hinterland of Galway and the city's schools, Moycullen has always punched above its weight. It remains one of the most successful clubs at underage - the U20s won this year's National Cup - but breaking into a tightly-held top six spot is proving more difficult.

This season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus outbreak, and there was something of a sigh of relief. Moycullen finished second bottom of the Super League - level on points with local rivals Maree. And with one remaining fixture, they could have been heading for a relegation play-off.

"Potentially, it saved us from relegation, we could have been in that situation," says coach and long-time Moycullen player John Cunningham. Yet the stats belie what was a solid season for the westerners.

"We played very well and we had a better team, but the league was far more competitive. The two teams that had been promoted, DBS Eanna and Neptune, were leading the league at some stages of the season, and it was a case that every team could beat any other on a given day."

While Moycullen beat the league winners, they still finished second from bottom, lacking consistency.

"It was a great league because every night you had a chance to win. We beat Templeogue, but lost to Lions - we were the only team that did, and they were bottom of the league - but in my opinion we were better than last year."

Raw deal

Like most Super League teams, Moycullen is boosted with US college basketball players. Two shared the court last season, the remainder of the team is "born and bred" in the area, which has always attracted a solid support from the community.

The nature of the game also helps to attract spectators to their current home venue at NUI Galway, but it is like apples and oranges when comparing it to other sports in Galway.

"If we have a couple of euros left in the bank when we finish each season, it's a bonus. For the amount of people playing the game, its promotion of both female and male participants, the opportunity for a high profile, and being an indoor game in winter, we really get a raw deal in a lot of ways in regards to profile, infrastructural support, and that type of thing," Cunningham says.

"We had great crowds this year, the Moycullen support has always been good - built up over the last 40 years - and it is a great spectator game. There was a bunch of one-point games, we beat Star in over-time, and the games are highly entertaining because there is something happening every 24 seconds."

Despite promoting athleticism and fitness in a what is an action-packed and fast game, basketball in Ireland struggles to get a high profile despite being among the top six participant sports in Ireland. Nothing is televised other than the national cup finals, but this year every team was encouraged to stream games on-line.

Particularly important in Galway is the rivalry between Moycullen and Maree which has been developed at youth level.

"It has definitely brought an edge to the Super League for us. That rivalry is there from U10s. We both struggle in the Super League, but at underage level we are both in the top four or five. Over the last 15 years we are both consistently among the top clubs in the country.

"It is nice to have that local derby. A lot of the players would have played together and still play together, say on college teams, so when we compete against each other, there is a real edge."

With both struggling at the top level, there have been calls for the two clubs to merge for the Super League.

"It's not as simple as that," Cunningham says. "There is no great crossover because we are on opposite sides of the city - we are both commuter towns - and it would probably damage the development that we both do at underage level."

Nomads

Cunningham came through the club's youth system and started playing for the senior team in 1989 when just out of secondary school. He played every season of Super League basketball until retiring in 2009. He is now in his fifth year at the helm and the target remains to make it into the top six and a play-off.

'The first two years we came pretty close - particularly the second year when we got within two games of it," he says.

That was a consistently strong side with players such as James Loughnane and Cian Nihill, whose father Gerry was involved for many years. But like many small clubs, they have to rebuild every few years.

While most of the other teams in the league have one European professional - sometimes two - in addition to a US player, Moycullen relies on the scholarship programme with the US. Eanna brought in four pros to play Super League last season, making it more difficult for teams such as Maree and Moycullen to compete.

However, Cunningham remains both optimistic and goal driven for his bunch of "nomads".

"Our aim always is can we get out of the bottom three or four, and how to scrape into the top six. We always have movement, a lot of flux, so we always end up playing with a very young bunch of guys who are being asked to play a man's game."

 

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