Basketball returns to the courts with Galway clubs, Moycullen and NUIG Maree, back in Super League action for another season.
Both will play in the Southern Conference of the newly-formed league, along with Neptune, Killorglin, Tralee and promoted side Ballincollig, while the Northern Conference comprises Templeogue, DCU St Vincents, UCD Marian, Belfast Star, Eanna and Killester.
And to make the start interesting, the Galway sides will meet in the opener at the Kingfisher. Last season they finished level on 21 points last season, just one place off the relegated Dublin Lions, but in the local derbies, it was Maree who held the upper hand, taking the points on both occasions.
Since then it has been a "roller coaster of a pre-season", according to Moycullen coach John Cunningham, with many unknowns, including the possible loss of three players who are awaiting test results having been declared close contacts of positive Covid cases. In addition the club is operating with a "greatly reduced" budget, and has been forced to move its home fixtures to Claregalway, while also training in Corrandulla. "With no supporters, Kingfisher is just not viable from a cost point of view," he says, "but hoping to return when its possible."
Instead the Kingfisher gym is the new home of the rebranded NUIG Maree side, with the university having partnered with Maree for the first time. New coach Charlie Crowley says is a massive boost for the club as his "ambitious bunch of players continue to step forward at the elite level".
It also means NUIG Maree have availed of the college's Victory Scholar programme which Moycullen traditionally used, and the south Galway outfit will have former Lafayette College guard Kyle Stout, who is studying a Masters at NUIG, on board this season. Although Moycullen miss out, they have been able to keep Grant Olsson on board, which is a boost.
"Grant was a fantastic asset for us last year, both as a player and a leader on court. He is an all-round good guy and driving force off court," says Cunningham.
The Moycullen coach believes his players are in good shape, but have lost Patrick Lyons, who has signed a pro contract in Germany, while Paul Kelly has been called into the Galway senior football squad.
However, Eoghan Kelly, who was USA bound for college, remains in Moycullen to study on-line due to Covid, Paul O’Brien, who returns, adds extra size and experience, and Josh Marvesley is looking to build on a positive contribution last year. Kyle Cunningham, Joseph Tummon and Connor Curran, despite still being U23, now have several seasons under their belt, while James Connaire, James Lyons, and Dara Kenna all enjoyed solid seasons last year.
Veteran, Dylan Cunningham remains a core part of Moycullen, and a new addition is Spaniard Adria Flores Moliner, who is in Galway for the year. Another newcomer is Paraic Lenihan, who has moved up from the winning U20 side, but he is unavailable for some time having picked up an injury with Barna footballers in the county championship.
Performance and consistency
NUIG Maree's Charlie Crowley, a former college coach, says this first year in charge is all about performances and consistency.
"In previous seasons we have produced some big performances against top teams and then failed to perform against teams we could have beaten. This season it is more about putting three or four good performances back to back, and that will be step in the right direction.
"Coming from playing to management, my ambition is about having fun. Sometimes because of the pressure to win, players don't enjoy the game, so having fun is a big step in the right direction to getting performances."
Having lost the use of its traditional home base at Calasanctius hall, which has been converted for school staff, Crowley says the new partnership with NUIG is both timely and exciting for the club.
"A big boost. It allows our players access to the best facilities, including strength and conditioning, physio, and sporting facilities."
This opening weekend of basketball action sees NUIG Mystics in action tomorrow evening against Limerick Sport Huskies at Limerick IT Sportshall (8pm ) in division one; Titans, in the men's division one, are also away, facing LYIT Donegal on Saturday (5pm ); In the women's Super League, Maree host IT Carlow in Claregalway (7pm ), while the men's Super League takes place in the Kingfisher, also at 7pm. This fixture will be streamed live.
NUIG Maree squad: Toms Fabriscuss, Eoin Rockall, Erkam Kiris, Kenneth Hansberry, Ciaran Blaney, Kyle Stout, Paul Freeman, Darren Callanan, John Burke, Evan O’Rourke, Ciaran Harte, Ben Burke, Mark Devanney Wynne, Kevin Navarro, Stephen Commins, Oisin Holland. Coach: Charlie Crowley.
Moycullen squad: Adria Flores Moliner, Connor Curran, Dara Kenna, Dylan Cunningham, Eoghan Kelly, Ger Davoren (new from underage ), Grant Olsson, James Connaire, James Cummins (new from underage ), James Lyons, Joseph Tummon, Josh Marvesley, Kyle Cunningham Paraic Lenihan (new from underage ) Paul Kelly, Paul O’Brien (returning ). Coach: John Cunningham, Asst coach: Dara Canavan.