Maree stay top of the Southern Conference with the best record in the Men’s National League, following their 76 – 70 Saturday night win over Meadowlands St Brendan’s in Mercy Mounthawk gym, Tralee. Maree’s Liam Conroy was the game’s high scorer with 25 points, while Brendan’s dual star Michael Quirke was good for 22. Maree’s record moves to six wins and one loss; St Brendan’s drop to four and two.
Maree sent an eight-strong squad to Kerry, minus some key players - Danny Finn sidelined through an ankle injury, Peter Finn with study commitments in London , and Colm O’Hagan, Brian Kelly and Ciaran Harte on duty with the NUIG team in the 2010 Fresher’s tournament in UL. St Brendan’s were without another of their dual starts, Kieran Donaghy. Maree played at a feverish pace whenever fast break opportunities presented, and continued to play the high-intensity man-to-man defense that has become the hallmark of the Oranmore-Maree-based side. All the Maree starters scored in the first quarter, with Conroy good for five points, and Dave Hansberry grabbing 4. Maree Captain Darren Callanan was inspirational at the heart of the defense. He pulled down 12 rebounds, ably assisted by Sarunas Zvirblinskas with 7, despite the attention of Kerry big men Quirke and Saulius Marcinkevicius. Both Callanan and Zvirblinskas shipped mouth injuries, with the latter having to sit out some minutes due to the blood rule. At the end of the first quarter, St Brendan’s held a slender 17 – 15 lead.
A pattern developed in the second period. The Maree break, led by Conroy and Con Crowley, was out-pacing the St Brendan’s transition defense, and the visitors’ 4-out, 1-in half-court offence was drawing fouls. The main St Brendan’s threats were Quirke at low post, their fast break really only a factor when it came off early Maree shots. Gradually, Maree constructed an 11-point lead, with six from Conroy and five from Crowley (who finished with 20 ). However, Quirke then went to work off Transition from some bad Maree shot selection, and at the half, reducing the Maree lead at the half to 32 – 30.
It was nip-and-tuck in the third. Conroy added seven, Crowley five, and Dave Hansberry and Callanan four apiece. St Brendan’s had problems coping with Maree’s dribble penetration and seven of the Galway side’s 20 points in the period came at the free throw line. At the other end, it was fouls in the paint that were costing Maree, along with threes from Jason Quirke and Marcinkevicius. Maree’s Niall Higgins and young Tomas Mitkus put in valuable shifts, but Maree’s foul-count crept up, with Callanan, Zvirblinskas and Crowley on three, whereas no Brendan’s player had more than two The Tralee hosts pulled the game back to all square at 52 – 52. There was one quarter to go and the game was there to be won. Maree’s Ken Hansberry, a doubt because of a bug and still clearly feeling its effects, made his presence felt, and he and Mitkus came on the floor to stay, as Callanan and Zvirblinskas fouled out. Conroy kept the pressure on from the arc, with strong drives, lay-ups and free-throw shooting. Crowley hit a big three. Mitkus converted free throws. St Brendan’s Vinny Murphy hit a three to level the scores. With the game in the balance and less than 2 minutes to go, Dave Hansberry hit two free throws (eight points overall in the quarter ). With 45 seconds to go and St Brendan’s four behind, Quirke stepped to the foul line. He missed the first, and so, when he hit the second, his team was forced to press. Ken Hansberry blocked a shot, then grabbed a rebound, and the game ended sweetly for Maree, with a Mitkus fast-break dunk. No mean feat this for Maree, to come away from Tralee with a precious away win.
Next up for Maree is their Under 20 Men’s National Cup Quarter-final against Templeogue in Calasanctius gym on Friday night at 8:30. The eagerly awaited Men’s National Cup Quarter-final against Titans is scheduled for Renmore at 8pm on Saturday, and that afternoon in Dublin , Maree’s Under 18 Boys tackle Tolka, also in a National Cup Quarter-final.
Maree; Con Crowley (20 ), Dave Hansberry (16 ), Darren Callanan (6 ), Niall Higgins, Sarunas Zvirblinskas (4 ), Liam Conroy (25 ), Ken Hansberry, Tomas Mitkus (5 ).