On Saturday in Gurranabraher Cork, Maree won the biggest under 14 Boys basketball tournament in the country, beating Neptune 47 – 39 in the final. The one-day competition featured Sligo all stars, Neptune , Moycullen, Blue Demons, Ballincollig, St Brendan’s, Fr Mathews and Carrig na bhFear. This Maree team has shown dramatic improvement from last season, when they failed to advance from the pool stage of the Under 13 Cork Open. A sign of the form that was to pay such dividends on Saturday was Maree’s performance in reaching the final of the Limerick Celtics tournament in September.
Maree’s first game – after a freezing 7am trek to Cork! – was a tussle with Ballincollig. The Oranmore-Maree boys prevailed 37 – 28. Next up were Carrig na bhFear and again Maree came out on top 31 – 22, advancing to the knockout phase as pool winners. In their quarter-final, Maree were up against Blue Demons and won really well, on a 49 – 19 scoreline. Their confidence was growing, although the tournament favourites, Neptune , had cruised through their pool and quarter-final.
Maree’s semi-final was against Galway neighbours Moycullen, who had lost a pool game to Neptune , but advanced as runners-up in their pool, going on to then win their quarter-final. Although the Maree half-time lead was only 10 – 8, and Moycullen’s Kyle Cunningham was a handful, Maree pushed on in the second half and won well, 36 - 18. On the other side of the draw, although they trailed for much of the game, Neptune came through to the final with a 52 – 44 win over Sligo All Stars, with Jordan Blunt their top gun.
This Maree team was contesting its first ever Cork Open final, and against a Cork team, and one from the famous Neptune club. Maree needed a good start and they got it, with an Eoin Rockall drive and lay-up. Both sides traded baskets before two crucial lay-ups and free throws from Rian Maher and Ciaran Blaney opened up a gap. Diarmuid Byrne and Rian were winning the defensive rebounds, while Jim Crowley was a constant threat in offence. Maree led 17 - 9 at the end of the first period.
Song Song Du put Maree 10 points up at the start of second, but Neptune quickly replied hitting six unanswered points, to pull it back to19 -15. The Maree players on court - including MoBei Du, Ruairi Corry and Adam Cox - settled into a fantastic defensive performance, shutting down Neptune's attack, while Charlie Crowley and Song Song Du hit shots and lay-ups to put Maree ahead 28 - 19 at half time.
Neptune ’s Jordan Blunt was brilliant in the third quarter, hitting shots from well outside the three-point line, and Maree were finding it hard to get scores. The Maree lead was cut to a slender 34 - 32, with one quarter to go and the momentum Neptune ’s. Maree had to dig deep. Song Song Du was fouled on a fast break, and scored a free throw to make it 35 - 32. Charlie Crowley scored a basket that brought it to 37 - 33. Song Song Du kept Maree ahead 39 – 34. Rian Maher notched a bucket at 41 – 36, but Neptune stayed in touch. Eoin Rockall maintained the lead at 43 - 37 and Neptune had to put on a full-court press as a last-gasp measure. Maree kept their composure, with Charlie Crowley and Eoin Rockall doing a great job controlling the ball and running down the clock. Rian Maher hit another shot to make it 45 - 37. Rian Maher scored a lay-up on the buzzer and it was all over, with Maree the champions and the night journey back to Galway a happy one. Song Song Du and Rian Maher top-scored with 13 apiece. Joint captains Charlie Crowley and Song Song Du lifted the cup.
Team: Ciaran Blaney (5 ), Diarmuid Byrne, Ruairi Corry, Adam Cox, Charlie Crowley (7 ), Jim Crowley, MoBei Du, Song Song Du (13 ), Rian Maher (13 ), Tomas O'Flaherty, Eoin Rockall (9 ).