Maree retain National Cup in Tallaght thriller

Maree Basketball Club’s success at national level continued on Saturday when its u-20s retained the National Cup by the narrowest of margins in a pulsating final.

A loud and enthusiastic crowd in the National Basketball Arena Tallaght saw the Galway side overcome Cork’s Blue Demons by 66-64 with Maree’s Con Crowley claiming the MVP award and teammate Liam Conroy top-scoring with 17 points.

Conroy, Crowley and George Rahmani have now completed their remarkable underage careers with four National Cup wins each – two u-18 and u-20, while Colm O’Hagan also has four, and will be underage again next season.

This year’s final pitted the defending champions against Blue Demons who suffered at Maree hands in many finals over the years. Determined to reverse that trend, they had recruited 6’7” Pádraig Lucey, star of St Mary’s Castleisland’s win in the 2010 u-18 National Cup final, and they looked on course when overcoming UCD Marian, Tolka Rovers and Swords to earn their slot in this year’s final.

However they once again met their match in Maree, who had dispatched Longford Falcons, Templeogue and Neptune, but not before the lead changed 19 times during the game. Maree’s biggest lead was seven, while Demons’ was three, and they were tied on seven occasions. And although Maree led for 29 of the 40 game minutes, it came down to the last Demons’ shot. With less than a second to go, and Maree up by two, Demons missed the chance, and it was Maree who crowned an amazing nine-years unbeaten record.

Right from the tip-off, the intensity was ferocious. Demons’ opening three points came from the free-throw line - the first of six free throws in the first quarter. All of Maree’s 15 points came from play, including two three-pointers from Conroy and one from Ken Hansberry. George Rahmani put in shifts for Maree, pulling down two big offensive rebounds, while O’Hagan stole the ball and ran in two lay-ups.

Demons enjoyed a one-point lead going into the second quarter, but a Conroy basket gave Maree back the lead, and an O’Hagan three extended it. Demons responded, driving hard to the basket, forcing the fouls, and taking advantage at the free-throw line. Again, all of Maree’s scores in the period were from play, while Demons sank seven from the line. Mitkus and Enda Walsh scored some nice inside baskets, and they and Rahmani and Hansberry worked hard in the defensive paint to contain Lucey and O’Mahony. It paid off as throughout the course of the game, Maree won the battle of the rebounds 48 – 42, although at the half Demons still led, by 35-34, and Rahmani, Mitkus and Hansberry had three fouls each.

The second half started with an O’Hagan three and the lead retaken by Maree. Again Demons responded. The lead changed hands five times in a low-scoring quarter dominated by intense and stingy defences.

Mitkus hit four of Maree’s nine in the period, which ended with Maree just ahead 45 -44, as the switch to their trademark 3-2 defence began to work.

The last quarter produced a new pattern - Maree surged ahead, and Demons drew them back. The Cork team hit five fourth-quarter threes to Maree’s three (from Crowley, Hansberry and Conroy ).

It came down to Crowley, who stepped to the free-throw line with seconds to go and the game tied at 64 – 64. He calmly slotted both, while Demons’ last effort hit the basket but did not fall, and Maree had done it again, winning 66 - 64.

Maree Basketball Club has contested seven National Cup finals since 2007, winning five; u-18 boys and girls 2008, u-18 boys 2009, u-20 men 2010 and now 2011. Maree’s u-14 girls also won the All-Ireland Club title in 2008.

Maree: Liam Conroy (17 ), Con Crowley (14 ), George Rahmani (3 ), Colm O’Hagan (14 ), Ken Hansberry (8 ), Tomas Mitkus (6 ), Ciarán Harte, Brian Kelly, Enda Walsh (4 ), Pádraig Burke, Cormac Shields, Eavan Finn.


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