A favourable group draw, no major new injuries at the business end of the season, avoiding the favourites until the final, key players in good form; add to that a good record in key underage games versus Neptune and, in sporting terms, everything pointed to it being “Moycullen’s year”. However, on Saturday, this all meant nothing as Moycullen came up against a quality side who were just too good. In fairness to the team, they gave it everything and, for a brief moment with three minutes to go, after a superb fourth quarter effort, they had closed to within 5 and dared to dream. Neptune quickly slammed the door in their faces though and closed out the game in impressive fashion in a way Moycullen had done in their previous three games. Deserving champions, the level of their ability was further highlighted on Sunday, when 4 of the same players logged big minutes in their U20 victory over Moycullen’s U20 conquerors, St Vincents, with Sean Jenkins clinching his 2nd MVP award of the weekend. Indeed, one wonders how much star U16’s, Cian Heaphy and David Murray would have played, were they not ineligible due to their age!
In truth, for Moycullen to have won, they needed the “perfect” game. Initially, it looked like that was possible. John Hackett was on fire early on, hitting from inside and out and they jumped out to an early 15-8 lead. Despite this, that early period was in a lot of ways, a complete reversal of the semi against Tolka. In that, Tolka hit everything early on but found themselves picking up fouls, something they would regret later on. Similarly, despite leading by 25-18 at the end of the quarter, James Lyons had picked up two fouls and Neptune’s driving game had Moycullen on the back foot defensively.
The second quarter began evenly enough but, mid-quarter, Moycullen’s chances took a major blow as Hackett picked up his second and third fouls in quick succession, forcing him to the bench until the middle of the third. Within a minute, Moycullen’s other big man, Ladmy Sila, had gone down with an injury to further disrupt their flow. While he returned relatively quickly, this set the tone for much of the next fifteen minutes as Moycullen were forced into damage limitation mode, with most substitutions triggered by defensive adjustments or further foul trouble. Hackett’s loss hit Moycullen in two ways, it limited their scoring options and, also their defensive rebounding. Neptune capitalised and quickly erased Moycullen’s lead before pushing out to a 42-36 half time lead of their own.
Despite their troubles, Moycullen’s aim had been to arrive at the start of the fourth within 7 and with their key players unhindered by foul trouble. While not quite on track, this was still achievable, and that was the half time message. Despite being forced to a zone defence by necessity rather than design, good efforts from Mark Convery, Max Brennan and Brian Garvey off the bench, impressive scoring from Connor Curran and leadership from Eoghan Kelly saw Moycullen hang in in the third. Indeed, with two minutes to go in that quarter, the margin was at 5, 52-47 and John Hackett was back in the game. Back on track. However, the final two minutes of the quarter may have decided the game. In hindsight, this was the time to come out of the zone as it had done its job. However, in the constant battle against fouls, and the feeling that we were hanging in well, we didn’t make the change. Who knows if going man would have made a difference but, the bottom line was Neptune won the last two minutes 9-3 and lead 61-50 going into the fourth. A mountain to climb.
The mountain got bigger at the beginning of the fourth as Neptune jumped out to a 6-0 start and a 17 point lead. Then Moycullen showed why they were in the final. John Hackett kicked things off with a three from the corner and Connor Curran followed up with one of his own and then a great drive to the basket. With Eoghan Kelly penetrating the Neptune ‘D” and finding John Hackett for a series of fouls and free throw makes, amazingly, the deficit was cut to 5 with three minutes to go. Game on. However, at this point, game MVP, Sean Jenkins, showed his class with two strong drives and lay-ups to push the lead out to 9, 75-66. Moycullen never recovered and, despite putting Neptune to the line in the hope of closing the gap, Neptune made their free throws and closed out a slightly flattering but thoroughly deserved 87-70 win.
For Moycullen, there will always be what-ifs; what if John Hackett hadn’t picked up his third foul so early, what if they had come out of the zone in the last two minutes of the third, what if David Kelly had been available. However, for each one of those, there is a what-if that would have seen them not even make the final… what if John Hackett had been in foul trouble in the quarter or semi, what if Tolka had hit one more shot in the semi, what if a stomach bug had taken out half the team before either game…
All that’s left to be said is that its been a magnificent 12 months for the team. To win a the club’s first Billy Kelly and be only the second team from the club to make an U18 Cup Final was a tremendous achievement by a group of players who had lived in Maree’s shadow throughout their underage years. They are a perfect example of what hard work, dedication and perseverance can achieve. They never turned down a game, no matter who wasn’t available or where the road took them and they have probably played more basketball over their 10 years of underage competition than most of the Moycullen Premier league players have played in their career. And there’s still the small matter of the U20 cup in 2 years time… 😉
Moycullen: J Hackett 25, C Curran 23, E Kelly 8, L Sila 5, M Convery 5, M Brennan 2, B Garvey 2, J Lyons, R Clancy, E Somers, D Heffernan, L O’Mordha. Coaches: John Cunningham, Gerry Nihill.
Neptune: S Jenkins 23, A Drummond 21, C Heaphy 19, D Murray 13, A Heaphy 5, Daniel Maguire 4, Conor O’Sullivan 2, Liam Chandler, Matt Kuchno, Dara O’Sullivan, James Hannigan, Scott Hannigan. Coaches: Tom O’Sullivan, Ger Heaphy.