Moycullen travelled to Cork on Thursday to try and make up for last year’s defeat at the buzzer in the “de facto” all Ireland for the country’s best U17 basketball teams. Some of the lads had been part of last year’s losing team and were only too aware of what the disappointment of what defeat feels like.
Drawn in a group with Templeogue, Waterford Vikings, Limerick Celtics and Cork’s Blue Demons on their home court, the boys hit the court opening up a 21-4 first quarter against a fancied Templeogue. The final score was a resounding 57-33 giving the team the start they had hoped for. The boys had a convincing win against Waterford Vikings in game two before also downing Limerick Celtics on a 49-25 scoreline. Last up on the Friday were the home team Blue Demons to decide the group’s first and second placings as Demons had an unblemished record at that point also. A blistering first two quarters blew Demons away 30-13 and the final score of 57-25 had many thinking that Moycullen were going to be the team to beat if they harboured thoughts of winning the Billy Kelly. Four of the Moycullen starters were in double figures – James Connaire with 16, Daniel Arimoro 13, Paul Kelly 13 and Aaron Kiernan with 10 – showing the scoring threat came from all sides of the court. Tommy Mc Neela and William Onyenweson filled in seamlessly when coming off the bench and also took time out to add points at the offensive end.
Friday’s quarter final saw Moycullen pitted against another Cork side, Neptune in the second of the quarter finals at 10:15am. Again, the boys started well and led from the start, 34-19 at the half, going out to 52-27 in the third, winning eventually on a 62-35 scoreline. This set up a rematch with old adversaries Belfast Star in the semi-final. This turned out to be the game of the tournament as both sides played great ball. Moycullen were ahead at the end of the first by 5, at halftime by 3 but fell one behind at the end of the third 51-50. We were still one down with 2:30 left on the clock – having led in that quarter by 9 at one stage. The last minutes were thrilling for the neutral but gut wrenching for the committed. Star’s point guard, CJ Fulton who finished the game with 18 points, drove to the basket with 5 seconds remaining on the clock, scoring to send the game into overtime.
It seemed that Star had finally lifted the Moycullen albatross of their backs, having lost two previous All Ireland finals to them as they moved four points ahead in O/T. But this team do not know when they are beaten and showed what champions do when they are up against the wall. They got it back to a single point deficit with 15 seconds remaining on the clock. Paul Kelly was fouled with 6 left as Star took advantage of their foul situation. Taking the ball from the inbound, Paul Kelly got his shot off with 3 seconds left to win it for Moycullen and send their supporters into ecstasy. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. James Connaire pitched in with 17 points, Paul with 15, Aaron Kiernan 12 while James Cummins with three 3s kept the scoreboard ticking over.
The final against Dublin Lions was a very different proposition with the Lions’ size causing a very different set of problems. Fifteen a piece after the first, Moycullen had eked out a five point lead coming to the end of the third. With possession as the clock wound down, the boys looked for the best shot. Paul Kelly dropped a brilliant three pointer taking the foul and the extra point to extend the lead to 9. When James Connaire added the next five points in the first minute of the 4th, Dublin Lions saw their chances of glory evaporate.
Paul Kelly saved his best for the final with a superlative effort and 29 points making him the game’s MVP.
Coach Dylan Cunningham has now led this team to All Ireland success at U14, U16 & now U17.