Maigh Cuilinn 60 (42)
UCC Demons 53 (29)
A dominant display earned Maigh Cuilnn their first win of the Basketball Ireland Superleague season after they led from start to finish at home against UCC Demons of Cork, the final score reading 60 to 53.
In truth, the margin at the end flattered the visitors who trailed for large stretches by 15 or more points. Only for a nervy closing couple of minutes from a Maigh Cuilinn side desperate to see out a maiden victory, the gap would have been comfortably in the double digits.
It was all smiles however come the final whistle when it did eventually sound around the University of Galway Sports Arena amidst an elated Maigh Cuilinn home support, with Maigh Cuilinn head coach John Cunningham particularly pleased by his side’s performance.
“It is no more than we deserved for the work the lads have put in so far this season without any reward,”said Cunningham.
“This win was, as always with us, built on our defence and effort but we had that little spark early on offence by making some big three pointers which were huge to give us momentum and that initial lead which we never really relinquished.”
Maigh Cuilinn did indeed get off to their best start of the season behind a three point barrage from Mateo Liberatore and Brian Gaffney. Their opposition from Cork had set out in a 2-3 zone defence, intent on defending close to the basket but this tactic was undone quickly by Maigh Cuilinn’s accuracy from long range.
The free flowing and incisive Maigh Cuilinn attack created an abundance of scoring chances and enough to generate 19 first quarter points and a five point lead after the period.
The Maigh Cuilinn rhythm on offence continued into the second quarter with Dylan and Kyle Cunningham finding their touch as Ayberk Taylan and the ever reliable Grant Olsson getting in on the action also to good effect.
It was the increase in Maigh Cuilinn defensive intensity in this stretch however that really turned the screw and established that Demons were not going to be allowed play their usual free flowing attack that had seen them net an average of 90 points over their past five games (the Cork outfit having won four of those last five games).
On the back of a combined well balanced offence and tenacious defence, Maigh Cuilinn found themselves in the unusual position of taking a double digit lead into the half time break, 42 points to 29 to the good.
Supporters were undoubtedly beginning to believe this was going to be a good day for the lads in green.
The nervous energy was palpable in the arena for the second half as everyone present could sense this could and should be Maigh Cuilnn’s maiden victory of the year. The players were certainly not immune, producing a tight and tense third quarter which Maigh Cuilinn managed to win but only a paltry score of 7 points to 6, their defence coming up trumps when most needed to stifle what would otherwise have been a sure-fire Demons comeback.
With Maigh Cuilnn now entering the final quarter 14 points ahead, they would have cared little that the game had lost the free flowing pace that had existed in the first half as their dominant defence preserved their double digit right to the dying minutes.
An understandably nervy Maigh Cuilnn, with their first win dangling over the fourth quarter horizon, flirted with danger in a frantic final 100 seconds as some bizarre turnovers and missed free-throws looked briefly like heralding a collapse for the ages.
Thankfully for the men from Conemara, they found the necessary steel when needed and did see out what has to be a most welcome win as they continue to suffer through the prolonged injury absences of James Loughnane, James Connaire and James Lyons, the final score showing a 60 to 53 Maigh Cuilnnn win.
The league enters a one weekend break now for international play before Maigh Cuilinn hit the road to play games in Dublin and Cork, their next home outing on Friday 30 December at 7pm in the University of Galway Sports Arena against UCD Marian.
Maigh Cuilinn Scorers: Grant Olsson (2), Ayberk Taylan (13), Mateo Liberatore (12), Brian Gaffney (6), Joseph Tummon (5), Dylan Cunningham (2), Kyle Cunningham (2), Rory O’Sullivan, Donagh McDonagh, Kevin Nugent, Dara Kenna.