Belfast Star 90 (37)
Maigh Cuilinn 81 (37)
A blistering ten point unanswered run to start the final quarter ultimately saved Belfast Star from suffering the shock of the Basketball Ireland Superleague season as a gallant Maigh Cuilnn effort fell just short in the northern capital on Saturday.
The final score of 90 to 81 undoubtedly flattered the home side as a single basket had been the margin between the teams for the majority of the contest.
“We will look it as one that slipped away,” was the view of Maigh Cuilinn head coach John Cunningham after the final whistle.
“We played really well in so many ways and it was probably one of our best offensive performances of the season but against a team like Star, who are up competing at the top of the table for a reason, you need everything to go right and we perhaps lost a little bit of focus to start the fourth and they punished us. That was the game.”
If the suspicion was that Belfast Star had taken their eye off the ball coming into this one, given that their opponent in Maigh Cuilinn sat at the far end of the table, then that was not evident from the outset.
An intense start to proceedings saw Belfast Star main man Max Richardon explode out of the blocks and establish a five point early advantage for the 2020 champs.
The early lead was not to be maintained however as Maigh Cuilnn quickly found their feet, a three pointer by Dylan Cunningham followed by a nice bucket from the ever impressive Grant Olsson bringing things level.
The margin between the teams was rarely more than a single basket for the remainder of the first quarter through to the end of the third.
While Star, through USA import Shon Briggs and the English duo of Max Cooper and Max Richardson were able to find gaps in the Maigh Cuilinn defence (all three together combined for 75 points) Maigh Cuilnn were in a good attacking rhythm of their own.
Star attempted throughout the game to mix between zone and man to man and between full court pressure and picking up in the halfcourt but in truth it seemed to confuse the home team more than the visitors who looked particularly comfortable against the zone when it presented.
Olsson of course was to the fore, finishing with 26 points and scoring in a variety of ways but he was ably helped by a superb 23 points from Mateo Liberatore along with good scoring contributions by Kyle Cunningham, Ayberk Taylan and Joe Tummon.
There can be little surprise however that Maigh Cuilinn’s found form on offence has come just as James Connaire has returned from injury and his nine point personal tally significantly under represents his contribution by way of general movement, offensive rebounds and passing.
As the disappointed sentiments of Maigh Cuilinn head coach Cunningham revealed after the game though, this was ultimately still a loss for the Galwegians and they will rue a disastrous first three minutes to the final quarter. A sudden Star run, that included a four point play when an aggressive Kyle Cunningham close out was only marginally off so as to foul Richardson as he sunk a three pointer meant the Englishman was awarded a free throw which he converted.
Maigh Cuilinn battled gamely to the final whistle but never managed to get closer than 8 points again as a possible shock upset win slipped through their hands.
They can take heart from a good performance in a fixture few if any would have given them much of a chance of recording a win and with a weekend’s break coming up before the Galway derby against University of Galway Maree they can prepare with some hope.
Moycullen Scorers: Grant Olsson (26), Mateo Liberatore (23), James Connaire (9), Ayberk Taylan (9), Kyle Cunningham (6), Joseph Tummon (5), Dylan Cunningham (3), Donagh McDonagh, Rory O’Sullivan, Dara Kenna