Superleague Survive

Maigh Cuilinn 69 (39)
UCD Marian 64 (23)

Maigh Cuilinn will be back in the Basketball Ireland Men’s Superleague next season after they prevailed in a tense relegation playoff battle against UCD Marian in Dublin’s National Basketball Arena.

While Maigh Cuilinn held the lead from the middle of the first quarter to the final buzzer, the 69 to 64 win was anything but plain sailing as a ferocious UCD Marian comeback in the second half nearly sent the Galway side packing down to the first division after 13 years in the top flight.

“It was a dog fight for that final quarter and UCD put it up to us in fairness but the lads just weren’t going to be denied in this one,” said a proud Maigh Cuilinn coach John Cunningham after the final buzzer.

“It’s a great bunch, who battled away all season and that cohesiveness and team spirit was there in spades when we really needed it today.”

Every inch of that team spirit was certainly called upon in a win or go down ultimatum game for Maigh Cuilinn against one of the blue bloods of Irish basketball, UCD Marian, who will now be outside of the top division in men’s basketball in Ireland for the first time in over 30 years.

The contest started nip and tuck but with a clear pattern developing all the same. Maigh Cuilinn were getting in after rebounds and general loose balls well against what is a small UCD Marian outfit while for the Dubliners, their main man Jonathan Jean was showing everyone why he was considered one the league’s outstanding players all season.

Jean scored the first seven points of the game for UCD Marian as their tactic of getting him in isolated one versus one situations paid dividends early on.

While Jean was causing havoc on one end, Maigh Cuilinn’s James Connaire was proving to be a real menace on the boards at the other, nabbing five offensive rebounds in the opening ten minutes to get Maigh Cuilinn some much needed extra possession that helped them find a rhythm in attack.

Once they did find a rhythm, baskets came from all places for Maigh Cuilinn on the way to a 24 point quarter, with Connaire himself, along with Kyle Cunningham, Grant Olsson, Joseph Tummon and Matteo Liberatore getting some massive scores.

When the dust settled on what was a frantic quarter, Maigh Cuilinn were six points to the good.

A switch by UCD Marian to a zone defence did cause Maigh Cuilinn some difficulties at times in the second quarter and it was certainly the cause of a few moments of indecision that led to turnovers.

Their defence stood tall when needed during the spell however and UCD Marian had to wait fives minutes into the second quarter for their first score, a free throw by their veteran guard Conor Meany, who finished the game with 16 points.

The Dubliners would score only five in the quarter overall as Maigh Cuilinn started to put multiple bodies in the way of Jean and gambled that the rest of UCD wouldn’t be able to beat them.

With Connaire continuing his assault on the offensive glass, Maigh Cuilinn eventually found more space against that UCD Marian zone and pulled away to a 39 to 23 lead at the half time break.

The elephant in the Maigh Cuilinn supporters section of the stand all through the half time break was undoubtedly their side’s inability to stay calm when in with a chance of a huge win however.

Worst fears were quickly realised in the third quarter as the fight and desire to win that had served them so well in the opening half turned quite evidently to nerves.

Big threes from Joseph Tummon and Kyle Cunningham kept Maigh Cuilinn afloat in that nervy third but a series of ill-advised fouls on Marian dangerman Jonathan Jean gifted him ten free throws in the quarter. He made all ten on the way to a 17 point personal tally in the ten minute period and suddenly the game was back to single digits entering the last.

It was hard to get any sense of pattern in what was one of the most nerve-wracked quarters in recent Maigh Cuilinn basketball history with Superleague survival on the line.

There were moments of brilliance from Grant Olsson, Mateo Liberatore and Brian Gaffney, all of whom had crucial scores late. In the end however it was Maigh Cuilinn’s ferocious team defensive system, so painstakingly embedded by head coach John Cunningham during his years at the helm, that won the day.

With the deciding final minutes ticking down, when UCD Marian needed a good look, they simply could not find any consistent opening in the Maigh Cuilinn defence and several ‘prayer’ shots in the closing possessions were emblematic of the Galway side’s stellar defence and worth ethic all season long.

Fittingly, the final heave from UCD in the dying seconds bounced off the ring and into the hands of Connaire, who had collected so many key rebounds all game, much to the delight of the traveling supporters who basked in a famous 69 to 64 win in the Arena and the knowledge of Superleague survival for another season.

“I’m just thrilled for the players and the club people in the background who put in so much effort,” said coach Cunningham afterwards.

“Superleague is a tough tough grind, particularly with the level of talent there in the league right now and to get a bunch of wins and ultimately stay up for a club like ours from a relatively small community in Connemara is just magic.”

Maigh Cuilinn Scorers: Grant Olsson 20, Mateo Liberatore 14, Kyle Cunningham 12, James Connaire 8, Joseph Tummon 6, Brian Gaffney 5, Ayberk Taylan 4, Dylan Cunningham, Rory O’Sullivan, Donagh McDonagh, Kevin Nugent, Dara Kenna

Categories: News

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