Hall of Fame
Basketball Ireland Hall of Fame
Michelle Aspell is roundly considered the greatest women’s Super League player of the noughties for her exploits with Waterford Wildcats, UL and Ireland. A native of Kilcullen, Co Kildare, Aspell won three Player of the Year awards (2004, 2005 and 2008), six Super League titles (three with Wildcats from 1997 to 1999, then another three in a row with UL from 2003 to 2005), five National Cups (1998 and 2000 with Wildcats, 2003, 2004 and 2006 with UL), and four old Top Four National Championships (three with Wildcats, one with UL). Her consistency was astonishing; for 13 consecutive seasons she featured in every National Cup semi-final weekend and only once failed to reach the end-of-season semi-final stage – and even in that 2008 season she ended up as Player of the Year.
With her exceptional dynamism and guile, she was the outstanding scorer of her era. When UL won three consecutive Super Leagues in the mid-noughties, she averaged a remarkable 28 points a game in each League or Top Four final, while over the seven National Cup finals she played in from 2002 to 2009 (the last two, back with Wildcats), she’d average 21 points. She was also a stalwart for her country before finishing off with a game-high 18 points in a home win over Holland in 2009 which proved to be Ireland’s - as well as her - last game at Eurobasket qualification level.
Michelle has continued to be actively involved in basketball since stepping away from the Super League level 10 years ago. Along with former UL coach Tony Hehir, she helped found Limerick Celtics who now participate in the national league and has coached numerous underage teams like Crescent College to All Ireland A schools titles.
Caroline Forde is one of the greatest backcourt players Irish basketball has ever produced, starring both in the national league and for the national team.
Playing alongside her sisters Miriam and Annette (both RIP), she was the catalyst for their home club Blarney becoming a powerhouse on the national stage, winning the 1985 U19 National Cup (when she scored 30 points) and then at senior level, three National Leagues (1989-91), two National Cups (1987 and 1991) and two old Top Four National Championships (1989 and 1991). She also went on to be instrumental in the success of two other teams, winning a Super League, Cup and Top Four with Lee Strand Tralee and then helping Waterford Wildcats to a Super League title in 1996 before finishing her playing career back with Blarney.
As well as being a fantastic playmaker and team player, she was a phenomenal scorer, both from the outside and through driving to the basket, setting all kinds of individual records. The 41 points she scored in the 1991 Top Four final overtime win over Wildcats remains the highest score by a player in a premier senior women’s national final. She was twice Cup final MVP (scoring 29 points in Blarney’s 1987 triumph and 22 for Tralee in a two-point win over Naomh Mhuire in the 1993 decider).
She also excelled for Ireland, playing over 100 times for her country, and starring in such campaigns as the 1988 Olympic qualifiers in Malaysia when she averaged 16 points a game against the likes of Canada and Italy.
Noel Keating is one of the most influential administrators in the history of Irish basketball, having the distinction of being the governing body’s first full-time Chief Executive and a driving force behind the building of the National Basketball Arena and the establishment of the National Cup.
A native of Carlow, Keating first came onto the national executive through his involvement in mini-basketball and primary schools basketball, and in 1979 served as national Press Relations Officer. However, after his leadership in resolving the two-American Killarney issue at the end of that year, he was promptly elected to president (1980-82) before then being appointed as the association’s first-ever CEO, a job he would occupy from 1983 to 1996. During those years, he would help propel and oversee the huge growth and modernisation of the sport in this country. It was Keating, though still only national PRO, who convened a meeting in November 1979 to discuss the concept of a national arena, something which would he would eventually help and see get over the line more than 13 years later, in January 1993. He was also pivotal in identifying the appeal of a knock-out-competition and securing it sponsorship and live television coverage, and thus we’ve had a National Cup since 1984, and every subsequent final televised live nationally.
Although Keating would step away from the workings of Basketball Ireland upon stepping down as CEO in 1996, he would still remain a passionate advocate for the promotion of the sport in primary schools, only retiring last year as chairperson of the Dublin primary schools board.
Tom Wilkinson is one of the most decorated players in the history of Irish basketball. No one has more National (Super) League medals to their name than ‘Wilky’ who finished with eight, a tally only equalled by his long-time Neptune teammate Tom O’Sullivan. Indeed from 1980-81 to 1990-91, there were only three seasons that concluded without Wilkinson being a National League champion.
Wilkinson also won three National Cups (1985, 1988 and 1990, all with Neptune) as well as five old National Top Four Championships, two of which he won with Blue Demons, a club he captained to the league and Top Four double in 1980-81 before transferring back to his first love, Neptune, who he would help transform into the most dominant team the domestic men’s league has ever known. Wilkinson excelled in international competition too. In one of the greatest-ever international achievements by an Irish club side, he scored a team-high 20 points for Burgerland Neptune in their historic 1982 Roy Curtis international tournament final win over the famed Murray International Metals from Scotland. Renowned for his mental toughness, leadership and terrific outside shooting, Wilkinson played more than 100 times for Ireland between 1976 and 1988, captaining the side for the last three of those seasons.
Upon retiring in 1991 after another league and Top Four double, Wilkinson served as Neptune club treasurer for a number of years before coaching the club to another Super League title in 1997. He also coached multiple teams in Douglas National School, where he taught for decades before recently retiring, and Douglas Community School, helping popularise the sport on the southside of Cork city.
Siobhan Caffrey (née Stapleton)
Siobhan Caffrey is one of the greatest Irish women’s players ever. Renowned for her leadership and inside scoring power, she played 11 years for the senior national team, including the last four as captain, and starred in the 1982 and 1985 Four Countries championship triumphs that included wins over England.
The Meteors team which she played for – and her husband Gerry coached – became the first team in the history of either the men’s or the women’s national league to win four league titles in a row, which they did from 1982-83 to 1985-86, with Siobhan averaging a nation-best 22 points per game during that winning streak. She would win a fifth title in 1993, her last season in the league. She is also a two-time National Cup winner (scoring a game-high 28 points in the 1985 final win over Naomh Mhuire and then winning MVP in the 1992 win over Wildcats) and a three-time National Top Four championship winner (1983, 1984, 1988). Siobhan began her coaching career in 2008 with Meteors when her daughter, Roisin, joined as a player. She currently coaches in Rosemount and Muckross.
Danny Fulton and his family are synonymous with Belfast basketball, just as he is renowned for his remarkable service to coaching and the national men’s programme. He coached the senior Irish men’s team for all but two years between 1976 and 1988 (120 games), and in those two gap years he took the national U19 team which would record Ireland’s first-ever win in underage European competition, beating Denmark.
Throughout the ’70s and ’80s he also coached various St Gall’s and Star of the Sea underage and senior national league teams, but it would be in the 1990s that he and Star shone at the top level of the domestic game, as the club built on the breakthrough U19 National Cup final success of 1990 to win three consecutive National Top Four Championships (1996-98), two Super League titles (1997-98 and 1998-99) and contest four National Cup final weekends, including two finals, with Fulton at the helm for all but one of those campaigns. He would continue to coach Star on and off through the current millennium, while also serving as one of the club’s chief administrators. Now the coaching reins have been passed on to his son, Adrian, who has in turn handed the point-guard baton on to his own son, 16-year-old CJ.
For all of his technical and tactical knowledge of the game and tremendous vision of what a basketball programme should be like, Danny is particularly known, respected and loved among the basketball community for the personal warmth he extends to all its members and his sheer enthusiasm and love for the game.
Liam McHale is a household name throughout the whole country for his contribution and prowess both on the football field and particularly the hardwood. Assisted by his brothers Sean and Anthony, brother-in-law Paul McStay and honorary Mayo man Deora Marsh, he would catapult his hometown Ballina to the forefront of Irish basketball and indeed Irish sport.
After winning promotion back to the top division in 1982-83, they would progressively consolidate their top-flight status before making their first National Championship Top Four final appearance in 1989 (in which Liam scored 30 points against Burgerland Neptune, a then record score for an Irish player in a national final – though he’d break it the following year with a 34-point haul against eventual winners St Vincent’s), their first National Cup final appearance in 1990 (which he missed through injury), and then their first National Cup title in 1991 (in which he scored 24 points, again a then record score for an Irish player in a National Cup final). Not since Paudie O’Connor’s heyday almost a full decade earlier with another provincial town – Killarney – had a men’s team outside Cork or Dublin claimed top-flight national senior honours.
After that breakthrough they would follow it up by winning the 1992 league title (with Liam scoring 24 points in the final against St Vincent’s) and then a second National Cup in 1996 (with Liam scoring a game-high 25 points in the semi-final against Notre Dame and 20 in the final against St Vincent’s).
His basketball versatility, intelligence and all-round game were remarkable. He was, by a distance, the highest-scoring Irish player of the two-American era; from 1984-85 to 1985-88 he was leading Irish scorer every season, with an overall average of 21.6 points per game; his nearest challenger, Neptune’s Tom O’Sullivan, was well back on 13.3. Then in the 1988-89 season when the number of Americans per team was reduced to one per team, he would open up by scoring a record 48 points, and go on to average an astonishing 32 points a game over the following two seasons, including a 58-point effort against North Mon.
Liam’s longevity has also been exceptional. Twenty-four years after making his senior debut for the Irish national team in 1983, he was still playing and starting in a Super League final for Ballina, scoring 14 points in a narrow defeat to Killester.
In recent years Liam has continued to coach schools basketball with the likes of Gortnor Abbey Crossmolina and has been a leader in the growth of basketball principles being absorbed into modern Gaelic football through his fine work as a coach with teams such as Mayo, Roscommon and All Ireland club winners St Brigid’s.
SUSAN MORAN (now Lavin):
Susan Moran is widely considered the greatest Irish women’s player ever for her remarkable all-round game, athleticism and scoring power. She would lead both her hometown club and school, Tullamore, to U19 National Cup glory, scoring a remarkable 52 and 48 points respectively in both those 1998 finals. Later that year she was recruited by NCAA Division One programme St Joseph’s, Philadelphia, for whom she would become the only player in their history to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding for four consecutive seasons and its all-time leading scorer. In her senior year she was the fourth-leading scorer in all of US college basketball, averaging 22.3 points per game, and for a second time was both honoured as an Academic All-Ireland and the Atlantic 10’s Student-Athlete of the Year.
Upon graduation, she became the first – and still only – Irish player to be drafted by a WNBA side, having been selected in the second round of the 2001 draft by the New York Liberty. She’d later go on to play professionally in Spain, then New Zealand where she was voted league MVP, and then Australia where she again earned MVP honours, this time in the Queensland Australian league.
She particularly excelled with Irish teams – junior, world student games, and then with the senior team, including with the 2009 side that just missed out on European A-level qualification.
Susan has been a member of her alma mater St Joseph’s coaching staff ever since her graduation from there 17 years ago, and is currently their associate head coach.
PAUDIE O’CONNOR (RIP)
The late Paudie O’Connor is fondly remembered as one of the greatest players and characters to ever grace the Irish basketball scene and for creating such an outstanding legacy for the game.
Born and raised in Killarney, he captained the senior national team, winning over 100 caps, and in 1977 had the distinction of being the first Irish player to make the All-Star Five of an international qualification tournament.
Domestically he was widely considered the finest player of the ‘70s, the Irish league’s equivalent of Magic Johnson; while every other 6’4” Irish player in those days would play the four or five spot, O’Connor would operate as a point guard due to his remarkable ball-handling, vision and court leadership skills. He famously brought in the first professional Americans to play in the Irish national league, establishing a precedent for other clubs to follow, setting in motion a glorious period in the history of the sport. Towards the start of that era, the club he served as both a player and administrator for – St Vincent’s, Killarney, commonly known as Gleneagle after the ground-breaking sponsorship he helped secure – would twice win both available national titles – the National League and prestigious end-of-season National Top Four Championship (1979-80 and 1981-82).
Paudie was also a tremendous contributor to the Irish women’s game (the Women’s Super League National Cup is named in his memory). He was head coach to the Irish senior women’s team and spearheaded the hugely-popular Pretty Polly tournament that attracted hundreds of female players to Killarney during the ’70s and ’80s. He was one of the most instantly recognisable personalities in his hometown where he was literally the mayor and chaired the urban district council for four years, all while still in either his twenties or early 30s. He continued to play with St Vincent’s right up until 1986 when he then moved to America where he would run a successful golf touring business before unfortunately passing away there in May 2018, aged 66.
Kelvin Troy is one of the most beloved, respected and greatest American basketballers to ever play in the Irish Men’s National League.
A native of Lakewood, New Jersey, he was a fifth-round NBA draft pick after his exploits with Rutgers University and chosen by Sports Illustrated as one of the best five defensive players in US college basketball.
He would make an even greater impact in Ireland, having the distinction of being the first American player to play at least five seasons here that helped his team claim a Division One (now Super League) Top Four spot every time – with Jameson St Vincent’s (1984-85), Killester (1985-86, ’86-87 and ’87-88) and for the first time in their history, Ballina (1988-89) – a measure of his consistency as well as ferocious competitiveness.
In that 1986-87 season, he, alongside three-time NBA champion Mario Elie, would inspire Killester to their first National Cup, scoring 38 points in their unforgettable final win over Burgerland Neptune.
Renowned for his remarkably aggressive style, and considered one of the greatest defenders to ever play in this country, Troy was also a tremendous all-round offensive player and scorer, averaging 33 points a game in the two-American era; only Jasper McElroy averaged more over three seasons in that period. Kelvin would also go on to qualify and play for Ireland before retiring in 1992 after undergoing a kidney transplant. Kelvin is a Rutgers University Hall of Famer inductee in 2000, a Lakewood High School Hall of Famer inductee in 2013 and was also voted in the Millennium top 100 athletes in New Jersey Shore. Kelvin continues to live in Ireland and is a tremendous ambassador for the sport through his coaching in numerous schools and clubs in Dublin.
After being introduced to basketball in Marian College, Paul became one of the founding members of Marian Basketball Club in 1969. He was central to the club's first-ever National League winning team in 1978 as he player coached the team. He continued to play at National League level until 1982 and at local league until 2002, an incredible five decades of representing the club. Since retiring he has been one of the driving forces behind the clubs Super League team both on the sidelines and behind the scenes.
As an administrator in the sport, Paul immediately got to work as he left school in 1969. He initially became treasurer of the Amateur Basketball Association of Ireland (as Basketball Ireland was then known), he also served as administrator of the Dublin Men's Basketball Board for 17 years. At National level he became the first administrator of the National League in 1973 and carried out the role until a full-time professional administrator took over in 1984.
In the late 1980s he was part of a group that was formed to help the development of a National Basketball Arena, which came to fruition in 1993, he subsequently served as Chairman of the Arena Board.
In the mid-1990s seeking a new development for his Marian Club, Paul joined with close friend Fran Ryan and helped develop a new relationship with UCD to form a partnership called UCD Marian which led the way for many other clubs to follow similar paths.
In 2009 when a financial and governance crisis hit Basketball Ireland, Paul stepped into the breach and led the sport for 17 months as unpaid Executive Chairman (while continuing his day job as principal of Marian College). In 2011 the sport was in a strong enough position to hire a new Secretary General to move the sport forward. in 2013 he stepped away from his role as Chairman of the Basketball Ireland board feeling that the legacy issues had been dealt with and it was time for a new ideas and leadership.
Paul also served as Basketball Ireland President from 1994 to 1997.
Danny O Connor
Introduced to the game in St. Malachy's College in Belfast in 1948, Danny O'Connor made a very significant impact on the game both as a player and later as an administrator. As a player, Danny represented Antrim in the old Inter-County Series and Ulster at Inter-Provincial level. During his playing career, he was the top scorer in the Ulster leagues for a number of years and was capped internationally 17 times.
After his playing career ended Danny became a vital administrator of the game in Northern Ireland. He became secretary of both the Ulster Schools and Ulster Council during the 1960s and 1970s. He later became chairman where he helped develop the game significantly. Aside from driving the game locally he also served on the I.B.B.A (now Basketball Ireland) Council for over 20 years.
On the sidelines, Danny went from being a strong coach himself to being one of the first coaching tutors in the country. He also developed the course "introducing basketball to the primary school" which was taught to Primary School teachers in St. Pats in Drumcondra and in Belfast.
Danny also managed to reach FIBA level as a referee which he achieved in Vienna in 1967. This qualification allowed him to represent Ireland as a referee for over 20 years internationally. He also used his knowledge to deliver tutor courses throughout Ireland, educating the next wave of referees for over 30 years.
Lastly, Danny also played a major role in the group tasked with developing a National Arena which ultimately led to the National Basketball Arena opening in 1993.