PREVIEW: Underage National Cups set to be four thrilling finals
January 24, 2019
The Hula Hoops National Cup finals tip off at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght this weekend and there’s set to be thrills galore as the games get underway from 6.30pm on Friday evening.
Four of the most anticipated games of the weekend are the men’s and women’s Under 18 and Under 20 Cup finals, with some exciting match ups in store.
In the Under 18 Women’s final, WIT Wildcats and Liffey Celtics will do battle on Saturday morning at 10am. The point guard battle in this final may be one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the entire weekend. Waterford’s Abby Flynn, a star in multiple sports, will be locking horns with one of the country’s most talented guards, Ciara Bracken. Bracken is no stranger to the National Basketball Arena stage having lit it up with an incredible nine three pointers in last January’s U19A Schools final. In Flynn though, Waterford have a unique defender who Irish U17 Coach Karl Kilbride described as one of the best on ball defenders he has seen in Ireland.
In their semi final, Tommy O’Mahony’s charges were able to force turnovers and attack with pace against a solid Templeogue team. Whether they will be able to force mistakes from a talented Liffey team will be the question on many people’s minds heading into the game.
The point guard match up of course isn’t the only critical battle. Waterford will need to find a way to nullify the threat of Katie Williamson. Williamson was electric in the semi final scoring 27-points and controlling the interior. Limiting the Celtics’ forward will certainly be a focus although it is often easier said then done. This is definitely a matchup worth watching and it will kick off a monster day of action in the Arena. Will Waterford be able to bring the title back south or will Liffey be able to claim their first piece of silverware of the weekend?
It’s also a tantilising clash of the point guard in the Under 18 men’s cup final, which will tip off at 10am on Sunday, January 27th. Two Irish International point guards will face off in a critical matchup, with CJ Fulton manning the point for Belfast and Paul Kelly for Moycullen. CJ Fulton has been the name on many people’s lips over the past 12 months, especially with his performances this season at Super League level.
In the semi final, Fulton led Star with 32 points, bouncing back in style from a tough Super League loss the night before. It’s certainly not a one-man team though, and Conor Ryan’s 23 points were crucial to Star’s success. With a number of St. Malachy’s U16A schools winners on the team there is strength and depth to the Belfast team and they will be confident that they have answers all over the court to anything Moycullen can throw at them.
One man who can compete with Fulton’s accomplishments is Moycullen’s own star guard Paul Kelly. Kelly - who is a year older than Fulton - was central to Paul Kelleher’s U18 Men’s team this past summer despite playing up a year. He has also given some adept displays at Super League level and will be hoping to test Fulton and Star.
The Galway men, coached by Dylan Cunningham, aren’t shy of talent themselves and Paul Kelly forms a formidable partnership with James Connaire who top scored with 31 points in their semi final win. Moycullen over the past decade have been one of the consistent forces at underage level and they will certainly be ready to give Belfast all they can handle.
Will it be one of the elite guards who ultimately makes the difference or will an unexpected hero come to the fore on the day?
Moving over to the Under 20 finals and two epic battles are in store for fans this weekend.
In the U20 men’s decider, Neptune take on Dublin Lions in what is set to be an interesting battle. The biggest pressure on this Neptune team may be the weight of expectation. Some of these players have already won a number of National Cup medals over the past four years, while their semi final performance against Templeogue in Cork was one that would strike fear into teams. Putting up 60 points in the first half, Neptune clocked up the scores throughout the second behind stellar performances from Scott Hannigan, Darragh O’Sullivan and Cian Heaphy. Neptune’s young guns have settled into life in the Super League and in recent weeks, have given consistently high-level performances.
That said, Dublin Lions, despite being young, have plenty of high level talent with National League experience. Tiernan Howe jumped to the fore last season with an excellent performance in the League Cup final loss to IT Carlow. His aggressive style will be called upon in the final as Neptune will look to put Lions under relentless pressure to ignite their fast break. Lions are coached by Rob White who has a prolific record in developing young talent in recent years, and he will have his team ready to compete in this U20s final.
Can Lions keep the pace of the game down and take Neptune out of their comfort zone? Or will the top level talent of this Neptune team be too much? Find out when the game tips off at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, January 26th.
An interesting final is teed up in the Women’s U20 clash as well, with Portlaoise Panthers locking horns with reigning champions, DCU Mercy.
Claire Melia (Panthers) and Rachel Huijdsens (DCU) are likely going to be linked together for the rest of their careers. The duo were at the heart of Tommy O’Mahony’s U18 silver medal winning team in 2017 and perfectly compliment each other on the court. This weekend however they will go head to head as Portlaoise try to end the DCU Mercy underage dominance, and their battle under the boards is set to be one not to be missed.
Mercy have a host of experienced players at this level, having scooped honours at U18 and U20 level in the past, and winning the treble in 2018 – to include the Super League – was certainly a stand out on the Irish basketball scene last year. Of course Mercy have more of that silver medalist team on show this weekend too and Bronagh Power Cassidy – MVP of the Subway Schools Cup final this week - is both fearless and supremely talented. Cassidy always finds a way to control the ball and if a timely basket is needed she is often on hand to deliver. Mercy can also call on the likes of Maeve O Seaghdha and Nicole Clancy who both have U18A European experience, and their depth of talent is clearly a major part of their success to date.
Portlaoise on the other hand are in their first ever National Cup final. In their semi final they overcame very difficult opposition in Liffey Celtics. A tactical masterclass slowing down Sorcha Tiernan and Ciara Bracken gave Portlaoise a platform to build from and the talent of Claire Melia carried them to victory. Melia dominated on both ends and controlled the tempo of the semi final. Operating out of the high post she found shooters at will and managed to add 26 points. Portlaoise had other heroes on the day to include Sarah Fleming and Ciara Byrne who will be ones to watch on Sunday.
The big questions are though if Huijdsens will be able to slow down Melia’s influence? She is probably best placed in the country to have a chance to do so. Will Portlaoise upset the odds or will Mercy be able to capture a back-to-back U20 title? This game tips off at 12pm on Sunday.