Club Focus: Sligo All-Stars
November 15, 2020
Formed in 1965, Sligo All-Stars is one of the oldest clubs in Ireland. Playing out of Mercy College Gym in Sligo, It now has 17 teams from U8 to senior level, with the men’s senior side, Ej Sligo All-Stars, competing in Division One of the National League.
We caught up with men’s head coach Shane O’Meara and his assistant Glen Monaghan to chat about the club, the two men’s lengthy history with the All-Stars, their ambitions for the season and much more
Q: So firstly, who is the history buff?! How did the club come about, there was a prominent American Tom O’Brien back in the 1960’s who started it all off?
GM: “Yes Tom arrived in Sligo in the early 60’s and the first organised basketball started in Strandhill, Co Sligo, before starting in Summerhill College with Fr. Rickey Devine in the mid 60’s. From here Sligo All-Stars was formed.”
Q: There was an All-Ireland title in the early 70’s, can you give us a brief history of the club in its 55 years in existence?
GM: “Sligo All-Stars has had a chequered history in so far as it has had many All Ireland at various different grades over the decades, then followed by lean years where not much competitive basketball taking place. One thing that remains is that there is a real affinity for basketball in Sligo, as there are not many families that have not had some influence from the club at some point in their lives. It must also be mentioned that John McGowan was huge influence on the history of basketball in Sligo, from its inception almost right up ‘til today where he still coach’s underage girls teams.”
Q: Basketball in Ireland has seen periods of dominance from Dublin and Cork clubs, with other clubs breaking in too, but in general over the years how difficult has it been for Sligo All-Stars to be competitive nationally?
SO'M: “Unfortunately for Sligo we have had a history of players leaving for college or work. When players are away during the week because of these commitments it makes it harder to compete. A small region like Sligo can’t afford to lose players, but we hope that with enough work done at underage level, we will have enough local players at our disposal going forward.”
Q: What is it like today?
SO'M: “It’s quite difficult for Sligo to be competitive, because of our geographical location. The nearest clubs to us are in Donegal and Mayo, which means there is a lot of travel at underage level to get games. The northwest is very much a developing region compared to most of the other regions nationally. For this reason we have done a lot of travelling outside our own region in recent years with underage teams to experience higher levels of competition. The huge disadvantage for us is that Dublin, Cork and midland regions enjoy a lot more games at a higher level. For us to experience basketball at this level we are asking a lot of our parents, players and coaches in terms of commitment and travel.”
Q: How do Sligo All-Stars compete for players in the area to play the sport, when you have a strong GAA community, Sligo Rovers soccer club has a big footprint in the town, along with all the other sports?
SO'M: “It’s definitely a challenge in Sligo, because children have a wide variety of sports available to them - GAA, soccer, rugby, athletics, surfing, tennis etc. We have a very strong media presence, through our social media pages and the local papers and radio station are very supportive, which helps us promote the game.
The GAA in particular has recognised the benefits of their players having a basketball background. We have had a lot of interest recently on the back of ‘The Last Dance’, as parents and children got to see how great a game basketball is.
With our club getting bigger year-on-year we hope that the profile of the game continues to grow too, expanding our fan base and making the game more attractive as an option for young athletes.”
Q: Shane let’s talk about you, tell us about your playing career, you joined the All-Stars in 1989 as an underage player and went on to play National League for the senior side, but you had stints elsewhere too?
“I played with Tridents in Dublin while I was in college. The coach at the time was Mick Brew (RIP), who was one of the true gentlemen of the game. Tridents was one of the smaller clubs in Dublin, based in Aughrim Street. We had limited success, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing there. I was made feel at home and I gained a lot of experience from my time there.”
2002-2004 Team Westaro Castlebar
“We had two very successful years under Terry Kennedy with a very young Castlebar side, which included Hermann Heyl and Tommy Canavan.”
2007-2008 Longnecks Ballina
“We had a great start to our Super League campaign with a very strong panel of players, which included Puff Summers and Pete Strobyl as our pros and Ronan Mc Garrity and Paul Freeman also, but the season didn’t pan out the way we would have hoped and Ballina were demoted to Division 1 the following season.”
“Following our withdrawal from Division 1 in 2009 Joe Bree and Joe Coughlan approached me to play with Titans in Galway. It was an opportunity to join up with Paul Freeman again and we had a very enjoyable season. We were unfortunate to lose out to Castleisland in the President’s Cup final of 2011 when John Teahan put on a clinic.”
Q: How difficult will you find it not being on the court as a player this season?
SO'M: “Our coach Carlos Rodriguez convinced me to play last season, as he saw a need for me in a relatively small, younger team. He also believed that it was important for our players to see that they can continue to offer something of themselves to the club or team, even if it’s a much smaller role than in previous years. I put in a big effort last summer and I was able to get into decent shape. I was happy overall with my contribution, but I would prefer to see our younger players playing and gaining experience. I have no problems not being on the court this year!!"
Q: This is your second stint in charge of the All-Stars, having coached the side in 2016/17, what enticed you back and what have you learned you’re your predecessor Carlos Diaz Rodriguez?
SO'M: “With Carlos moving on we were in a situation that would have meant recruiting a new coach. We were very fortunate that it suited Carlos to come to Sligo at a time in his life that he was looking to learn English and complete his PhD in psychology. A club like ours would never be able to afford to pay a coach of Carlos’ level, but thankfully it worked out for us. I was glad to step into the role again with the benefit of having assisted Carlos. Carlos has worked as a professional coach in the top leagues in Mexico and Spain and he brought a huge amount of experience and knowledge of the game to the table. His attention to detail, and his ability to build a defence or offence was a pleasure to watch. He brought the same energy to every session and held everyone accountable at all times.
Q: Glen, you’re steeped in the club too, your dad Gerry Monaghan played in the 70’s and 80’s and coached the club too. You’ve played your entire National League career with the All Stars and now you’re an assistant to Shane this season.
GM: “Yes my family have a deep and meaningful history with club dating almost back to its inception with my dad and my own time playing and now I have two boys of my own, Conor and Ryan, who I hope with continue to enjoy it."
Q: Was getting involved in coaching always part of the plan and will you be tapping into your dad’s expertise, or does he let you do your own thing?
GM: “Shane and I started coaching Sligo kids in 2006/07 and have been together in many roles over the years since, so it was a natural progression to help him with the men’s team this year. It’s a great opportunity and I love working with our lads. Dad’s a great support to me in most aspects of the club and is always on hand if needed, as his experience can be valuable.”
Q: Shane you played under Gerry Monaghan too, how much of an influence has he been on you?
SO'M: “Gerry was and still is one of the most passionate people you could have around the game. He gave his time selflessly to us as teenagers and then as senior players and he still loves to be around the game. When you played for Gerry you had to be willing to give your all until the final whistle and I’d hope that some of his competitive nature rubbed off on me over the years. Gerry never used excuses for us as players, he left no stone unturned to ensure we were competitive and he is very supportive of what we are trying to achieve as a club today.”
Q: 2020 has been a tough year, it’s been a long off-season and now with the 2020/21 season being delayed until January at least, how difficult has it been to motivate players?
SO'M: “Glen and I have mulled over the issues we would face this season during the summer months. We agreed to remain as positive as possible and to plan as normal for a season. Since the delay to the season was announced we have remained in contact with the lads and one of our own guys, Lee Sherlock has stepped up in the role of Strength and Conditioning coach. It has been great so far and probably a much needed social outlet for the lads. They are maturing as a group and they are quite motivated to return to the court in better shape after Christmas.”
Q: What has been the biggest lesson you’ll take away from this year as coaches and as a club?
SO'M: “I think that the club realises more than ever the importance of the role we play in the lives of our young players. Basketball in particular, being a winter sport, is a great outlet for players and fans during the darker, colder months. The air of disappointment in the gym was tough to witness when our U14 boys were told that their season was on hold after having only two training sessions. However we also have to be realistic and aware of the risk involved in close contact sports in relation to Covid. We all have family members who may be vulnerable, or who work in a healthcare setting and when all is said and done, their health and the health of the people they are working with has to be a priority.”
Q: Let’s talk about your squad, you’ve made four signings, an American in Brandon Twitty (Stonehill University), a Dane in Toby Christensen (Scott’s Lakers Killarney) along with Martin Mulligan (UCD Marian) and Conor Byrne (UL Eagles), what will they bring to the side?
SO'M: “Once Glen and I knew that we were coaching this season we began our search for our professional players. We have developed a great network of coaches and scouts in Europe and in the United States and we had a number of players on our radar for this season. Having lost Toby Brockmann to Germany last year, we knew that we needed some perimeter scoring to be more competitive. Brandon Twitty is a high level shooter, a tenacious, athletic defender and he came very highly recommended by his coach Chris Kraus. Brandon played a big role in Stonehill and we were looking for him to bring that experience to the table.
Toby Christensen played against us for Scott’s Lakers Killarney and I was very impressed with his overall game. He is quite versatile as a big man, both offensively and defensively. He is a great decision maker with the ball in his hands and is a willing passer. He has great footwork in the paint and knows how to use his body to gain an advantage. Toby caused us a lot of problems and having lost Jesus San Martin it was a no-brainer for us to pursue Toby. He averaged 22ppg last season and is one of the better rebounders in the league.
Martin Mulligan is a welcome face in the club again. I had the privilege of teaching him for 3 years in primary school and he has lost none of the enthusiasm and work ethic he brought each day as a junior player. Martin is a humble, hard working guy and his personality is a massively positive influence. He has kept in great shape and pushes hard at training. It was great that Martin continued to play the game while he was in Dublin and hopefully he will be a long-term addition to our team.
Conor also grew up in the club and was probably one of our hardest working players over the past 10 years. He is an elite shooter and his athletic ability will make him a defensive threat too. Conor has been out of the game for a while and is just getting back from injury, but I would hope to see Conor playing a big role in the team going forward.”
Q: Did you give Aidan O’Shea a call to see if he wanted another crack at basketball this season?!
SO'M: “Aidan and I keep in contact but I am aware of the level of commitment demanded of him as an inter-county player. He knows that the door is always open for him and hopefully it will suit him at some point. He was a great addition both on and off the floor when he came to us in 2016, it was a great example to our younger players to see how humble and hard working he was.”
Q: And finally, you finished 8th in Division One last season, what targets have you set yourselves this season, is a promotion push on the agenda?
SO'M: “We were genuinely hoping to be in contention for promotion. The fact that Covid had forced a few of our players home from college in Dublin, Maynooth and Galway, meant that we would have a deeper squad to select from. We felt that we had recruited well this year and we were looking forward to the season.”