Club Focus: Phoenix Basketball Club
November 22, 2020
Phoenix Basketball Club was formed 2003. The club now has 17 teams from U8 to senior level. The club competes in the Division One of the women’s National League. We caught up with Breda Dick, who set up the club and has been head coach of the senior team since 2011.
Q: Breda you’re from Dublin and have a strong association with Killester having played there and your family members are still very involved there, but how did you end up in Belfast?
“I met my husband Francis Dick from Belfast who played for St. Galls Basketball Club. Francis moved for work to Dublin and played for Killester for a few seasons. That is where it all began and then Francis moved back to Belfast for work in 1984 and I moved to Belfast in February 1985 and we married.”
Q: Tell us about the history of Phoenix Basketball Club, why did you decide to form the club?
“My children attended St. Anne's Primary school, Dunmurry. I joined the Parents Association and as a fundraiser for the school I started weekly basketball sessions. We had over 100 children playing every week but there were no local clubs for them to play in. Queens was the closest club to where we lived and initially my children played with Queens. With more and more of the primary school children looking to play for a club I decided in 2003, with the help of Frankie O'Loane (RIP) who was the development officer for Basketball Northern Ireland, to set up Lisburn Basketball Club (now Phoenix) at the Lisburn Leisureplex. We had 50 boys and girls join in the first year and now we currently sit at 270. In addition to the club members we have been coaching over 1000 primary school children through the Everybody Active Program, in partnership with Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council and Belfast City Council.”
Q: How many teams do you have in the club now?
“We have 17 teams. From U8 boys and girls to senior men/women.”
Q: What kind of trophy success have you had as a club?
Over the years our teams have always been very competitive. We won numerous titles at underage and our senior women’s team won the women's league a number of times. Our Premier Men and Division One teams have won or finished 2nd in the Premier League and Cup. At junior level a number of age groups have made it to the BNI finals with some progressing to the AICC's.”
Q: Phoenix Basketball Club is in the women’s National League, when did the team enter into the competition and what has the transition to elite level basketball been like for the club?
“Phoenix Rockets, formally Ulster Rockets, is made up of players from Queens, Star, Tyrone Towers & Phoenix. Rockets was established in 2006 and after a few seasons won promotion to Super League. After a few years in the Super League the Rockets had to withdraw from the league, due to low number of players and injuries. On returning the following season we had recruited a number of young players and re-entered at Division One Level. Two years later, in 2017, we won the National Cup. When the Ulster Rockets were in the Super League, Killester purchased a Cup in memory of my parents (Noel & Phyllis) known as the "Grennell Cup". When we met in the League the winning team was awarded the Cup. In the first season Killester (coached by Mark Grennell) won it and in year two Rockets won it, but unfortunately we have not played each other since, but we will some day soon.”
Q: What future goals do you have for the club? Are there any plans to enter a men’s team into the National League for example?
“Phoenix hope to have a men’s National League team for the 2021/2022 season. We have secured a sponsor and will use this current season to prepare the team. This is very exciting for some of our young players, seeing this as a pathway to compete at the elite level. We are also in discussion with friends in the USA and I'm expecting some exciting projects in the near future.”
Q: You used to train and play out of Methodist College in South Belfast, but now you’ve moved to Lisburn Raquets, what prompted the move?
“Due to Covid-19 we lost access to Methodist College. Up to March this year we were using Methodist College Belfast six days a week. We started looking for a new home and we are absolutely thrilled to find a new home in Lisburn Racquets Centre. The Centre had no court markings, no baskets, but the nicest wooden floor. The management and staff at Racquets have been so welcoming and are impressed at how quickly we have installed all the equipment needed to hopefully make this one of the best facilities in the country. We could not have achieved any of this without the hard work of our Club Management Committee, our Covid Officer and all the parents who volunteer their time.”
Q: Belfast Star will also be playing out of Lisburn Racquets too, tell us about the facility?
“The facility now has everything we could ever want. Two court facilities. Seating capacity for 900 that takes two minutes to set up. Beautiful sprung wooden floor. We have two cross-courts for our juniors with adjustable height baskets. We can host not only National League games but 3v3 competitions also. In addition to this, we have hospitality rooms and a bar where we can all socialise after the games.”
Q: We’ve mentioned Belfast Star, you have a close relationship with them, how important is that?
“This is very important to us, as we have had a structured link with Belfast Star for many years that gives our senior players a pathway to play in the Super League. When the season takes off and we can have spectators back at our games it will be great to see all our club members attending and supporting Rockets and Star. At underage level Star are our greatest competitor in our local leagues and at any age group you can be guaranteed a very exciting and competitive game. Both teams are producing players that we will see playing National League in the near future.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges in running a basketball club that you’ve found since forming Phoenix Basketball Club?
“From day one the parents of our players have been hugely supportive. Each team has coach, assistant coach and team manager (all parents). Since August 2020 we have seen 70+ players join the club. Expanding at this rate we constantly need more and more coaches and volunteers. We are seeing more and more of our young people taking coaching and table courses and giving back to the club, by helping coach in our development groups and underage teams. They’re great role models for our young players. Over the summer we had planned to run a week-long refereeing course, but unfortunately Covid-19 put a stop to that, but hopefully this will happen over the next few months. In our 5-year plan we intend to create a mentoring program for our young coaches and referees to ensure we have experienced coaches and referees working with our young people.”
Q: How much harder has it been over the last few months with Covid-19?
“It has been extremely difficult with Covid-19. We were delighted to get back to training on 12th September. Between fundraising for our new equipment and putting protocols in place in order for all to participate safely, there was a great buzz around the club. Unfortunately after five weeks lockdown came and this decision has set us back. To keep connected with our players we send weekly challenges to each squad and they send a video clip by the end of week and there are prizes for the best video at every age group.”
Q: Let’s talk a bit about you now. You are from a family of 8, with five of you playing internationally for Ireland, it must have been a basketball-mad home growing up, how hectic was it? Did you always have a basketball under your arm?
“It was amazing. My parents were fantastic supporters of the game. Fr. Michael Casey set up Killester Basketball Club in the local car park in our parish in 1969. I remember the huge numbers that turned up on a weekly basis. We played and practiced everyday. My first team, Killester Kittens, were coached by my brother Martin and I played alongside my sisters Clare, Philly and Imelda. We were a very successful team and played together for many years, winning numerous titles. Being part of a large family brought a lot of benefits and you always had someone to practice with. Dinner conversations would regularly be dominated by our latest game (win or loss). One great memory I have of my dad, is coming to watch two of his grandchildren play. One was playing with Killester, but the other was the opposition Phoenix (then Lisburn), plus I was coaching the Lisburn team. He took his chair and sat at the halfway line to show support for all.”
Q: You played in the same international team with your sisters Claire and Philly under Paudie O’Connor, what was that like?
“Yes in 1974 Clare, Philly and I were selected for the senior women's team coached by Paudie O'Connor. This was a great achievement for us and I know my parents were so proud of this. It's only when you look back to that time, you realise it really was a very special time for our family.”
Q: You played internationally for 14 years, won trophies as a player with Killester, formed a basketball club, among a host of other things in the game, but what’s your proudest achievement in basketball?
“The first achievement that comes to mind, at the age of 15 I captained my school team St. Mary's Holy Faith (Killester) in representing Ireland in the Catholic Student games in Lisbon, Portugal, where we won gold. On returning home our whole school turned out at Dublin Airport and carried us on their shoulders through the airport. The second achievement was captaining the Ireland senior women's team in winning the Four Countries Tournament. It was the first time for the Irish senior women’s team to win the Four Countries.”
Q: Away from Phoenix Basketball Club you’re also chair of the Women’s National League Committee (WNLC), you’re very much engrained in the game, how do you switch off from it?
“I love spending quality time with my family, who are very supportive to what I'm involved in. I now have a grandaughter Grace and two more on the way, so hopefully have a team of the future! I'm very competitive and love playing Scrabble, Bananagrams and Boggle. My favourite Scrabble opponent is Kelvin Troy. We have played many a game over the years, but you better ask him who is the champ!”
Q: Your children Susie and Paul have played National League basketball, Paul has moved back to Belfast and will be playing with Belfast Star this season. What are you like when watching them – relaxed, or on the edge of your seat almost going through every play?!
“I'm more nervous watching them, as I ever was as a player. I enjoy watching their games, as they are both really good team players.
Q: Was it you bending Paul’s ear to try to coax him back playing in Belfast?!
“Definitely not, but I love having him home again. Paul has his reasons for doing this, but I am very pleased, as I will get to see most of his games.”
Q: Coaching is clearly in the blood, your brother Martin Grennell, his sons Jonathan and Mark all at Killester and obviously yourself. Can you see Susie or Paul getting into coaching too?
“Paul and Susie both have coached with Phoenix and at the Hard 2 Guard Camps throughout their playing careers with Phoenix. Susie is expecting baby number two, but I know once Grace starts playing she and her husband Conor, who plays for Star, will definitely be coaching. I think Paul will eventually go into coaching, as with all his experiences he has so much to offer the future generation.”
Q: Let’s turn our attentions to this season, Phoenix Basketball Club, you had brought in an American, Devona Stell from Atlanta, Georgia, but she’s now gone to France to play due to the halt in our season, I guess it’s just another example of the impact Covid-19 has had?
“Yes it was such a shame, as she was a really good fit for our team. She was devastated that the season was halted, as she was looking forward to playing here. We were delighted that she got the opportunity to trial in France and hopefully we might see her back here at some stage.”
Q: How is the rest of your squad shaping up for the season?
“It was shaping up well, but unfortunately we have not been allowed train for the past five weeks due to lockdown. We have a young team, with the McGrath sisters (Charley and Georgie), Aoife Turley, Cassie Taylor, Maeve Deery and new transfer Muirin McCreanor. The experience of Mairead McNally, Sinead Smye and Rebecca Barker is crucial for our team. Phoenix Under-18 players Anna Duncan and Anna Cassidy will join the team for their first season.”
Q: Are there any up-and-coming players through your underage set-up at the club who might make the breakthrough into the senior side that we should be watching out for this season?
“Aoife Turley and Cassie Taylor joined the squad last season, but due to study commitments did not get to play a lot, but this season they are fully committed and I really think they will make an impact in the league.”
Q: And finally, what are your hopes for the season when it does get up and running?
“My hope is that we have a season soon. I'm hoping and I believe it will be a very competitive league and Cup and Rockets will be up there competing to the end of this unforgettable season.”