Club Focus: Griffith College Templeogue
February 21, 2021
Templeogue Basketball Club was formed in 1976, by former pupils of Templeogue College. The club won its first national title in 2007, when they lifted the U18 National Cup and further success at underage level ensued. Meanwhile at senior level Griffith College Templeogue won the Men’s National Cup for the first time in 2015/16, with subsequent success in 2017/18 and in 2019/20.
The club entered the men’s National League in 2012/13 and moved into the Men’s Super League for the 2013/14 season. A year later they claimed their first ever Men’s Super League title. They’ve also got one Men’s Champions Trophy to their name, which was won in 2018/19.
Griffith College Templeogue entered a women’s team into the Women’s National League in 2019, finishing fifth in the Division 1 North Conference.
We caught up with men’s head coach Mark Keenan and women’s head coach Mark Byrne for Club Focus.
Q: Thanks for taking the time, two Mark’s so that’ll make this easy! We’ll start with you Mark Keenan, you joined the club for the 2014/15 season, what enticed you to the club in the first place and how did it come about?
MK: “During my third season of coaching the UL Eagles in Limerick I decided that that was going to be my final year with the Eagles. All the travelling up and down to Limerick several times a week was the deciding factor in making this decision. I have always had a relationship with the Templeogue guys of my age group. We played against each in school and also at club level while I was playing for Corinthians B.C. When the opportunity presented itself to coach in Templeogue it seemed like the perfect match. It was a great opportunity to get involved with a progressive, ambitious club that had a great group of people I already knew driving the club forward. They also had a great group of young players, with tonnes of potential.”
Q: You’ve tasted plenty of success with the club, most recently with the National Cup in January 2020, did you feel that it was going to be the springboard to further success in 2020/21?
MK: ”Our goal and ambition from day one back in 2014 was to compete and challenge in every competition. Our goal for the 2020/21 season was to try retain our Cup title and also challenge for the (Super) League title. Along with being successful comes high - and then higher - expectations.”
Q: There was obviously the Cup draw last September and we were all geared up for the Super League start in October, how difficult did you find it when it all came to a shuddering halt?
MK: “Yes it was hard to take that news when everything was halted. We had gained some good momentum in pre-season training and were really looking forward to our opening game at home to DCU Saints. It was even more difficult to see that most other leagues in Europe were going ahead. Having said all that, the health and safety of everyone involved had to take first place and everyone had to comply with all the guidelines.”
Q: Did the decision at the start of February to formally call an end to the season come as a relief in some ways, as you can now focus on the 2021/22 season?
MK: “Not really. I was still very optimistic at that stage that some type of competition might take place in April/May. Maybe I was being more wishful than realistic, because the rise in Covid-19 numbers just after Christmas was always going to add even more delays for indoor sports to be granted a return to play.”
Q: Let’s hear from Mark Byrne on this, the club had a single season in Women’s Division One under Sean Ingle, and no doubt it was looking forward to its second in 2020/21. Has the cancellation of the season stunted your momentum somewhat, with you coming in as head coach and trying to build the side?
MB: “I suppose the longer the Covid crisis went on, the more likely it was that the season would be cancelled. I felt we had a very good pre-season and were building nicely, so it was disappointing to have the season cancelled two days before the tip off. Obviously there was a bigger concern of trying to keep everyone safe, but we’ll soon turn our focus to 2021/22 and start building again.”
Q: No doubt it difficult was it to assemble a squad from scratch for the inaugural season, how hard has it been to keep squad together this season and keeping them focused amid all the uncertainty?
MB: “We’re lucky that we’ve a dedicated and enthusiastic core of Irish players, so motivation has never been the issue. Obviously, we haven’t been together over the last few months, so that has been tough. And back before Christmas it was tough keeping momentum with the stop-start nature of the decision-making, especially when that involves overseas players. Hopefully we’ll get a good run to prepare for 2021/22.
Q: Templeogue picked up 7 wins and 7 losses last season, in 2019/20. In your time with the squad in pre-season did you see signs that you could have competed for promotion in 2020/21?
MB: “To be fair this team has been building nicely over the last 4 years, both under Sean (Ingle) and Bronagh, my wife, before him. So I wasn’t surprised to see them do well in their first year in the National League. I think with some more experience and a good run at it, we would hopefully have made a good account of ourselves. “
Q: Mark Keenan, you were fifth in the Men’s Super League last season, was a title at the Super League title on the agenda for you in 2020/21 with a strong squad with the likes of Stephen James, Neil Randolph, Jason Killeen and Lorcan Murphy?
MK: “Yes of course. That’s on our agenda every year. Along with the great players you just mentioned, who always want to win and be the best that they can be, we have some great young players that are progressing greatly - Kris Arcilla and Matthew Harper - and we had also added in the off-season young James Gormley and Keith Jordan Jnr. to strengthen the squad.“
Q: Mark you of course have the Irish senior men’s team to think about too, with the European Championship for Small Countries due to take place in Limerick in June, having been postponed last year. How have you been keeping your international players who are based here domestically ticking over, to ensure they’re ready to go come June?
MK: “We have been communicating updates to the entire squad through email and through personal contact, however from a training point of view players have been left to their own devices, to do what they can do in their own environment and following all the relevant guidelines. We also have a number of squad players currently playing professionally in Spain, Germany, Italy and others playing in college in the USA. As a staff we are keeping a close eye on how these players are performing and progressing.“
Q: Your wifi must be on overdrive with all the zooms! How challenging has it been to be coaching remotely like this and what is the most difficult part?
MK: “Yes we’ve had a number of zoom calls with our Templeogue players, but it’s more about just keeping in touch and passing on any updates to the players. With the National team, so far our zooms calls have all been just with the coaching and management staff, updating ourselves with the latest information about players and leagues etc.“
Q: No doubt you’ve been looking on enviously at other European leagues still taking place, and with their players still getting game-time – how much harder will it be for our international side to be competitive this summer?
MK: “It is hard to watch other leagues in other countries playing away but we can’t do anything about until we are given the green light to get playing again. As I mentioned above we have a lot of squad members playing in other countries at present, so this is a good thing for the squad. I have no doubt when we do get back playing we will get up to max speed very quickly and we will be ready when the competition comes around.“
Q: You captained Ireland to its only ever senior European title in the 1994 Promotions Cup in Dublin, what memories do you have of that tournament?
MK: “A fantastic week in my basketball career. At the fourth attempt and now playing at home and in the National Arena, we weren’t going to let that Promotions Cup get away from us on that occasion. We had a great group of players and a very close team unit and I’m delighted that one of my teammates, Adrian Fulton, is part of my coaching staff now also.“
Q: How much would it mean to you to achieve trophy success as an international coach this summer?
MK: “I think it would be fantastic for the team and the country and the game if we could be successful and progress to the next level of competition in Europe. It’s not about winning a trophy, it’s about progressing to the next level.”
Q: A question to you both, there is hope that some competitive basketball could be played in May, should health restrictions allow, what format or competitions would you like to see?
MK: “For me, I think if the European Championships are going to go ahead in June in Limerick then that must be the focus for our senior men’s squad players. All our preparations will be geared and focused towards that.”
MB: “To be honest I’m more hopeful than expectant. I think the logistics of an extended league would be difficult, so I’d imagine a more likely scenario might be a tournament format. A number of ‘Roy Curtis’ or ‘Billy Kelly’ type tournaments would be great.”
Q: Now let’s discuss your careers so far Mark Byrne we’ll start with you. You played for Notre Dame and UCD Marian, what are the main lessons you’ve taken from your playing days into coaching when dealing with players day-to-day?
MB: “I suppose I try to remember that it really is a game for players. It should be fun, enjoyable, but also challenging, which brings the reward. I always try to have high-energy training sessions as I used to hate stop-start sessions when I played. In games I try to be positive and supportive and create a high-performance attitude.”
Q: Was it always in your mind that you’d progress into coaching when you were playing?
MB: “Yes, 100%. I was always interested in what made great teams tick. I love the technical, organisational and motivational or psychological elements of team sports in general and basketball in particular.
Q: You’ve coached Meteors and Liffey Celtics, but how did you get into coaching in the first place?
MB: “God hard to remember, my earliest memory of some level of coaching was a summer league we organised ourselves as kids in Coláiste Éanna, where the captains were effectively player-coaches (my team won the league). I think I was about 20 when, Gerry O’Brien, our excellent coach from my schools days in Coláiste Éanna, got me to coach a Notre Dame U15 club team and I have been coaching on and off ever since. It was always something I wanted to have a serious go at once I stopped playing and I’m glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to coach at Super League level, as well as many underage teams over the years.”
Q: You obviously had a lot of success with Liffey Celtics, was it a wrench leaving the club?
MB: “To be honest, yes it really was. We had built a really strong team where the players had great commitment and drive and were a pleasure to coach. The chairman and committee were also very supportive of me and what we were trying to achieve. We had a great year in 2018/9 and so it was very tempting to try and keep the run going, but my kids all play for Templeogue, so there has always been a strong pull for me to coach Templeogue.”
Q: You’ve won trophies, but being acknowledged as Coach of the Year for three years in a row is some feat, does it make all the hard work worthwhile?
MB: “I don’t really see it as hard work. I love coaching and so despite the time commitment and the various challenges, it has been very enjoyable. The recognition of awards is very nice and much appreciated, but I’ve always maintained that the Coach of the Year award is very much a team award. The players, the club and the coaching staff all have to be pulling together to bring about success and ultimately it’s that success that leads to awards.”
Q: You took a year out from senior basketball in 2019/20, coaching Templeogue’s U18’s and U20’s, how much did you need that after a busy few years at Liffey Celtics?
MB: “It was a good idea at the time, but it wasn’t long before I was missing it to be honest. I was glad to have both the U18’s and U20’s to work with and great to be able to give them as much time as I could.
Q: No doubt you’re ambitious and driven, have you sold the dream to Templeogue, or were you sold the dream by the club, on what can be achieved with you at the helm once you do finally get back to action?
MB: “Not sure I think of myself as ambitious, but I do certainly believe in being 100% committed, especially for something as big as Super League or National League. There is no point in being half-hearted. I’ve coached underage teams in Templeogue for about seven years now, so I know there is a great group of young players coming through. The exciting challenge for me is to help bring them through to the next level. If we can add those players to the team that did well last year, there’s no reason that we can’t dream of some level of success.”
Q: Someone mentioned that you may have been in class with Paul McGinley, is this true? If so, what’s your golf game like and were you given any tips?!
MB: “That’s funny. It was actually Padraig Harrington who was in my class in school. I know Paul McGinley went to Coláiste Éanna too, but he’s a bit older. I don’t remember getting any golf tips from Padraig, maybe I should have approached him - I only play 2 or 3 times a year and I’m terrible!
Q: If it’s true about Paul McGinley, Mark Keenan can you match that?! Did you have any high-profile sports people that you went to school with?!
MK: “All the guys I went to school with and played basketball with were high-profile guys.”
Q: Back to the basketball! Mark, your playing career saw you win the Cup with Corinthians in 1989 and St. Vincent’s in 1993 and 1994, when you did the league and cup double, was it the buzz of winning trophies that drove you into coaching when you decided to stop playing?
MK: ”It was the love of the game that brought me into coaching immediately after I retired from playing in 2001. It’s still the love of the game that has me involved today.”
Q: How did your coaching career start, was there anyone in particular who provided inspiration to you to get into coaching?
MK: “I was inspired by all my coaches from the very start of my playing career, right to the very end. From Larry O’Reilly and Gerry Boyd, from my school and early Corinthian days, all the way through to Danny Fulton and Enda Byrt from my International days. Larry O’Reilly set the bar very high. He gave great commitment and dedication to our school teams in Colaiste Caoimhin and he was a fantastic coach to play for. He taught us how to play and understand the game. Danny Fulton was another coach that I really loved playing for. I just had total trust in him and whatever he asked us to do was just done without question.”
Q: You’ve won trophies at Killester, UL and now Templeogue, but what do think has been your finest achievement as a coach?
MK: “I can’t pinpoint any one achievement. I really enjoyed coaching those teams you’ve mentioned and all the great players and people that were involved with those teams. I’ve been very lucky to have been involved with these great clubs and am still really enjoying every minute of being involved with Templeogue.”
Q: How do you maintain the hunger (and fit it all in!), juggling a National League team with the men’s senior international side and throw in the day job too?!
MK: “I just love the game. It’s as simple as that. As soon as I stop enjoying it then it will be time to step away.”
Q: And finally, you were assistant coach under Jay Larranga and Greg Gurr with Ireland. Jay is obviously now with Boston Celtics, what did you learn from him and did you forsee that he was going to be high achiever when he went back Stateside?
MK: “Working with Jay was really a great experience. He is so passionate about the game. You can sense that from him every time you see him, or hear him talk about the game. We had a great relationship and we had a great understanding between Jay, myself and Pat Price. I can’t say I could forsee where Jay would end up, but I can say it doesn’t surprise me at all. He is a winner and has always been. I’m absolutely delighted for him because he is also a great person.
Coaching with Greg Gurr was also a very good learning curve as a young International assistant coach. Understanding how to play that role of in-between man, between the players and the head coach.”