IT wasn’t your typical Monday morning at work for Kellie Cahalane last week. Then again, it hadn’t been a standard weekend for her either.
Walking in the door to work at Musgraves, the Castletownshend woman received a standing ovation, a bunch of flowers and a cake, all celebrating her hard court achievements the previous day.
Kellie (31) was joint-captain of the Fr Mathews team that won the senior women’s National Cup final at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght, beating Meteors 55-45.
‘I’m getting married in June so I couldn’t afford to take any more days off work,’ she laughed this week, celebrations on-going from Sunday’s heroics in the capital.
‘This is a massive achievement. To captain the team was fantastic, especially when it was the first national senior title for the club as well.’
Kellie’s journey to Fr Mathews in Cork city can be traced back to home in West Cork, growing up with two older sisters, Michelle and April, who both played basketball, too. It was, she says, fairly competitive.
‘When my sisters played, I didn’t have a choice. What they did, I had to do!’ said Kellie, daughter of Colm and Margaret.
Living next to the tennis courts also helped, with Kellie, Michelle and April honing their competitive spirit there, playing with the neighbours, mostly boys.
‘The Crowleys were in number one, we were in number eight and we spent our lives on the tennis courts,’ she said, looking back on when she first stepped foot on the hard court and her journey then to Fr Mathews.
‘I started into basketball when I was first year in Mercy Heights (in Skibbereen) and we won a few cup titles during my time there,’ she said.
‘Michelle and April both played for Mercy Heights and Skibbereen Eagles as well so it was a natural progression for me to follow them.
‘After I left Mercy Heights I went to college in UL and I played basketball there as well. I played for Ireland, too, for four and a half years. Both my sisters played internationally for Ireland as well.
‘When I finished college in UL, I took a year out in Australia where I didn’t play any basketball.
‘What happened then is when I came home, I ran a half marathon in Bantry where I met by now fiancé, Paul O’Driscoll, who plays with Fr Mathews, and he said, “look, would you not go back and play socially, it’s a shame you’re not playing at all.”’
That got the ball rolling and soon Kellie’s competitive juices were flowing again.
The first year back, she played in the local league in Cork – but that wasn’t enough for her. She wanted more.
‘James Fleming from Killarney came in as coach, the club decided they would go national league and this is our second year there,’ she said.
‘Last year was a tough season and when you don’t have an American or international, it’s very hard to compete. We didn’t have an American player and we were an older side, a team with a lot of experience.
‘This year we went back to the drawing board, brought in an American player (Ashley Cunningham) who was superb last weekend, so strong under the boards, and we brought in two younger girls who would have played with Glanmire; they transformed the team, they are balls of energy on the court.’
The end result was Kellie and Fr Mathews won the senior women’s National Cup final on Sunday, with the West Cork woman playing an important role; coach Fleming pointing out, ‘Kellie was always great for us, look at how she played even with four fouls.’
This cup triumph ranks right up there.
‘This is definitely one of the highs,’ Kellie said.
‘I’ll always say that representing Ireland was the pinnacle of what I achieved and that was back when I was 18, 19, but I have to say now, at this stage of my career, that this is up there at the top.
‘To have family and friends there to share it, and to achieve it with this particular group, it’s incredible.’
Her two sisters, both living in Dublin, were there to cheer her on. Michelle’s two daughters, Zara and Heidi Murphy, were the Fr Mathews’ mascots for the final. Kellie’s parents made the trip up from home in Castletownshend. There was family and friends packed into the arena, supporters’ buses made the trip from Fr Mathews; it was special and emotional on so many levels.
‘You play sport for so long, you put so much into it, you are away from home every second or third weekend playing away games, there is so much effort put in that when you get a reward – like last weekend – then it makes it all worthwhile,’ Kellie smiled, having played a leading role in an historic triumph for Fr Mathews.
A basketball adventure that started in West Cork has seen a former Skibbereen Eagles’ player soar to new heights – and she’s not finished yet.