I’VE always had a soft spot for basketball. That comes from my Killarney roots. It’s a basketball town. The association dates back to the early 1950s and while it’s not as strong now as it was in its heyday, basketball still has a presence there.
From the hugely popular town league for national schools, to a brief season or two underage with St Paul’s Basketball Club, to covering the Superleague adventures of the club’s men’s and women’s teams in my early journalism days, basketball has been an ever-present for as long as I can remember.
There has always been a core of basketball people in Killarney keeping the sport alive and doing their bit to maintain that tradition.
We have strong basketball folk in West Cork too, those who live and breathe the sport. Their work might go unnoticed by many, but they are crucial in ensuring that basketball locally continues to make headlines for all the right reasons.
Bantry has been a basketball hotspot in recent times, both the local club’s men’s and women’s teams have brought home silverware, as has Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí. Pat Curran is one of the main driving forces in both the club and school. He’s one of many basketball fanatics locally. Marie O'Mahony is another – she has overseen Skibbereen Community School’s greatest-ever basketball season that has now seen it named the Basketball Ireland Post-Primary Schools’ Boys C School of the Year.
It’s been an incredible season for the Skibb secondary school, its best year ever, with the U16 boys’ team stealing the headlines. They completed a league and cup double. The school’s U19 boys also qualified for the county final, the first and second year boys’ teams had enjoyed commanding wins in all their games, as had the first year girls’ team in the A league. Basketball is strong in the school, and we can trace that back to Trojan work by Marie O’Mahony. It’s a huge part of her life.
When she was in school in Rosscarbery, she learned from Pat Dwyer – those lessons have stayed with her. Pat asked Marie to coach the first and second year girls’ teams when she was in transition year, and she hasn’t looked back.
She spent time teaching at Loreto Secondary School in Navan, and success on the hard court followed.
‘In Navan, my first and second year girls won All-Irelands on the same day. Nina Carbery, who went on to become a top jockey, was one of my best players on that occasion. She and two other girls went on to become basketball internationals even though none of the girls played in a basketball club and we had no indoor training facilities. It just shows that hard work works,’ Marie explained.
She returned home to West Cork 16 years ago and now Skibbereen Community School is reaping the benefits of her coaching expertise. Even now, with all sport suspended and schools closed, she hasn’t stopped.
‘I have set up an online training programme for my players at the moment. Those who will take this on board will become better players,’ Marie explains.
Basketball is a labour of love for Marie. Just as it is for Pat Curran in Bantry, and many more involved in local schools and clubs. On a typical school week, Marie holds training sessions on Monday and Tuesday mornings at 7.30am, gives up her lunch times to coaching, coaches after school three times a week, including Wednesday from 1.10pm until 3.30pm. This is all voluntary.
As she says, hard work works. And the results are there. The school’s talented U16 boys team has been terrific this year.
Eividas Anekius was Skibb’s stand-out player all season, he scored 28 points in the All-Ireland U16C Boys’ Schools League final win (60-33) against De La Salle Churchtown in February. Eividas got injured in the first quarter of the U16C Boys All-Ireland Schools Cup triumph (54-32) against St Joseph’s Secondary School in Rochfortbridge (Westmeath) in January, but he recovered to lead the team to the double. He is joint captain of the team with Stevie Redmond, another leader in this young group.
Tom Kavanagh, Daniel Buckley and Colm Harrington are another three heroes – but this was a real team effort, Marie stresses.
‘I am so proud of every member of this squad. They have grown in confidence, courage and skill over the years and it has been a privilege to work with such a dedicated squad,’ she said.
‘Back in September when we started training, we knew that we had a great chance of making it happen. We have been close to achieving our place in the final every year since 2016 but couldn't quite finish the job. Our boys came of age this year.’
What a season for Skibbereen Community School on the hard court, memories have been made that will live long after these students stop walking the school corridors and move on to their next adventures – and the school is lucky to have a coach as passionate and knowledgeable as Marie O’Mahony to keep basketball alive and well. Long may that great work continue.