We were all thrilled with the SCT’s historical run to glory a couple of years ago, and the girls are quickly making a name for themselves in hockey, but some of us still save a special place in our hearts for the unmatchable heat and hoopla that accompanies the hardcourt drama of a big basketball game. Last Wednesday, we had two big basketball games, as both the U16s and U19s fought for the Ireland East Plate in the cauldron called ‘The Oblates’ in Inchicore, and Coaches Sean Ingle and Peter Gahan and their boys added another two chapters to that short but storied tradition that is St. Conleth’s Basketball. One difference between rugby and basketball is their spiritual homes: the former is still imbued with the fierce but fine manners of the British boarding schools while the latter proudly parrots its swag and jargon from the American ghetto. Both have their charms, but isn’t it particularly heartwarming to see Marian’s Filipino lads and Ringer locals, Castleknock CC’s provincials and St. Conleth’s Ballsbridge-belt boys united by Compton’s gangsta’ style? Over the last few years we have made quite a few trips to finals like these but have been left like Miss Havisham at the altar, with no ring to bring home. This time it was different and it was the Conleth’s boys who bossed it big-time and brought the rings and the nets home… and the house down!
In the U16 game, Luke Gillian was simply Lebron-like: an unstoppable force of nature and he dribbled and drove with a grace that belied his intimidating size. And his partner in crime, as always, was Colin Bolger, he of the uncanny court sense and sniper’s eye, who banged in threes and mere 2-pointers from all over, all afternoon. These two were the stars, but just as when Heron and Purcell were making headlines, a strong supporting cast is essential: Mark Connor continued his family’s tradition of quick, strong and smart play; Neill O’Gorman did all the little things right and sank two exquisite baskets and had a couple of dimes on the side; Dylan Alvezwas like the second coming of Dennis Rodman: a rebounding and defensive machine; and the bench was also a factor, with Keane Acosta and Nollaig Mulligan needed providing some spark and Kai And sinking a memorable trey.
Luke, Colin and Mark all played up (as they always do) with the 19s but there was no fatigue factor despite the long minutes: if anything, Luke was even more bullish bringing up the ball and Colin was snapping the nets with a regularity not seen since Lil’ Scottie Butler in his prime. Of course, Conor Power was his usual tower of power, good-naturedly absorbing some border-line, bush-league banging. Marlon was running and jumping at twice the speed of everyone else and Captain Oisín Gilligan was the voice and dribble of reason, as the Conlethians came from behind and withstood some furious rallies. Ronan Connor was also there to provide some skill and muscle when it was needed and Jack Topliss thrilled his many fans when he came off the bench for some inspirational minutes and interesting chants. There were many lovely dishes on the day but the biggest assist of all was from the fans: Gavin Nugent, John Kelleher and their cohorts kept up the noise throughout the game and willed the team to complete an unprecedented one-day double. The pressure in the building down the stretch was so unbelievable Coach Ingle felt like a barista, but all the lads had ice in their veins when they approached the charity stripe to put the dagger in a Castleknock team that had manfully charged back numerous times. And then, finally, there was the glorious sight of Colin dribbling out the clock and the stands emptying to celebrate a long-awaited return for St. Conleth’s Basketball to its accustomed court of glory!