In the continuing parade of victorious basketball teams over the years, one will stand out in the memories of the party which flew to Spain last month to compete in a long established tournament there.
Even though weeks have passed since, there is still a feeling of ‘Did we really do That’ about the magic of the week and the achievement and excitement of it all.
And the coaches revealed this weekend that they have been invited back to play in the 33rd annual Tomas Sola International Basketball Tournament in Malgrat de Mar in Barcelona to defend their title in 2018.
Team Preparation over the Year
Conor Brosnan and Aoife Nolan have been involved with a team of 14 and 15 year old girls from the St. Mary’s club for the most of the past year.
Since taking up the challenge of competing in the Thomas Sola Tournament at that time they have trained and raised funds for this experience of a lifetime.
And they’ve been invited back to defend the title they won so admiringly with the skills they’ve honed with club and schools over the years.
Curious as to what they made of the experience and its aftermath I asked coaches, Conor and Aoife and joint captains, Kayla O’Connor and Shauna Ahern for their thoughts on their shared experience and of their huge achievement.
And, in response they took us from the departure from Castleisland to their return one amazing week later.
It’s Finally April 12th
So this is it, today’s the day – it’s finally April 12th and our 20 strong party set off from Castleisland to Dublin airport on a journey that we will never forget.
We could have only dreamed that in a short week’s time we’d return as European Champions.
On the bus journey up, us adults hoped that the girls would sleep as the flight was 6am, but there was too much excitement so classic bus game and music prevailed.
Alas we arrived bleary eyed to Dublin Airport we made our way through customs and checked in and finally we boarded the plane to Barcelona, Spain. After travelling the bones of 12 or 13 hours we finally reached our destination in Malgrat de Mar.
Amazement at the Crowd
When we walked into the venue, we all just stopped and looked around in amazement at the crowd that was there.
The atmosphere was electric, teams chanting, music blaring and everyone talking and introducing themselves. We found the only seats left in the arena next to a French team and they were besotted with our mascot ‘Tayto’ and how crazy our girls were.
Our co-captains, Kayla and Shauna and Tayto were paraded around the court with all the other participating teams.
Victory in the Opening Game
After victory in our opening game against the hosts AECAM Malgrat, we faced German Eurobasket side Gruner Stern Keltern.
The German side were much bigger and stronger than our ladies. We decided on a 2-3 zone so we could rebound in numbers and run the ball as much as we could and use our strengths to our advantage.
We played absolutely brilliantly, completely out playing our opponents in all four quarters and making them look very average and won on a 61-16 score.
Our third and final group game was on Saturday morning against French side Defi Sport. Our defence and quick accurate passing resulted in yet another comprehensive win.
We were playing the best we had all year and it was incredible to be a part of and to witness.
We cruised home 86-12 winners. The results of our group games on paper didn’t do our girls or our opponents any justice.
We were truly phenomenal. Other teams started to compliment the girls on their ability, the locals approached Aoife and I with more praise.
Our semi final clash was with Swiss side Del Basket. During the warm up, we realised that we were quicker than them but also our height was our disadvantage.
The quickness, pace and control our girls had over the game was the deciding factor as we pulled away in the finish.
A Place in the Final
We had an impressive 45-27 victory and a place in a European final for first time ever.
A German side Hurther BC were our opposition in the final. They compete in the German national U-17 league and boasted a few internationals.
We led at half time by 21-19. The crowd got louder and louder as time started to run out.
We were up seven points with 1:30 to play.
They drew on a fantastic play to get their best shooter a look from three and she nailed it off the back board.
The resulting press lead to a turnover on our part and suddenly it was a two-point game with 33 seconds to play.
We did an excellent job of minding the ball and using all 24 seconds in the resulting play. We got a look at the ring but no joy but taking the clock down to nine seconds.
Time out from the Germans again. All we needed was one stop. The ball was in-bounded and luckily a hand appeared out of nowhere and deflected the ball out of danger.
One of our guards collected the ball and ran for our basket. The relief that we felt when the final whistle went was immense.
We Actually Did It
Everyone went crazy. We actually did it. This bunch of 14 / 15 year olds can actually call themselves European Champions!
The homecoming we received when we arrived back to Castleisland was incredible. Thank you to everyone who came and gave the girls the welcome home they deserved and to everyone who organised the after party in the centre.
It was amazing to see just how excited and proud everyone felt of what we achieved. For now we will enjoy the celebrations and will look forward to doing it all again next year.
Aoife Nolan – Coach
It’s hard to put it into words just how much this trip meant to us all. We left Dublin Airport on the 12th of April not knowing what was ahead of us.
We didn’t even dare to dream that in seven days we could be returning as European Champions.
It was special to see the bond that formed between players, coaches and parents and we all became like a family.
For these girls to be European Champions at this young age really shows what kind of players they are and their desire to succeed.
Working with this group of girls for most of the past year has been truly amazing and so rewarding. To see the delight on their faces on winning the tournament and returning to the homecoming has made all the hard work worthwhile.
Proud of the Team
The tournament itself was unique, the atmosphere and noise levels in the venue were electric and to see the girls soak that up and battle hard even in the final just made us so proud of them.
We have memories that will last a lifetime and will be talked about for years to come.
We have already been asked to come back next year and we will be sure to head back and defend our title.
Kayla O’Connor – Co Captain
I’ve had many special sporting moments in my life but one significant moment was when our U-16 basketball team became European Champions and I was joint captain.
Nervous of Opponents
At the beginning of the journey we were excited about the trip but nervous of our opponents.
We travelled as individuals but returned like a large family.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to co-captain our team on such a special event.
A Big Role
Being a captain is always a big role to take on.
However I took pride along with my fellow co captain Shauna Ahern in raising the Irish flag and we both worked very well together in taking leadership roles on the court.
The icing on cake was to return to Castleisland as European Champions with our fantastic coaches Aoife and Conor.
Shauna Ahern – Co Captain
The trip was the best experience of my life. I would do it again – one hundred percent.
From start to finish we grew stronger as a team and bonded so well together.
As the games went on it was more noticeable.
Teams from all over Europe
Playing teams from all over Europe we might never get that opportunity again and we made the most of it by winning!
Only for Aoife and Conor this all wouldn’t have been possible and I would like to thank them for all their work from the whole team.
We also wish to thank all the sponsors and people that supported us for this trip.
This was the experience of a lifetime that we will all never forget.
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