Stage Set For 45th annual Blitz

The man who started it all: Donal 'The Duke' O'Connor who dreamed up The Blitz on the same year that he took up a job with the Bank of Ireland in Castleisland. ©Photograph: John Reidy
The man who started it all: Donal ‘The Duke’ O’Connor who dreamed up The Blitz on the same year that he took up a job with the Bank of Ireland in Castleisland. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Christmas morning has finally dawned on the Basketball-mad town of Castleisland. For many, the day will be spent in deep anticipation of tomorrow morning’s opening day of the 45th annual St. Mary’s Basketball Club Christmas Blitz.

For tournament director and founder, Donal ‘Duke’ O’Connor the number 45 has a special significance this year. He retired from his post at the Bank of Ireland earlier this year. He took up that job in 1969 – a full 45 years ago and on the same year that he dreamed up and got to work on the idea of a Christmas-time basketball tournament in Castleisland.

Well, it all got out of hand. From an event of a handful of games with a few dedicated players, The Blitz has grown to a five-day, mega gathering of morning noon and night activity on the courts of the local community centre and St. John’s Hall.

These days ‘The Duke’ is surrounded by a dedicated committee which springs into well-rehearsed action on the morning of each St.Stephen’s Day – and that’s it from 9am to 9pm for the following five days.

Bríd Kenny is the club and event PRO and she provided the following run-down on what we can expect when the doors of the centre are flung open in the morning:
“December has arrived and for most people it is the time for special events and holidays, for Christmas shopping, the pending excitement of families reuniting and the imminent arrival of Santa Claus.
However, for Castleisland and its surrounding parishes this month also brings the buzz of the St. Mary’s Christmas Basketball Blitz. Throughout the month, much of the talk around town is about ‘The Blitz.’  The burning questions are: When is the programme out, when are you playing, what teams are in which competition, I wonder who will be crowned Miss Basketball?
St. Mary’s, Castleisland is yet again providing the locals and county with the usual exciting entertainment for the festive week with its annual Christmas Blitz. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of the blitz.
“St. Mary’s and its club members have being running ‘The Blitz’ since 1970 when it all started in the Astor Ballroom and Cinema in Castleisland.  There were times when the Blitz was held during the day and the dance was on by night!
After six years of ever increasing popularity the show was moved in 1976 to the Castleisland Community Centre. The event eventually outgrew the centre and the need for a second venue was obvious. This prompted the introduction in 1988 of St. John’s Hall which is part of St. Joseph’s Secondary School. The Christmas Blitz is obviously one of the best and most recognised competitions in Ireland,” said event PRO, Bríd Kenny.
The Blitz is run over five days, starting early on the morning of St. Stephen’s Day and finishing late in the evening on the December 30th.
“It caters for all age groups from national school right up to senior men. Players are drawn mainly from the local areas but we now have teams from all over Kerry and Ireland. These teams include the leading national league clubs.  In the Premier Ladies, we have two Team Den Joes American Style, Tralee Imperials and Singleton’s SuperValu Brunell from Cork  and in the mens we have St Marys, Fr. Matthews, Moycullen and Limerick Celtics. Much of the credit for this major organisational achievement should go to Tournament Director, Donal ‘Duke’ O’Connor and his dedicated committee,” said Ms. Kenny.
In the course of the 2014 Blitz over 1600 players will take up ‘court duty’ with the 155 teams involved in more than 175 games in 23 competitions.  There will be 23 team winners – all in only five days at just two venues!
“As always sponsorship for this annual event is raised locally and huge thanks is extended to the local businesses who have contributed from around the county, especially in this economic climate. Our Major sponsors are:  Munster Joinery;  Den Joe’s Family Restaurant;  Walsh Colour Print and Garvey’s Super Valu.
The Castleisland Basketball Blitz is the biggest of its kind in Ireland and it blends the unique atmosphere of Christmas cheer and family spirit into an occasion which is eagerly anticipated by all involved and which has to be experienced to be believed,” Bríd concluded.