American Sports

An Irish Sporting Family - From Florida To Bray And Everything In Between

An Irish Sporting Family - From Florida To Bray And Everything In Between

Almost 36 years after Ed Randolph first crossed the Atlantic, the ripples are still being felt.

Over Christmas, he and his family flew to Middlesbrough to see son Darren in action. While dawdling around Newcastle airport, waiting for a flight home, Ed felt a tap on his shoulder. He swung around to be met by a man in his thirties. "You coached me at basketball when I was in school".

It's a regular occurrence.

The influx of Americans into Irish basketball in the 1980s left a legacy, but few of the players left down roots. And fewer still would become as inextricably woven with this country than Randolph. He first landed in Ireland as a 22-year-old, scouted by Sporting Belfast and catapulted into a fraught atmosphere at the height of the Troubles. A peripatetic spell across Ireland and Britain followed, before returning to America to receive the call that would change his life.

Enda Burke of the Claremont Admirals in Ennistymon, Clare phoned to say that they had lost their American: he had scarpered for home having found himself uncomfortable with the unique vagaries of rural Ireland. Randolph was asked if he was interested in replacing him, and when he agreed, found himself practicing after mass on a ramshackle, gravel court, with the community centre not yet completed. (Its construction was hastened by help from Randolph and teammates who joined locals in getting their hands and knees dirty to install and varnish the wooden floor).

From the moment Ed Randolph landed in Ennistymon, he began a legacy that has touched most Irish people, even those who haven't seen a basketball court in their lives. It was in Clare that he met Anne, first meeting when Ed tended to an injury Anne picked up while playing badminton. It blossomed from there, and the couple settled in Bray when Ed landed a gig in Dublin.

His son, Darren, would go on to play for the Republic of Ireland, and it was his long-range punt against Germany that would arc toward Shane Long and find a spot in the history books.

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It is, of course, on the court where Randolph's legacy is most keenly felt. During a brief spell in Dundalk in 1987, Randolph began coaching to earn some extra money. Unsurprisingly, the wages from a then-third division side were not enough to get by.

He threw himself into coaching once again upon his return: local teams, school teams, underage teams, basketball camps: chances are, if you've played hoops in Ireland, you've picked up a few words of wisdom from Ed Randolph.

Few have had quite so many of these words filtered to them than his eldest son, Neil, who will feature in the Hula Hoops National Cup semi-finals with Templeogue.

While Darren went east to chase a dream, Neil veered west. Basketball was an integral part of both sons' upbringing, but it wasn't the only part, as Neil tells Balls.

He never really pushed me or Darren into anything. He sat back and let us play everything. We played the GAA, played basketball, soccer, and a tiny bit of rugby. So he let us choose. I gave up the football before I ever had a chance, really, around the age of 13. I had a bit of a temper, I didn’t really like my team! I probably should have stuck at it, but I always preferred Gaelic anyway.

GAA, he admits, was "neck and neck" with basketball, but familial traditions and connections saw the elder son pick the court. "I really wanted to play college basketball in America, at any level. I used to watch NCAA basketball at all levels late at night with my Dad. He used to have all these tapes, we used to watch it. I always wanted to be one of the Irish players who went over and played in America".

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He had family in Florida, so after school, he landed at a Prep School in Florida, geared toward boosting the grades and skills of the student-athletes on the fringes of the NCAA. From there, he spent four years playing Division Three NCAA basketball in upstate New York. The standard was high - "I was destroyed for the first four months" - with an erstwhile housemate and teammate, Puerto Rican Gian Clavell recently signing an NBA contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Ultimately, Neil Randolph survived and strived.

The muscle memory of his father's coaching sessions stood to him, as did the family's inherent competitiveness. Neil was coached by his Dad from the age of 11 until he was 17, and as he admits, "when you’re the coach’s son, you have a bit more of a burden on you, you’re meant to know better and all of that".

He was never easy on me. We’ve had our disagreements, but looking back I’ve fond memories. Around 15 and 16 they got quite bad! I’d come home after losing a game, and I’d lock myself in my room, and not look at him for the rest of the night. But we’re a competitive family. I look back then, and it’s funny now. When you’re at that age you don’t see what he’s saying, you think you know better. But looking back, it’s fair to say that he knew what he was talking about!

Upon leaving the States, Randolph did a masters in Newcastle, and is now gracing the Irish league for the first time. The sporting success of his sons often leaves Ed in an awkward place: on the night Darren delivered a man of the match performance for Ireland against Denmark in Copenhagen, Neil dropped 16 points for Templeogue in a Super League game against Moycullen. Neil had his father's presence...if not always his full attention, as Ed recalls:

Thank god for technology because I was able to watch Sky Go and look at the match and look at Neil! I can honestly say that being able to look at my sons play is the ultimate in my life now.

Neil admits that playing in the league he watched growing up means a lot to him, and such sentiment has been burnished by success: a league title in his debut season that was only tempered by an early exit from the Hula Hoops National Cup. This year might be different, however. "This is my first cup run, so this will be my first senior cup semi-final, so I’ll have to see how I react!".

Judging by his family DNA, expect him to react well.

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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