Castleisland in Co. Kerry is definitely the place to be this week as St Mary’s basketball club mark the 50th anniversary of their annual Christmas blitz.
Founded in 1970, the St Mary’s Christmas blitz has grown from year to year throughout its 50-year existence. Just two competitions were held in the first year, one male and one female, with six teams in each competition featuring 84 participants and 18 games played across the event.
Fast forward to 2019, and the blitz now boasts 22 competitions that will see 169 games played over five days across two venues. A whopping 133 teams will participate in this year’s anniversary blitz with 1,578 players expected to take part. Indeed, it’s not just an event for all of the players and coaching staff, as the blitz now also attracts over 13,000 spectators.
The blitz encompasses age groups from National School level – from second class upwards – right through to senior level, while the local academy teams from the under 5/6 and under 7 age groups will also be on hand to play exhibition games throughout the event.
The senior competitions have proven to be particularly competitive in recent years and this year should be no different as the Munster Joinery Premier men’s competition features Basketball Ireland National League teams Keane’s Supervalu Killorglin, Coughlan C&S Neptune, Scotts Lakers St. Paul’s Killarney, Limerick Celtics and Garvey’s Tralee Warriors. The senior women’s competition also features a number of National League teams including the hosts, Team Tom McCarthy’s St Mary’s, Cork sides Fr. Mathews and Singleton SuperValu Brunell as well as Maxol WIT Waterford.
The blitz tips off on St Stephen’s Day, December 26th, and will run at Casteisland Community Centre and St John’s Hall every day until the finals on December 30th. Games at Castleisland Community Centre get underway from 8.30am and run right through the day until the last tip off at 8.30pm each day, while the games at St John’s Hall tip at 10am each day, with the last game tipping at 6pm.
Looking ahead to the event, St Mary’s club PRO Liz Galwey stated: "We are really looking forward to the Blitz this year. The committee have put a lot into the organizing of the event as this is the 50th anniversary, and what makes it extra special is the fact that one of the founding members, Donal Duke O'Connor is still so active in the event.
"The blitz is such a huge part of Christmas in Castleisland and throughout the county. Over the years, we have had teams from all over Ireland and also international teams take part.
"This year’s line up for our premier men and our senior women is very strong, while the real crowd pleasers are the national school games.
"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of our sponsors and volunteers. Our major sponsors, Munster Joinery, Garvey's SuperValu, Den Joe's restaurants and Educate.ie are to be commended for the support they give us.
"We are looking forward to welcoming in excess of 13,000 spectators over the five days and can guarantee that there will be entertainment for everyone."