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20 Years Later, Ciaran MacEvilly Is Back In The Hula Hoops National Cup Final

20 Years Later, Ciaran MacEvilly Is Back In The Hula Hoops National Cup Final
By PJ Browne Updated

It's surreal to Ciarán MacEvilly when he thinks about it. 20 years on from winning the National Cup with Notre Dame and he's back in another final, this time with the team he was instrumental in bringing to National League level.

MacEvilly had only turned 17 when Notre Dame won their fourth consecutive cup in 2000. Earlier that day, he'd won the under-19 tournament and then hung around to be part of the club's senior roster as they beat St Vincent's.

"It was a real tight game," he recalls.

"It was a shot with two or three seconds to go by an American, Eric Blair, to win the game. Then Vincent's had a long shot to win it and nearly did - it was crazy."

On Saturday, MacEvilly - in the twilight of his career - will be part of the DBS Éanna team aiming to win their first Hula Hoops National Cup when they take on local rivals Templeogue.

It was by chance that MacEvilly came to play with Éanna. After winning the National Cup, he spent the next half-decade playing Super League. In 2006, he picked up a serious hand injury, nerves were lost and tendons severed. As he looked to rehab, he dropped down to play in the Dublin League with Éanna and never looked back. During that time, Notre Dame amalgamated with Éanna at underage level.

"I just enjoyed playing with those lads so much," he says.

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"There was a sense of camaraderie and belonging that wasn't there with the Super League teams at that stage. I decided I was staying and spent probably the best years of my career, my mid to late 20s, playing at that level, Division 1 Dublin with Éanna."

In 2012, MacEvilly spent a year back in the Super League with Ulster Elks while doing a masters at Ulster University Jordanstown. He returned to Éanna motivated to win trophies. And so they did with MacEvilly as both player and coach.

Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Ciaran MacEvilly of Éanna look on during the Basketball Ireland Men's Super League match against UCD Marian. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

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"At that stage, they'd never won the league or the cup," he says.

"They were always really competitive but we'd never got over the line in the league or the cup. It became a big goal for me to do that.

"In the second season we did it, we won the league and the cup - we won everything. We started thinking, 'Right, we need to get up. We need to get this team into the National League'.

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"2015, I brought the team into the National League - I was player-coach still. At that stage, I was wavering a bit as a player. I was probably around 30 or 31 and slowing down a fair bit.

"There are very few players who can do that (be a player and a coach) really successfully. Con O'Reilly did it with Demons, which was unbelievable. It's a really difficult thing to do. It's going to take away from your playing or it's going to take away from your coaching - one or the other, or both.

"A lot of the time, I was out there not focusing on what I was doing playing-wise. I was just getting the offence running.

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"We spent one year in the National League with a limited team. The [Dublin] Division 1 team that was successful was full of lads that were my age or older even. When we went National League, they all had families, jobs. A lot of them had no interest in playing National League. They were very happy to play Dublin League.

"We had to recruit in a whole load of young lads. We travelled with seven or eight players for a lot of games. We brought in lads from lower divisions. We had no Americans, no pros, no nothing - just a bunch of friends basically. We ended up coming third in the National League."

On limited resources, third in Division 1 of the National League was admirable finish but MacEvilly's ambitions were loftier. He established a link between Éanna and Dublin Business School. It was a partnership which would allow the club to bring in American players by offering them scholarships at DBS.

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"I don't know if it was arrogance or stupidity," says MacEvilly, "an opportunity came to go into the Super League.

"Nowadays, you have to be promoted into the Super League by winning the National League. In that year, they needed teams to go up into the Super League. They were asking for expressions of interest: Who wants to go up?

"I was there thinking, 'OK, I've got two Americans. We just recruited Conor Gallagher in. I'll build a team around this, no problem'. We weren't ready for it all. We ended up winning three games that year.

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"I player-coached the first six games of that season and then we had another coach in. I was just like, 'I'm done'. It was going to be a tough year.

"While this was all going on, I was on the committee of the club as well. I was the one getting jobs for the Americans, trying to figure out every way possible of getting more money in."

In the beginning, DBS was sceptical about the National League programme but in recent times have wholly bought into the partnership, taking over the recruitment of players. Among the stars who will line out for Éanna this weekend are Stefan Zecevic and Josh Wilson.

The team is now coached by Darren McGovern. Last season - in McGovern's first year in charge - they won promotion back to the Super League.

"He did such a great job last year, winning the National League with a team that nobody wanted to coach," says MacEvilly.

"You looked at that team and he had two returning players from the year before. He basically pulled that team out of thin air."

Burned out from years of playing, coaching and recruiting, MacEvilly took last season off. He had no intention of playing at National League level again but was reeled back by the feeling that the team could be on the verge of a big catch.

I worked with Josh and Stef last year. I run the camps and the academy in Éanna. I had them working with me. They're just such great guys. I was watching them play and last year I did commentary on a few of the games. These guys, the more I watched, I realised there's something special in these two.

I was involved in recruiting Stef in. I knew that he was a good player but I just had no idea how good he was going to be.

Josh, he was another guy that I thought, 'Oh, he's just an average small American. He's alright is he going to be brilliant in the Super League?' Here he is getting triple doubles every second week.

I just said while my legs are still working, maybe I'll just try to play with them so I don't regret not having done it.

There's not many at 37-years-old that would be happy to sit on the bench but the reason I'm still here is that training is such fun.

It's so competitive and that's the main link between this team and the team that won it 20 years ago. Training, it's a battle. 20 years ago with Notre Dame, we were killing each other in training. We were just going at it, it was so competitive. There were always 10, 12 good players battling and that's what it's like this year.

It's such a pleasure to be involved and along for the ride. That's why I'm there at this point, just turning up Tuesday and Thursday, knowing you're going to be playing good basketball, really competitive and everyone working towards the same goal.

For MacEvilly, preparations for Saturday's final have been disrupted by injury. While recovering from a strained calf which he suffered before Christmas, he strained his groin. Just getting on the court for a couple of minutes on Saturday is the extent of his personal hopes. He has far more for the team.

Joshua Wilson of DBS Eanna in action against Paul Dick of Garvey's Tralee Warriors during the Hula Hoops Men's Pat Duffy National Cup semi-final at Neptune Stadium in Cork. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"When they got into the Super League, they immediately showed themselves as being one of the top teams," says of Templeogue.

"They had two or three professionals on the team. They were the benchmark for us.

"2017/18, we recruited a very good team - it was the biggest budget we'd had. A lot of work went into bringing over a Spanish professional and we beat them in the first home game in Éanna. That was a real watershed moment for us: beating Templeogue in front of our home gym. It was, 'Right, we've made it, we belong here'.

"It's mad to think that two teams, ten minutes apart - Rathfarnham and Templeogue - are in the National Cup final.

"It's going to be a tough game. They're bigger than us. We played them before and they beat us. It was one of the best games of basketball I've seen in the Super League in the last 20 years. It was score-for-score, high level for the whole game; they just pulled away in the last two minutes.

"If we can contain their big men, make sure we get rebounds, no doubt we've got a good chance of beating them."

Top photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

See Also: Two Familiar Faces Unexpectedly One Step From The Promised Land

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