The Hula Hoops National Cup semifinals returns to Cork this weekend. One of the most interesting teams involved will be Glanmire, a team who have enjoyed incredible success in this competition over the years.
Balls.ie visited Cork on January 2nd. The country was slowly being resuscitated after a two-week-long Christmas stupour. But at the Mardyke in Cork, the basketball was fierce. Glanmire were running through some spirited 2 v 2 drills at their first training session of the new year. If there was an added feeling of urgency in the gym this evening, it’s not just Glanmire’s upcoming Super League game against IT Carlow. The Hula Hoops National Cup semifinals are looming, and after a season away, Glanmire are chuffed to be front and centre at one of Irish basketball’s biggest weekends.
You could say they’re back where they belong.
It’s not that the league doesn’t matter. Of course it does. But for this club, in this basketball-mad city, the cup has a life of its own. And so Glanmire head into this Saturday’s cup semifinal against Killester (tip-off @ 2pm, follow the livestream on Balls.ie’s facebook page) looking poised to write a brand-new chapter in their storied history with this competition.
As much as any team in Irish basketball, Glanmire are associated with the Hula Hoops National Cup. They were the first women’s team to lift the trophy three years in a row when they swept the field in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Then, after a five year spell without the trophy, they outdid themselves and did the four-in-a-row, winning in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 (and were ultimately 2 points shy of the 5-in-a-row). Yet there was turnover with the team last season, with star Grainne Dwyer heading to Fr Mathews and Claire Rockall returning to Maree. And so followed a very strange occurrence in Irish basketball: semifinal weekend in Cork took place last year without Cork’s most venerated ladies team.
“Last year we weren’t in the [semifinal] weekend for the first time in about 10 or 12 years, and it was a long winter,” says head coach Mark Scannell. “It does bind your season together. I always say if you make it to the semifinal of the cup, it makes the Christmas go that little bit better and then you’re into January, and then before you know it, you’re into the league playoffs.”
Glanmire are eyeing up cup glory in 2020 with what is essentially a new team, though two key players from the 4-in-a-row group are driving this year's team: captain Aine McKenna and Casey Grace. (Scannell describes it as the ‘third or fourth’ Glanmire incarnation to challenge for the cup over the past 15 years.)
Perhaps nobody better exemplifies the spirit of Glanmire like captain Aine McKenna. McKenna grew up in Duagh in north Kerry, a village without a basketball club. She learned the love of the game through a primary school teacher and joined Glanmire when she moved to Cork when she was 18 years old. Ten years later, she is club captain and trying to pass on the values of hard work and dedication to a talented batch of young Glanmire players.
“You try to bring everyone together. I try to be the most committed one. I try to never miss training. I came up from Kerry today and I’d expect everyone else to be here as well. Commitment is a huge thing. You need to be able to make all of your training sessions and all of your games.
“You need to be dedicated. You need to be committed. You need to give it your all. Because there’s no point doing it otherwise. There’s point going half-assed. It’s just pointless to do it that way, isn’t it?”
This season started ominously for Glanmire. They lost two of their first games and there were whispers it might be another lost season. But soon after, Glanmire’s two Americans Shrita Parker and Tatum Neubert, started to click, and Glanmire haven’t looked back. Glanmire now find themselves second in the Super League and are looking very dangerous as cup month descends.
“This year, we’re ahead of where everyone’s goals were at the start of the season,” Scannell says. “We had a poor start to the season. We lost 2 of our first 3 games. It just took a bit of time. We’re very young. Our Americans took a little bit of time to settle. They’re really good now. Amy Dooley came back into UCC and she took a bit of time to settle. But right now we’re in a very good place. It’s a very happy team. It’s a hardworking team.”
According to Neubert, a garrulous power forward/center who joined the club last autumn after finishing playing at Colorado State University, it took the team getting familiar with each other off the court to start playing better on it.
"As soon as we got to hang out with each other, outside of basketball, we just clicked and that’s when the flip switched for us. It was when we got to know each other on and off the court.
"We just like to hang out with each other. We go to the movies, we go to [famous Cork hamburger restaurant] Son of a Bun. That’s our spot! That really helped us as a team."
One of the main reasons Glanmire are looking so lethal is the form of their two Americans, Neubert and Shrita Parker, a guard from Virginia Beach who joined Glanmire after playing Division 1 basketball with University of North Carolina-Wilmington and Rutgers, has been sizzling of late and was named Super League player of the month for November.
"Shrita is an absolute rock star really when she wants to be," Scannell says. "It was really about getting her to be a leader. We knew she had the ability. When you see a young girl coming into a team, she might not want to ruffle any feathers. At times I had to say to her ‘Look Shrita, when you see it, you’ve got to put us on your back and we’ll do the rest’.”
It's clear from watching training that Glanmire are in a good place as the year begins. That said, Scannell is by no means looking ahead to a possible Cup final against DCU Mercy or Brunell.
“We’re a little under the radar but we’re not getting carried away. We know we have a very tough game ahead against Killester. They have two Americans who can scorch you on any day. They’re a good three-point shooting team and they have a good pedigree.”
The sheer excitement for this weekend’s semifinal is palpable from talking to McKenna.paudi
"I can’t wait,’ she said. ‘I think everyone looks forward to coming to Cork. It’s one of my favourite weekends. We weren’t in it last year. It’s not nice when you’re not in it. We’re delighted to be back in it this year.
"It’s every basketballer’s favourite weekend. It’s great that it’s back in Neptune as well. We haven’t played there in a few years. We had some really big wins there down through the years. There’s always such a big buzz there."
For Scannell, success isn't necessarily defined by lifting the Paudie O'Connor Trophy in Tallaght at the end of the month. Instead, it's about maintaining a standard that all future Glanmire teams will aspire to.
“What impresses me is the sustainability of this group for the past 12-14 years, to be as competitive as they are. It’s not about winning all of the time. To be there or thereabouts every year. It’s a great tribute to the club and the girls that they can stay in that moment and be thereabouts for a fourteen or fifteen year period,” Scannell said.
It’s an incredible run. After dominating the Cup over the past two decades, Glanmire are hoping to begin a third decade of greatness this month.
Have a go here!