Basketball

Men's National Cup Final Preview: Will This Finally Be Tralee's Year?

Men's National Cup Final Preview: Will This Finally Be Tralee's Year?

The Pat Duffy Cup will be decided Saturday evening at the National Basketball Arena in a Kerry v Cork finale, as Garvey’s Tralee Warriors take on C&S Neptune. Here's our big fat Men's National Cup final preview

Road to the Final

Garvey’s Tralee Warriors

SF: 69-60 vs DBS Eanna

QF 77-62 vs Moycullen

1st round 74-66 vs Tradehouse Central Ballincollig

C&S Neptune

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SF 103-92 vs NUIG Maree

QF 92-86 vs Killester

Cup History

After back-to-back semi final losses in the National Cup, Tralee Warriors have finally reached their destination with a Cup Final in the National Basketball Arena. Having won the league in 2019 and a number of Champions Trophies since their creation in 2016, the National Cup is the major trophy missing from the club’s collection. Facing them are one of Ireland’s most storied clubs Neptune who are four times winners of the competition. Neptune last won the Cup in 2013 and have only won it twice in the past thirty years, a record they won’t be happy with. 

The Storyline

There’s no clear favourite coming into this year’s final, although with Tralee’s recent pedigree winning trophies, they may have a slight advantage. Winning the Cup has been the clear goal in Tralee for several years and one of the biggest concerns amongst Warriors fans will be whether the team play the game or the occasion in Tallaght. The other major concern is the health of their talisman Aaron Calixte. The star point guard runs the team and is also one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. He struggled in the semi-final win over DBS Eanna after picking up an ankle injury in training two days earlier. Calixte sat out Tralee’s loss to Pyrobel Killester in the league last weekend as a precaution but if he’s not 100% it has a huge impact on what Coach John Dowling wants to do. 

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Neptune didn’t play last weekend and look to have a clean bill of health. Although the club haven’t won a trophy at Super League level since 2013, a few of their players have won at Underage and Division 1 level in recent years. Player Coach Colin O’Reilly has seen and done it all and last guided Blue Demons to the cup in 2015. Roy Downey the team’s star point guard also won trophies with Demons so there is enough experience to get this Neptune team over the line. The concern for Neptune fans will be whether they can match Tralee’s physicality and intensity on the floor. Nils Sabata their Spanish big man is the only true post player on the team and foul trouble for him could be a major issue for the Cork side. 

Key Match Ups

Roy Downey vs Aaron Calixte

Roy Downey is a former Irish international who huge things have been expected of within Neptune for years. He is finally delivering on his potential and is the most in form Irish guard in the league raising questions whether he will be called up for Ireland’s Eurobasket qualifiers in February. Everything for Neptune runs through Downey who pushes the tempo and is capable of scoring too. Neptune will likely play a lot of zone defense but when they do go to man to man, Downey will be tasked with slowing down Aaron Calixte. Tralee’s American is a former Oklahoma University player, and he has the ball in his hands a lot. He can shoot off the dribble as well as getting into the lane and creating for others. When Calixte sits Tralee have another guard American Brandon Cotton to come in and he is also aggressive throughout. Downey doesn’t have to win this matchup for Neptune to win the Cup, but he needs to make it competitive. If Downey wins the point guard battle it will be hard for Warriors to overcome it. 

Nils Sabata vs Nikola Roso 

Both teams have talented big men who are central to everything their team does. Sabata is Spanish and is known for having possibly the best footwork in the league. He has an unusual shooting touch but is extremely effective inside of ten feet. On the other end, the Croatian Nikola Roso was the MVP of the cup semi final win over DBS Eanna. Coming off injury Roso was dominant around the basket against Eanna and kept Tralee going when outside shots weren’t falling. Neptune’s zone may negate some of Roso’s influence but if he can attack Sabata and draw fouls it could be very significant. 

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The Wings

Both teams have a combination of athletic wings who attack the basket and the offensive glass relentlessly. Irish International Eoin Quigley has possibly been the most important player for Tralee over the past three years. The 6’6 wing can guard all five positions on the floor and can score. He’s joined by Daniel Jokubaitis who is a 6’6 physical presence who throws his body around the floor with reckless abandonment. Both guys will get outside shots against the Neptune zone and they will need to knock down some to open the game up. Neptune have a combination of two athletic American’s Miles Washington and Richaud Gittens who sub for each other. Both like to attack the basket and give Neptune size at the back of their zone. They are joined by Cian Heaphy who is blossoming into one of the best wing players in the country. Heaphy likes to get out on the break and had three dunks in their semi final win. There won’t be a lot of space for Heaphy to attack in the half court so he will have to trust his outside shot which was working well in the semi-final. 

X-Factor

Kieran Donaghy hasn’t played a lot of basketball this season with his Gaelic football team Austin Stacks reaching the Munster Final. He played in the semi-final and his presence alone brings so much to this Tralee team. He won’t score a lot, but his defense, rebounding and hustle lay a foundation for his teammates to go and thrive. When it comes to winning time in the fourth quarter Donaghy often has his hand in key plays. Kieran is also the only Tralee player who has won the cup before (with Tralee Tigers in 2007) and his experience will be crucial.

Colin O’Reilly is one of the most decorated players in Irish history and when he retires, he will be one of the few domestic players who will be in the conversation with Liam McHale as the best to ever do it in Ireland. Although he isn’t as prolific a scorer as he once was, O’Reilly is still a key threat and gives a huge amount to Neptune under the basket. He’s back with his childhood club that he won an U19 title with and this would be a big moment for him if he can deliver Neptune a trophy.

What to watch out for:

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Calixte’s health could be a huge factor. Without him at full strength Tralee will have to rely on Fergal O’Sullivan to have a great shooting game against Neptune’s zone. If Tralee can shoot well though and make Neptune play man for long periods Neptune’s depth on the inside could be called into question. 

Neptune are happier with an open high scoring game, while Tralee would likely prefer the game to be in the mid-70s with Calixte controlling the game. 

Both teams are well coached, have good pros and big Irish names on their team. This is set up to be a cracker. 

Tale of the tape

Garvey’s Tralee Warriors

  • Record: 6-3
  • Points per game: 88
  • Points against per game: 84

C&S Neptune

  • Record: 4-4
  • Points per game: 87
  • Points against per game: 82

Where to watch:

You can watch the game live on TG4’s YouTube channel at 6.15pm on Saturday or watch on TG4 the delayed coverage starting at 8pm. 

 

Balls Team

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