About Author


Niall is the Co-Founder of the Courtside Collective and www.BasketballDirect.com . He was one of the founding members of North Star in 2002. He has coached at a variety of levels from kids to senior men's teams. He is currently coach of the LYIT National League team and women's college team.

Chasing the Dream. . .

 This Friday St Mary’s CBS will make the trip to the national arena in Tallaght to take on St.Conleths (Dublin) in the All-Ireland schools cup u19 ‘B’ Final. TCC decided to meet up with coach Stephen Fox and three players Donal Brady, David Durkan and Peter Ferguson to talk about their journey to the final.

The St Marys Squad that will be competing in the All Ireland Final

I’ve been playing organised basketball for 16 years now; I’ve played for over 10 different teams at lots of different levels. No disrespect to any of these squads but playing with any of them has never came close to what it felt like to represent my school, St Columb’s College. There is something special about playing with your mates and representing your school. There is also something special about the Schools Cup, without doubt my favourite basketball competition in Ireland. Basketball Ireland don’t always make the right decisions when it comes to competitions but when it comes to the schools cup they have it spot on. The three tiered approach means that nearly any school in the country can have their shot at an All-Ireland title with the right group of players. The straight knockout format makes it an exciting competition with upsets not uncommon. My first proper experience of organised basketball was the All-Ireland Schools cup finals day. When I was a first year at St Columb’s the school’s u16 and u19 sides won an All-Ireland double. This was in 1996 and all of the first years got the day off school and were bused down to Dublin to lend our support to the teams. It was an amazing day and made me determined to get back there one day as a player.  (I didn’t realise that the school winning would consign us to the ‘A’ division for the rest of our playing days so there was no trip back to the final for us! just a few beatings by powerhouses like St Fintans and St Malachys . . . . but also a few notable wins!)

I envy the players, supporters and coaching staff of St Mary’s CBS as they prepare for the final and after talking to them I get the impression that they are ready for the challenge, coach Fox knows that focus will be important.

The boys are confident but we also understand that we must show St Conleths the respect they deserve; they aren’t in the final for no reason. We are aware that it is what counts on the day and not what we have done to get there.” 

Fox has been coaching for 3 years now and it is his second year with St Mary’s. It is the first time the school has ever reached an All-Ireland final at this level and the players are confident too.Everyone of us has the belief and desire to win on Friday” states Donal Brady, one of the senior members of the team.

“We feel like we have a very strong starting 5 and a strong bench which will be important in the match, with players like James Brownlee coming on and getting us points along with Matthew Kerr and the rest of the team. We had a great team performance in the semi-final with great shooting from the whole team, hopefully we can go out and do the same on Friday and get the win.”

Peter Ferguson, the teams athletic point guard, is also confident.

The whole team has put a lot of hard work and time into getting this far in the competition. It’s the first time in around 5-6 years the school have made it this far in the cup and hopefully we can go one step further and lift the trophy.”

David Durkan, the team’s leading scorer and main offensive weapon, thinks that the backroom staff will play a big part in their chances on winning come Friday.

“Fergus Woods has come in and showed us a few defensive plays that will be key in the final on Friday. Stephen, Miss Doherty and Fergus have put a lot of hard work into helping us achieve our goal this year and that’s to win the All-Ireland. Miss Doherty has been working with the team on a voluntary basis since we were all first years, she is always there to help no matter what we need and would even go into her own pocket to help us out, be it with new gear or equipment. Unfortunately she couldn’t coach us herself she made sure she got us a top coach in Stephen Fox. She is always there for encouragement and support and is a very big part of our success.”

Score lines might suggest that the road to the final was an easy one for St Mary’s with double digit wins in each of the first four rounds but the Stephen and the players would disagree. Durkan insists that all of the teams they played presented challenges.

 “No match was easy for us and every team we played made us fight to the end, although the scores doesn’t reflect this each match was a challenge.” While Brady chips in “St Columb’s, the Derry team, were very good, i felt like they gave us a tough game and matched us throughout. They had a very strong squad of players which was difficult to overcome but in the end we got there”

Coach Fox agrees and was also impressed with the semi-finalist Christian Brothers Cork.

 “They have a team of lethal shooters but their ‘big players’ got into early foul trouble and they never really recovered from this. Their PG was extremely quick and was also a deadly shooter so we could never switch off on him and he was still able to put up 33.”

 Reaching the final means that St Mary’s will be automatically moved into the elite ‘A’ division and next year will have to go up against the traditional Irish Basketball powerhouses like St Malachy’s, St Fintans, North Mon, Coaliste Enna etc. The ‘A’ is a high standard of (Irish) basketball with St Malachy’s and St Joseph’s Derry the only schools from the North competing but St Mary’s are confident that they will be worthy opponents for any team they meet. Donal Brady will have left St Mary’s next year but he knows the talent coming through is strong.

 Unfortunately I won’t be at the school next year to compete in ‘A’ but i feel as if the lads have enough strength to go and surprise the likes of St.Malachy’s with the talents of David Durkan, Peter Ferguson, James Lynn and Liam McClarnon. These 4 of the starting 5 remain and I think they will be tough opponents for any team in the cup or league next year.”

Fox isn’t sure if he will be able to continue his good work next year as he may also be on the move to continue his studies in England but he has enjoyed the road to the final.

 “We went into 3 of the 4 games not knowing a thing about the opposition so it was hard to prepare for what we would face. Ultimately though without any disrespect to our first two opponents, Ard Scoil Ris(Limerick), St Marys CBGS(Portloaise), but we had quite an easy run to the quarters. Credit to St Columbs though and Ciaran Stevenson as they gave us our  first real test and let us know that the run to the final would not be as easy as we may have though. Christian Brothers Cork gave us a real good game in the semi and I would say that 9 times out of 10, 77 points will win an U19 semi but on the day every single one of the players preformed and we were able to make it through

So finals day is tomorrow and win or lose memories will be made that will last a lifetime. TCC wish all the lads from St Mary’s the best of luck and we will leave the last words Peter Ferguson.

 “Overall, it’s been a great run for the school and no matter what happens we all can hold our heads high and know we have done the school proud, let’s just hope we get the win and bring the cup back to Belfast!”

Check out this video of the lads from Sport Zone NI and make sure and “Like” their facebook page!

SPORTZONENI.TV St Mary’s CBS Basketball Team head for All-Ireland Final in Dublin from Marc Mulholland on Vimeo.



BNI Premier League – Week 12 Preview

Monday 23rd Jan

LYIT @ Down Tropics

One of the most intriguing match ups of the week and very tough to call. Tropics have lost perhaps the leagues most talented player, Dejaun Flowers, and had trouble fulfilling a fixture with North Star in week 11. LYIT have lifted themselves out of trouble with two wins to start 2012, a double OT win at home to the Cavs and a one point victory over the Tigers in Andytown. LYIT have championship experience and no doubt it was this experience that helped them make sure they picked up two vital W’s that could so easily have been losses.

The Tropics have a shallow but talented squad and it’s very worrying that it is unconfirmed if Mike Calo will be available. It is expected that LYIT will be without Seamus Hickey for the game and they travelled with only 7 players to Tigers last week. IF the Tropics have a full squad then home court advantage could see them squeak out a close win.

Line: Tropics -2.5


Ballymena's Adam Murray will be hoping they can get a much needed win this week.

Wednesday 25th Jan

Queens Hornets @ UU Elks

A top of the table clash with Queens currently at the summit with Elks close behind with two games in hand and a higher winning percentage. Elks have won their last four games by a huge average margin of 28 points while Queens have struggled since the break losing away to North Star and the Kilkeel Knights. When these sides met earlier in the season Elks won by 31 points in the PEC and it will take something special for Queens to turn it around and get a win in JTown. Elks have to be favourite for this match up but it will be a lot closer than the first meeting between the sides.

Line: UU Elks -8.5


Wednesday 25th Jan

Dungannon Cavs @ Belfast Star

The latest word is that this game has been postponed due to the broken backboard in St Mals. Any update on this let us know!


Saturday 28th Jan

Kilkeel Knights @ North Star

Kevin Stanley attacking the basket vs Andytown

Another intriguing match up that is very hard to call. The Knights are on a roll with four wins on the bounce and sitting in second place in the table but North Star are undefeated at home and have some impressive victories in Bishops field including a 22 point victory over Queens a week ago and an impressive performance and win over the Ulster Elks. A lot will depend on how the (ridiculously) long journey from Kilkeel to Derry affects the Knights and how North Star can cope with the Knights height advantage inside. Another close game where home court advantage could make the difference.

Line: North Star -1.5

Sunday 29th Jan

Andytown Tigers @ Ballymena Blackstone

There is no doubt about it, this is the most important game of the week! Both sides have been struggling for form although the Tigers have shown that they could be on the verge of a change of fortune as they have had two agonising losses to begin 2012. (Losing by 4 points away to tropics and a single point at home to LYIT.) Ballymena can never be underestimated, especially in St Pats, as they have a talented squad and their poor form has been a shock to the league this year. Andytown beat Blackstone by 10 earlier in the season but once again home advantage could make all the difference in this game. It’s almost too close to call and is a “pickem” game but we give Blackstone the slight advantage due to playing at home. (Especially in January – sub-zero temperatures expected in St Pats!)

Line: Blackstone -0.5

North Star defeat Queen’s Hornets

Temple (left) tries to pass over Wynne

North Star used a huge third quarter run to overcome league leading Queen’s Hornets in Sunday’s premier league match-up in Derry. The result has had the effect of tightening up the already close league table giving Queens just their third loss of the season and putting North Star back to .500 with a record of 5-5.

The first half was a closely contested affair with both sides trading baskets from the outset and neither team managing to stretch a lead past 6 points.

The third quarter would be decisive as North Star would hit five three pointers on their way to winning the period 27-7 and creating a 22 point lead going into the fourth.

Queen’s pressure defense forced some turnovers early in the fourth but the outside shots just weren’t falling for the Belfast side, who were without MVP candidate Rory Leddy O’Neil, and the home team managed to hold off the Hornets to win 78-56.

Check out some of the video highlights from the game below:



North Star: Daryl Harkin (22), Kevin Stanley (22), Paul McGuinness (12), Niall McDermott (6), Emmett Harkin (6), Hugh Barbour (3), Niall Toland (3), Kieran Temple (2), Michael Brennan (2), Gary Campbell.

Queens: Tony McGaharan (10), Andrew Dolliver (9), Gareth Devlin (9), Igor Kruiper (8), Conor McElroy (7), Kevin Smith (5), Dave Tierney (4), John Wynne (4)


Want to see your team featured on The Courtside Collective? Get in touch with us at team@thecourtsidecollective.com 




Return of the Mike. . .

In the Lay of the Land feature I wrote about the Down Tropics;

“However the Tropics have suffered a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the States. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. “

As usual, coach Dave Cullen was thinking ahead of the game, signing Mike Calo for the remainder of the season. The American is well-known among basketball circles in NI and is a big addition for the Tropics.

I “discovered” Mike Calo in the Queens PEC at a rec session one Sunday morning a number of years back. He had just moved to Ireland and although a little rusty you could tell that there was some potential there so I persuaded him to speak to Mary Matthews and sign up with Queens for his first year of competitive basketball in Northern Ireland. He would go on to play for Queen’s and Lisburn in the National league and also had a stint as assistant coach to the Belfast Star superleague squad.

Mike (right) is set to make a comeback

Mike was player/coach on the Lisburn side that won the BNI title in 2008 after an epic championship game with LYIT where he went basket-for-basket with Donegal side’s Lithuanian star player in the fourth quarter. There is no doubt that Tropics have signed a player that has the ability and experience that will help them in their Championship quest. On most teams in the Premier League Mike would be the primary scorer, but this isn’t the case on the Tropics as they already have Dejuan Flowers carrying the offensive load and giving teams all sorts of match up problems with his size and guard skills. It remains to be seen how the Tropics will run their offense in the second half of the season but with Girt Celms having both Flowers and Calo to defer to the Tropics should have no problem scoring the ball.

Mike has been dogged by injury problems the past two seasons and hasn’t played consistent competitive basketball. He has played at various tournaments and exhibitions games and displayed that he still has the game, but does he have the fitness? Will his ankles hold up for the remaining nine league games and playoffs? If they do then the Tropics now have to be considered potential favourites for the championship.


TCC caught up with Mike in a recent phone interview and asked about his signing for Tropics and questioned whether or not his ankles will hold up for the remainder of the season. Calo highlights some (but not all) of the skills and qualities he knows he will bring to the team. Listen below:

[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/mike-calo-interview.mp3|titles=Mike Calo speaks with TCC about signing with Down Tropics]

The Lay of the Land. . .

With the leagues just starting up again after the Christmas break we thought now would be a good time to look at the lay of the land in the BNI Premier League. The league is extremely tight this year with only three games separating second and last place in the table. Queens are at the summit with only UU Elks having the ability to match their 7-2 record with their games in hand. Blackstone, Andytown and LYIT look in trouble near the bottom but with a league this close it will only take a run of 2 or 3 good results to climb into the playoff spots.

Action from North Star vs Tigers

Action from North Star vs Andytown Tigers

Slight disclaimer before we get into this – there is no BNI League Pass! (How great would that be?!) We might only have seen each team a very limited number of times and have to base our opinions on those select viewings. It’s very possible that these games don’t give the best impression or overall view of the squad and that’s what the comments below are for. Have we missed something or someone?? Let us know in the comments!

Queens Hornets

Queens are flying high at the top of the table with a record of 7-2. They have a deep and well balanced squad and make good use of their size with their 2-3 zone defense and healthy dose of pick and rolls in their offense. It’s interesting that their 7-2 record mirrors their home/away stats as they have had 7 games in the PEC and only two away. The question for them in the second half of the season is  can they maintain their good form with 7 away games to be played? I don’t expect them to go 7-2 in their last 9 games but with a deep squad they should travel well enough to have a winning record in the second half of the season and will be right up there challenging for a league title.

Kilkeel Knights

The Knights are the surprise package in this season’s premier league but fully deserving of their 6-3 record and second place in the league table picking up some notable wins including a very impressive away win over the Belfast Tropics and a high scoring 96-92 victory away at Blackstone. The Knights have been around for a while but this is their first season in the top division. Their squad was strengthened by picking up the Kisielius twins and Remigijus Danys from last season’s Armagh Magic team and Tomas Banys has to be in the discussion for any league MVP at this stage. They are the top scorers in the league but the issue for the Kinights going forward is now that every team is familiar with them will they be as effective in the second half of the season?

Down Tropics

The Down Tropics have had an unsettled first half of the season with key personnel leaving and joining the squad right up until the Christmas Break. They have a record of 5-4 which includes an early season forfeited game vs the Andytown Tigers. Since Dejuan Flowers joined up with the squad they have a 5-2 record and the American forward is another player in the league MVP conversation and is undoubtedly the most versatile player in the league. However the Tropics have a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the states. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. **Update – Tropics have signed BNI Mercenery Mike Calo for the second half of the season to replace the departed Will Maloney. If Calo can stay injury free the Tropics now have to be considered as one of the favourites for the title.**

Dungannon  Cavillers

Last season’s champions the Cavillers have again had a strong start to this season with a 5-3 winning record. A talented squad with a good mix of size and outside shooting the Cavs have the ability to put up big numbers on offense however the lack of a proper coach means that they are also susceptible to going through streaky patches in games and some scrappy play.  In Simon Bastakys they have the league’s most dominant big man. He is a force at both ends of the court protecting the rim on defense and an excellent offensive rebounder with a soft touch around the rim. The Cavs will be looking to repeat last year’s championship run but it will be a tall order to go all the way two years in a row unless they can get a coach in place.

North Star

The youngest team in the league so it’s perhaps not a surprise that North Star have struggled to put a consistent run of results together. The starting 5 has an average age of just 19 and finished the first half of the season with a 4-5 record failing to pick up back to back victories all year. Age and a lack of size have meant North Star struggled against some of the leagues larger front courts but they have guard play that is up there with the best in the league. Another positive for the Derry side is that they are currently undefeated at home and have 6 of their remaining 9 games at home in the second half of the season.

Ulster Elks

The Elks have only played 7 games thus far and have a record of 5-2 so have the potential to match Queens’s record at the top. The heavy pre-season favourites the Elks have Scholarship player and Bucknell alumni Darryl Shazier along with a host of players with superleague experience. Shazier is another MVP candidate and has the ability to take over a game with his penetration and shooting ability. The Elks have shown their potential with 30 point victories over league leaders Queens and away to LYIT along with an astonishing 107-56 victory over the Andytown Tigers. Losses to North Star and Tropics show that the Elks can be beat but with the talent in the squad they still have to be considered one of the favourites for the championship.

Belfast Star

Star sits at .500 with a 4-4 record going into the second half of the season. The problem for coach McGrattan is the lack of a settled squad and sometimes having too many players in the rotation. Star have a lack of genuine size and strength in the post but have a squad full of talented players and players with superleague experience which means on their day can beat anyone in the division. Michael Dougherty has been in form at the point guard position and one of Star’s best players so far. Come playoff time Star will be a dangerous opponent for whoever they play and easily capable of putting a three game championship run together.


IT has had a disappointing first half of the season. The 2009 champions would have expected to be in the mix at the top half of the table but have struggled so far and have a 3-6 record. It’s difficult to pinpoint why IT have struggled as on paper their starting five looks strong with good balance. The loss of Guillaume Detraz appears to have been a blow as the Frenchman was a key player for the past three seasons for the Donegal side. IT have some good young talent coming through the ranks and they will be hoping that the first few months has given these young players enough experience and confidence to be effective role players coming off the bench in the second half of the year as they try and secure a playoff spot.

Ballymena's Marty McDonald and Adam Murray defending North Star's Mate Bencze

Ballymena Blackstone

No doubt the biggest shock of the season has been the form of Blackstone. Perennial title challengers Ballymena have struggled to a 2-7 record at the midpoint of the season. Blackstone can take comfort from the fact that they defeated the league leaders Queens and have had a number of close losses. Hindered by the loss of Peter McNicholl (GAA Duties) and Adam Hillis (Injury) during the first part of the season can Blackstone bounce back in 2012? In a word, yes. Don’t expect a squad with this amount of talent and experience to go 2-7 again. If they get McNicholl and Hillis back and stay healthy home advantage may be a step too far but a playoff spot is a realistic possibility.

Andytown  Tigers

Their first season in the top division has been a struggle for the Tigers. They share a 2-7 record with Blackstone and have struggled against some of the better teams in the league. The focus now has to be able to get enough wins to avoid the automatic relegation spot. The first season in Premier was always going to be tough as it takes players time to adjust to the step up in quality. Tigers will be hoping that some of their more inexperienced players have learned and benefited from the first 9 games of the season and that they have the ability to get some more wins on the board. Influence (and perhaps increased minutes) from some of the premier leagues most experienced players Kevin Craig and Gerard Ryan will be critical in the second half of the season.