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.
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,3 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!