Neptune withdrawal raises serious questions

Today’s Irish Examiner carries an article detailing a statement from Neptune club chairman Paul Barrett, which reads as follows:

Neptune Basketball Club had entered this year’s Premier League campaign and had committed to the association and the other teams. A lot of work had taken place behind the scenes by our club executive to allow this to happen.

However, with all the off court work done, things changed for the worst this week when Roy Downey decided his future was with Blue Demons BC.

This forced the club executive to revisit the decision to enter the Premier League.

When all things were considered, including the loss of Michael McGinn and Jermaine Camara last year, and Mattie Rudak and Jordan Blount heading Stateside and finally, despite assurances from Roy Downey that he would commit to Neptune, he has decided to transfer to Blue Demons.

When the executive of Neptune BC considered the situation it was decided to withdraw from the Premier League and play in the National League Division 1 for the coming season.  Neptune BC has a long history of competing at the highest level nationally and will continue to work hard with our talented underage players with the aim of regaining our status as a formidable club side competing on the biggest stage of Irish basketball.

Demons secretary Troy O’Mahony was quick to state that Demons had not poached Downey, not that the Neptune statement necessarily implied that they had, and to note that the club would miss the Cork derby games.  Few in Irish basketball ever relished a trip to the Neptune Stadium but almost all will miss playing games there for as long as the club are out of the top league.

Buzz has been missing from Neptune Stadium

Buzz has been missing from Neptune Stadium

 

As well as being the most successful club in Irish hoops, they are the oldest.  The club was established in 1948, building its own arena in 1985, a facility that no other club in the country can boast.  They won the Superleague in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2003.  Their last trophy came in 2013, winning the Premier National Cup but that same season saw the club lose coach Mark Scannell.  The following season saw long-tenured guard/forward (ok, I don’t really know what position he is, either) Ger Noonan take over as player coach, but lost import Nigel Byam mid-way through the season.  Click here for an interesting story on Byam in the Examiner.

The Irish Select team are barely over the jet lag from their trip to China for the Sino-European games and few details are even yet known about the Hibernia Basketball team that will compete in a FIBA club competition next season.  Now this.

As it stands, the Premier League will have eight nine teams next season: Belfast Star, UCD, DCU, Swords, Templeogue, Limerick, Demons and Killester.  Edit – add Moycullen back in the mix.

I played in the Superleague eight years ago.  Back then it was unthinkable that the league would lose teams such as Neptune, not to mention other sides who have fallen by the wayside in the intervening period: Tralee, Killarney, Ballina stand out in the mind, not to mention Hoops, Waterford, Moycullen and Jordanstown who have all departed the top flight of Irish basketball in recent years.

One interesting dimension of the Neptune saga is the emphasis on the departure of young guard Roy Downey and the implication that this somehow was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Some of Downey’s friends took to twitter to state their support for him.  I will spare you the tweets because you all know where to look for them.

Roy Downey competing for Bord Gais Neptune Photo: Brendan Moran

Roy Downey competing for Bord Gais Neptune
Photo: Brendan Moran

 

The club note that they have lost several domestic players in recent seasons, with a further implication being that their inability to field a competitive Irish-led side caused their departure from the league.  Of course, last season’s issues with Byam were somewhat tempered by the availability of Michael Bonaparte, but the ability of a team to compete has always hinged on the ability of their imports to dominate games.

I’m sure by this point, having had most of Sunday to digest the news of Neptune, everyone has their opinions about what happened and, particularly, what went wrong.  For what it’s worth, here are mine:

Irish basketball is still a mess.

I can’t claim to know anyone at Neptune and therefore can’t claim to understand quite what their intentions were regarding Downey’s transfer to Demons.  I will say that Downey is clearly a better player than his current station in basketball and his return to Cork, for whatever reasons, is hopefully only a temporary stop on his way to more interesting and exciting things in a basketball career that could go places.  I can’t say for certain that Neptune meant to place extra emphasis on his departure across the city and its role in their Premier League demise, but it would be silly to suggest that losing one player broke an entire club.  What would have happened if Downey had decided to go and live in Australia for a year?  Would the club still have shuttered their top team?  You can’t be this reliant on one person, unless they’re the owner, and even then you have to have contingency plans.

I won’t comment too much on the actual transfer, but suffice it to say that I know a bit about transferring clubs in Ireland and the politics of these dealings.  Downey should be allowed to play wherever he wants.  If this were football, Neptune fans simply would have booed him during games next season.

Let’s not pretend that a nine-team Premier league would have been that much better than the eight-team version we currently anticipate for next season.  It’s two games per season per club.  One of those two games in an iconic arena against an iconic club, but still.

Some on social media have commented that there is a lack of money at Neptune which has limited their ability to compete at the top level, but this actually speaks to a much deeper problem: lack of interest.  Were Neptune planning to pay Downey to play next season?  I doubt it, not that he wouldn’t deserve it, of course.  The problem is that they cannot replace him, with the implication being that they don’t have the talent in their club to do so.  How has this happened?  Are kids in Cork no longer interested in basketball?  If so, why has that happened?

At The Courtside Collective, we have written many articles over recent years which attempt to address the serious issues in Irish basketball.  We have also, as recently as last week, written in praise of positive developments such as the Sino-European games and Hibernia Basketball.  Now, however, we need to be direct in our criticism.  Hibernia Basketball will suffer without Neptune, not least because, in the hypothetical situation where Premier League imports make up part of that team, it costs them players.

It is not acceptable for the top flight of Irish basketball to lose Neptune.  Since 2005, Irish basketball has lost too many big clubs.

For me, its unavoidable to look at the decisions made at the top level and their impact on the game, namely the decision to cut the number of non-Irish players allowed on court.  We wrote, two and a half years ago, about the Jermaine Turner saga as arguably the top Superleague player of the last decade fought for his status as a domestic player in the league.  I don’t see the need to re-iterate the arguments expressed in that article here, they still ring true.

Basketball austerity has not worked.  Neptune’s withdrawal proves as much.  If teams had been allowed to continue to bring in multiple imports, I have no doubt that the game in Ireland would be at a much higher level.

Basketball Ireland released a statement today, which reads:

The MNCC acknowledge the outstanding contribution that Neptune BC has made to Irish basketball over the years. We will be supportive of them as they rebuild toward re-entering our top flight in the future.

We are currently considering all available options regarding the vacancy in the Men’s Premier League. An announcement will be made in due course.

Something needs to be done, and quickly.  Now is the time for effective leadership on the part of Basketball Ireland.  Are they up to the challenge?  We’ll see.


About

Andrew was something of a latecomer to the game of basketball, having given up rugby after leaving high school. Joining Edinburgh’s fabled Pentland Tigers, he quickly moved on to the East Lothian Peregrines in the Scottish national league before moving to Belfast where he played with Queens and then with Belfast Star. After a year in the superleague, he moved back to Scotland and played with the Scottish Rocks in the BBL. He “retired” (the McDermott rule for using the word “retire” instead of “stopped playing” does require you to have been paid to play, so technically he retired) and moved to Seattle where he began life as an academic, which currently sees him working at University College Dublin. He is a legitimate non-frontrunning Miami Heat fan, having taken up following the team in 2001.

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