Aisling Murray is becoming a well-known name in basketball across Ireland, especially since the Ulster Rockets entered the Irish women’s superleague this season. She is a lightning quick guard (the female equivalent to Stephen Dawson, some say) who is continuing to develop her skill-set. A tremendous athlete who loves to compete, Aisling is one of the most exciting female players to watch in the country.
In this play, Murray intercepts a pass and converts the steal into an impressive coast-to-coast, cross-over, spin-move, managing to complete the play despite being contested by another stand-out guard, Orla O’Neill.
Since the onset of the Playing for Peace/ PeacePlayers International programmes, the sight of American basketball players in the teams of Northern Ireland has become commonplace. Older Belfast basketball fans may recall the days before PFP/PPI when the only US ‘ballers you saw were the imports plying their trade in the superleague. The names of Pat Campolieta, John Leahy, and Javann Dupree as well as those of more recent players like JoJo Chambers, Jermaine Washington, Kevin Ratzsch, Phil Valenti and RaMell Ross will be remembered with varying degrees of affection during their respective tenures at Belfast Star. During the middle years of the last decade, the American players brought to Belfast were partnered on court with a “Bosman” signing; ie a player who held a European passport. Star were unusual in this respect as throughout these years, they already had their own “Bosman” in the shape of lightning-fast English-born guard Scott Summersgill, still playing at the highest level of Irish basketball at the age of (whisper it) 40, in 2012. Thanks to the often bizarre rules laid down by Basketball Ireland, Summersgill, despite living in Belfast for over a decade with his wife and children, has yet to be naturalized in basketball terms, always counting towards Star’s quotient of foreigners. When Basketball Ireland brought in the “at least two Irish players on court” rule, the “Bosman” signing became superfluous for Star. This meant that the last Star “Bosman” was the affable New Zealander, Dave Langrell.
Langrell began his playing career in his native Canterbury, spending time in the US at Le Moyne college, the DII school which achieved national prominence when it defeated the much-vaunted Syracuse team of 2010 (which included Andy Rautins, Wesley Johnson and Arinze Onuaku) 82-79. He returned to New Zealand, qualifying as a physical education teacher before moving overseas. Eligible for a British passport thanks to his English-born mother, Langrell began at Chester Jets in the British Basketball League, where he played alongside legendary Tall Black Pero Cameron. He recalled his move across the Irish Sea, where he would join Cork powerhouse Neptune:
“I was trying out for a team in Portugal when I got a good offer from Neptune. I made the decision to play in Ireland for a few reasons. My family has history in Ireland, I wanted to play in a league where I would play a lot and enjoy it; and I though I’d be able to work during the days substitute teaching.”
So it was that he moved to the rebel county. Alongside Americans Kenny Gamble and Charron Watson, Langrell helped Neptune to the 2002-2003 superleague title, their eleventh triumph. What was it that made Neptune so successful at this time?
“The reason we were successful for my two seasons in Neptune is that we had great balance. Charron Watson was a very good 5 man. He could score block to block and was great on the glass. Kenny gamble was the best and most versatile American in the league and super athletic at the 4 spot; and I did a little bit of everything at the 3 spot. We had several Irish guards who played real hard and could knock down shots and Stephen McCarthy – Neptune’s favourite son – was still a great floor general though he was starting to slow down.”
After a second season in Cork, Langrell was lured north of the border by the prospect of playing for Darren O’Neill’s first Star team, O’Neill having succeeded Danny Fulton at the end of the previous season. Irish basketball had, of course, not seen the last of one of its most prominent figures as Fulton would continue his involvement with the club, returning as head coach when O’Neill stepped down four years later. Also departing were iconic point guard Adrian Fulton – for Langrell and indeed many others since, “The guy I wished I’d played with…a genuine pure point guard who made everyone else better” – and veteran shooting guard Gareth Maguire, with Maguire now heavily involved in the nascent University of Ulster basketball project. Langrell linked up with club stalwart Summersgill along with imports Pat O’Malley and Reggie Winkfield. Sadly the season was disrupted by an early injury to O’Malley which brough in Josh Nigut as a short term replacement. All three ultimately ended up leaving the club, replaced by the sharp-shooting Nate Connolly and seven-footer Jamie Hughes, a PeacePlayers import based in Dungannon. So what happened this season?
“I actually thought that our young Irish guys were the equal of any Irish talent in the league at the time but the Americans we had – though they were good players – were not the right fit for the league. It wasn’t until the end of the season when we had just one American, Nate Connolly, who could really score and find create his own shot, that we won 5 out of 7.”
He also fondly remembers his other team-mates from his time in Belfast:
“My favourite guys to play with in practice were Euge [Ewan McGrattan] and Mike McKillop. They both knew their role. Euge was unselfish and a great knockdown shooter. McKillop had a knack as an undersized 4 to find rebounds and get his shot off around the hoop…Dawsy [the ageless Stephen Dawson], Fearghal [Toner] and Scotty all had great strengths that we didn’t always take advantage of.”
Langrell returned to Belfast for season 2006/2007 to take up employment at Lough Shore Comprehensive school. The new “two Irish players” rule, the first in a series of often misguided attempts to improve the standard of domestic basketball on the part of the ruling body, brought about the rather bizarre situation where Langrell, arguably the most talented player in the city at the time, was (aside from a two-game tenure filling in at Dublin’s Killester) reduced to playing games of one-on-one with Mike Calo, which he claims to have dominated, although Calo’s recollections are massively at odds with this account.
“Mikey Calo is my guy…I can’t wait until someone gives him the opportunity to coach a superleague team and he subs himself in and goes right to left crossover for his pull up on his first touch!”
Dave left Ireland for good in the summer of 2007, returning to Christchurch with his wife Justine. He played two more seasons in the NZBL, for the Canterbury Rams and the Hawkes Bay Hawks before completing his playing days. Now with a young family, he runs a social basketball league in Christchurch in addition to his parenting and substitute teaching duties. In late 2011, he completed his first half-marathon, coming first in the “head band wearing, shaved legs, over 6’4″ and 100kg with a bung knee” category.
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,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!”
I have been coaching the Queen’s U16A girl’s team for two seasons and, although sometimes they push me to the edge of sanity, they are a terrific group of young women. They are hard-working at practice, competitive in every game, and know how to have a good laugh off-court. See for yourself:
Does your team love this game?
Get in touch with us if you would like to have your team featured on our series: ‘why they love this game’!
Disability Sports NI have paired with British Wheelchair Basketball to host a Pre-Paralympic International Wheelchair Basketball Tournament/Training Camp, Monday 6th – Thursday 10th February 2012. The tournament will be held at the Antrim Forum Sports Centre and will feature four of the top Men’s International Wheelchair Basketball Teams: GB, Turkey, Italy & Poland. Entry to all matches is FREE. This is a fantastic opportunity to witness elite level sport in Northern Ireland.
Game schedule for the tournament
The Courtside Collective are proud supporters of the ‘International Wheelchair Basketball Challenge – Northern Ireland 2012.’ We hope to see many of you at the games.
We all know how important it is to keep a healthy ticker… Cardiac Risk in Young people (CRY) and Philips have teamed up together to offer a free national screening service. They will be visiting the University of Ulster, Jordanstown campus, on Saturday 18th February. Simply go online (click here) to book an appointment and show up on the day for a free screening. Read more about the service below:
The CRY Philips Test My Heart Tour was the first free tour of its kind in England and has been made possible by charity CRY, health and well-being company Philips, through the fund raising efforts of families whose lives have been affected by Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) or Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD), and the Gwyneth Forrester Trust.
The tour tested over 2,500 14-35 year old’s hearts to identify heart conditions which could potentially prove fatal if left untreated.
Philips donated state of the art ECG and ECHO imaging systems to equip the mobile screening unit on its tour across England. Health and wellness for the patient are at the heart of all Philips’ medical technologies.
Philips’ Advanced Heart Monitoring equipment is designed around the needs of patients and healthcare providers to ensure that tests are as efficient and relaxing as possible.
In partnership with CRY, Philips’ goal is to help more families understand the simple steps that can be taken to try to reduce the number of SDS deaths.
“We are honoured to be supporting such a pioneering project with an amazing charity. With our breakthrough imaging technology, we are committed to helping supply screening support for the doctors and specialists working with the young people and their families in the CRY programme. We are proud of the human benefit that the Philips technology can bring, that is the real showcase of simplicity.”
On Sunday 22nd January, the Aquinas U16 girls team travelled to Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, to compete in their first ever All-Ireland qualifiers. Up until four years ago, there had not been a girl’s basketball programme in the school. Recognising the potential for developing a club-link Mary Matthews, Queen’s Basketball Club, volunteered to work alongside Marie McCool, Head of Girls P.E., in order to set up a weekly after school programme to give girls in Aquinas an opportunity to play basketball.
History of Ballers
Aquinas Grammar School, situated on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast, has a proud history of producing some excellent basketball talent. Some of you may remember Connall Mallory, Mark ‘Robbo’ Robinsonor Chris Moore [Editor: Apparently not. Thanks Conor Lilly]who were tremendous schools’ basketball players. Let’s not forget Ben Horner, currently studying and hooping in Brighton, or Ciaran Ashe and Joe Burns, who are both playing for Belfast Star in the Superleague. Despite never getting the opportunity to play school’s basketball, Ainé Lenaghan was a terrific junior player while Ulster Rockets’ very own ‘road-runner’, Aisling Murray, is a well-respected basketball player throughout Ireland.
Not only has Aquinas produced basketball talent but Joe McAufield, Head of Boys P.E., has generated a culture around the game that lead to the creation of Belfast Storm, which included junior boys teams and a senior men’s squad. The setting up and management of the former club team included another Aquinas alum, Conor Lilly, Competitions Officer for Basketball Ireland.
Aquinas U16 Girls Team 2012
As a new team to the All-Ireland schools’ ‘C’ competition, no-one could predict how Aquinas’ girls would perform against the reputably strong competition from across the border. The tournament was hosted by Colaiste Oriel with three qualifying games for each team played in the Phoenix Centre, Carrickmacross.
Aquinas vs Colaiste Oriel (Co. Monaghan)
The first game tipped off at 9.30am with Aquinas competing against the host team, Colaiste Oriel. The Aquinas bench played a significant role in securing the team’s first victory with contributions coming from Magee, Carlin and Murray. Colaiste Oriel boasted two very strong players, who compete in the BNI junior leagues with Donagh, Ni Chleire and Ni hAmaill. The final score: Aquinas 37 Oriel 22.
Aquinas vs St Tiernan’s (Co. Mayo)
The Aquinas team gained some confidence entering into the second game against St Tiernans who were without Kearns who picked up an injury in the previous game against the Kilcullen-side. Aquinas’ shooting guard, Short, made some excellent decisions in the half-court which helped put the team up 33-13 going into the second half. Defensive pressure by Boyle, Madden-McKee and Carey sparked transition offence for the Belfast team. This helped Aquinas secure a comfortable second victory with the final score: Aquinas 61 St Tiernan’s 20
Aquinas vs Cross & Passion (Co. Kildare)
To close-out the day, Aquinas would need one more victory against an athletic and talented Cross & Passion team who travelled with a bus load of loyal supporters. Having witnessed both teams pick up two comfortable wins, this final game would be the most competitive of the tournament as both teams were fighting for their spot in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland ‘C ‘competition. Cross & Passion put up a solid 2-3 zone defence which forced the Belfast-side to shoot from the outside. Although Aquinas struggled to knock down shots, hustle from McKeever and Murray, kept the team in the game with tremendous offensive rebounding. Aquinas were able to remain composed the final two minutes of the game with tremendous leadership from point guard, McFarland. The final score was: Aquinas 36 Cross & Passion 32.
Aquinas U16 girls advance to the next round and will compete in a semi-final against Kinsale CS in early March.
The Courtside Collective wish Aquinas U16 girls the best of luck for their upcoming game.
Want to see your school team featured in The Courtside Collective? Get in touch with us at email@example.com
Down Tropics played host to LYIT this evening in Valley Leisure Centre. The away team made the long haul from Donegal but left Belfast tonight without a win. Mike Calo was more than happy to give us an insight into the game’s closing minutes while also calling out the Ulster Elks and in particular former Bucknell (not Davidson) point guard, Daryl Shazier. Listen below:
[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Mike-Calo-on-Tropics-win-vs-LYIT.mp3|titles=Mike Calo on Tropics win vs LYIT]
Uh-oh. A little bit of trash talk from Mike Calo. How will the former Division 1 college basketball player respond? Who would win in a 1-on-1? Anyone else a little more excited now to see Down Tropics vs Ulster Elks?
Odhrán Eastwood is one of the only players I remember during my first summer coaching in Queen’s Basketball Club’s annual camp. He was 7 years old. Today, Odhrán is competing for a spot on the Irish U16 team for the 2013 Euro Championships. He is without question the most talented player on the Queen’s U16A team. Odhrán’s determination to succeed as a basketball player, his commitment to his team and his willingness to learn from his coaches (currently, the experienced Adrian Fulton and the energetic Gavin Garland) is why we, The Courtside Collective, believe he is one of the best point guards in Northern Ireland.
Odhrán showing he can go past you right or left
It was 2004 and I was given my team-list for camp, which read: Squirrels. As you can probably guess, this squad wasn’t an U16, u14 or even an u12 team: it was under 10! I wanted to make sure all of these young players left camp with an enthusiasm for basketball while maybe developing a little bit of ‘touch’ and a basic understanding of the fundamentals: shooting/passing/dribbling/defence. From the first day of camp it was obvious that one player, who happen to be the youngest on the team, was two steps ahead of his peers.
Several years on from that camp, Odhrán Eastwood is growing up to be a tremendous athlete: representing Queen’s Basketball Club at U16A while also playing for his school team, the reputable St Malachy’s College Belfast. He was recognised as the MVP of his club team lat year and plays an integral part on the St Malachy’s U16 team, who continue to advance in the All-Ireland U16 schools’ competition.
Each time I get a chance to see Odhrán in action, I am reminded of how fun he is to watch. He loves to run. [Who doesn’t want to watch fast-paced, up and down basketball? It’s the best type of hoops!] At every opportunity, he is charging down the middle of the floor attacking the defence at their most vulnerable, all the while analysing his options: pass ahead to a guard for a lay-up, attack the hoop or drive and kick. His teammates know that when they are on the floor alongside Odhrán, he will find them – if they run.
Basketball is not Odhrán’s only forte; he is also competing at a high level on the soccer and Gaelic football pitch. Coach Adrian Fulton hopes that Odhrán continues to invest in basketball:
The young PG recognises that success will only come as result of hard-work and perseverance. Speaking with Odhrán, his ambitions are obvious – he wants to play at the highest level he can, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Paul Dick, Ben Horner and Adrian Fulton by both representing Ireland and playing in the U.S. I caught up with Odhrán to ask him a few questions about who he thinks is the best player, his role-models are and what he hopes to achieve in the future:
What is your favourite thing about basketball?
Just playing a lot. I really like playing in big games because of what’s at stake. I love playing at a high level because I know that it will help improve my game. Also, playing with older players in Queen’s [Basketball Club] and St Malachy’s [College Belfast] is really good because you learn so much from them.
Who inspires you?
I’d have to say Adrian Fulton and Paul Dick because they have all played basketball at the international level. Paul went to St. Malachy’s and then went to America which shows me that it can be done. Mr Fulton has played internationally and is now my coach so I know that anything he tells me is worth listening to! Of course all my coaches have inspired me in some way. Gavin Garland, Fergus Donnelly and others are all big inspirations too!
What is your favourite thing to do on the court?
Run the fast break! My speed is probably one of my strengths and I try to use it so my team gains an advantage. I’ll try and push the ball up the floor so my teammates or I can get easy lay-ups in transition.
Who is your favourite player ever to come from Northern Ireland?
Not sure about this one. I’d probably have to say… Mr Fulton or Gavin, Garland because they are both guards and small like me – but don’t tell them I said that! [Editor: Don’t worry Odhrán: I’m sure they know their height] Mr Fulton has played internationally, which I want to do, and I know I can learn from both him and Gavin. Keelan Cairns, Paul Dick, Ben Horner are there also because they have played [or are playing] in America and they are from Belfast, which has shown me that playing overseas in the states is a possibility!
Who do you most like having on your team?
Shooters who can run the floor because I think that if I use my speed and push the ball up court, I can get my teammates easy lay-ups. If we can’t get a quick bucket then I’ll try to get the shooters a good shot in the offense. It’s always good to play with big players as well who rebound.
What are your future goals?
Hopefully, to be selected for the Irish team for the 2013 Euros! [Editor: Odhrán is currently on a panel of 18 for the Irish U16 team]. I would like to play in America like Ben and Paul, but that’s way down the line! I’ll keep playing no matter what happens.
The Courtside Collective wish Odhrán all the best in his aspirations to represent Ireland and, like Adrian Fulton, we hope he continues to invest in becoming a better basketball player.
Coming soon: This week, and next, we will be presenting a feature on the two teams from Belfast, St Malachy’s College & St Mary’s CBS, who will be competing for All-Ireland Schools’ Championships in the coming month.
Over the course of the next few months, I will be interviewing some of the best point guard’s in Northern Ireland, as chosen by the team at The Courtside Collective. We will be focusing on PG’s from throughout the province and across the different leagues, including (but not limited to) U13 Girls, U16 Boys (inc. the development league), the Women’s League, Men’s Premier League and even some of the legends of Northern Ireland playmakers.
Who do you think should feature in The Courtside Collective’s best PG’s? What would you like us to ask them? We welcome any and all your suggestions (even if they are ridiculous). Use comment section below or click here to contact our team directly.