Roy Downey explains how he learned to love the game, which players he aspired to growing up, and then concludes by answering the question, “What has happened to the great Neptune Basketball Club?”
It was November 2002 (I think)… I walked into a packed Maradyke Arena for the first time ever. There was still a half hour until tip off but we had to be content with seats on the stairs. I was 8 years old and I was dragged there by my 2 best friends at the time, Colin McCarthy and Alan Dornan. Alan, who has been my next-door neighbour since I was 2, was the first person along with my cousin Jason “Pnut” O Donoghue to introduce me to the game. Sadly, Alan passed away at the age of 17. I owe everything I’ve done in the sport to those 3 and I would often be reminded of this with a cheeky text from Colin in the days leading up to a big game.
I gazed at these giants – almost superhero like men – warming up. Dunking the ball, high fivin’, and just in general being cool. There was one fella in particular (number 6, I think) who was a small, skinny, wiry kind of guy. He had dreadful bleach blonde tips in his hair and didn’t stop sprinting. I mean SPRINTING for the whole game. That man, of course, was Mick McGinn. It is hard to imagine that only 8 years later, the young boy sitting on the stairs would replace Michael McGinn during a game in Dublin against UCD Marian. This is where I made my Superleague debut, scoring 21 points. I can still remember Conor Meany’s father shouting, “who the f*** is guarding Gary Walsh’s younger brother?” as I, a deluded 16-year old, drained my 4th 3-pointer in a row.
I ran a bit off track there… back to the 2002 in the Maradyke Arena. The game went into double overtime with Markus Walley and Dave Langrell sinking consecutive corner 3s to take the game the distance. The place then erupted when Neptune’s Cheron Watson won the game with a put-back dunk on the buzzer. Neptune won the first game I had ever seen.
I walked home that night with Colin and Alan. We sang ‘Neptune til we die’ and indeed, I was hooked. But was I spoiled by my first game? Was any other game ever going to live up to the one I had just witnessed? Surprisingly, yes! Only a few months later I watched on TV Shane Coughlan sinking a last second free-throw to win the Cup for Demons. And the following year I was in the crowd when Neptune’s Stephen McCarthy went to the line, game tied, with only 2.4 seconds left. He failed to make the free-throw and once again, I watched Demons lift their 2nd National Title in 2 years. A sight that would become all too familiar to me in the next 10 years.
My true obsession with basketball and Neptune came when I was 11. My parents decided to move the family to a quieter part of the city (and by quieter, I mean a part of the city where no young people live!). I had no other choice then to spend every waking minute in the Stadium. It almost came to a point where Noelie Allen, a true legend of the game, would have to ring my Dad to see if all my homework was done before he would hand over a basketball to me. The atmosphere back then in Neptune was electric -especially on a Monday night if the Superleague team picked up a good win at the weekend.
I would have my own practice, then I would run about the place doing dribbling drills and shooting every chance possible. As soon as the Superleague practice would start, I would just sit and watch in awe. I would watch one player in particular, “Stodzer” – Stephen McCarthy. He could do absolutely everything. The one thing that struck me about Stodzer was when he talked, the whole stadium seemed to fall silent. It was as if the Division 1 fellas on the other court wanted to hear what Stodzer was saying too. Stodzer was quiet but when he did talk, it seemed to be basketball gold.
I remember being in the chipper one night with my Dad and Stodzer walked in a tapped me on the back and said, “What’s up Roy?” I was 12 years old and for Stodzer to know that I existed was one thing but for him to know my name made me feel 10 feet tall. That’s one thing I’ve always been conscience of. As a marquee player in any club, the effect we can have on younger players in the club is phenomenal. Everything me do both on and off the court, these young players will dissect and try to replicate – like I did with Stodzer.
I didn’t totally focus my game on one player because I never really wanted to be “the next Stephen Mccarthy” or “the next Ger Noonan”. I just wanted to be me. So, I decided to try and take as much as I could from each player: I wanted to be a great passer like Ger Noonan; I wanted to be a great shooter like Gary Walsh; I wanted to have great energy, speed and heart like Mick McGinn; and to be honest, as much as it breaks my heart to admit, I have learned a lot from watching Demons’ Shane Coughlan, how he controls the game and leads his team is something I aspire to.
That’s the one bit of advice I would give to any young aspiring player in this country: quit watching Blake griffin jumping over cars to dunk the ball, nobody from Ireland is ever going to do it so stop wasting your time. Go to UCD Marian’s home games and watch Coner Meany come off the pick-and-roll with his head up, keeping his dribble alive, so he has more options. Go down to the Mardyke Arena and watch Colin O’Reilly come off a down screen; watch how he reads his defender and decides whether to curl off-the-screen or flare.
Go to a Neptune home game and watch Michael Bonaparte’s footwork; think about how, at just 6ft3, he is still one of the best post players in the league.
Things have changed in the stadium since I first joined. I don’t know if it’s because I have grown up a bit or the fact that we are on such a horrendous losing streak at the moment but the place just doesn’t feel the same. I’m not saying I have lost any of my love and desire for the club but the dwindling crowds and lack of atmosphere has taken a small bit of the buzz away. For me, Neptune is and always will be the greatest sporting club in the country. It will always have a huge place in my heart and, in truth, it is my home away from home.
Currently, we have FIVE under 16s on a 12 man Irish team, who will compete in the European Championships this summer. We have Jordan Blount, who in my eyes is the greatest prospect this country has ever produced [Editor: And a TCC blogger! Stay tuned]. We have Matti Rudak and Jermaine Kamara in the States. It is just a shame that we as a club can be judged solely on how poorly our Superleague team are doing this season. Being in cork, it doesn’t help when Demons are 16-0 and winning the league at a canter. The nation doesn’t see the bigger picture. It’s not up in the parochial hall every Tuesday night when Neptunes’ 16s, 18s, and 20s, are beating Demons comfortably over the past couple of years. The whole thing usual comes full circle… or so I’ve been told a number of times.
But I’m not banking on any of Neptune’s young superstars like Adam Drummond or Cian Heaphy lining out next to me in the coming years in the Irish Superleague. Why? The temptation to go play College ball in the U.S. is too sweet, which is understandable. But then it becomes a case of, “Let’s make them good but not so good that they will leave us”, which no-one wants either. Demons are currently the best team in the country and dominating the league – rightly so.
Demons are head and shoulders above everyone else in the country but they have to admit that they have been extremely lucky.
They haven’t lost a single player to the States or otherwise. They also have been extremely lucky in the transfer market, picking up the 2 O’Reillys from Neptune and the 2 O’Sullivans from Ballincollig. Don’t get this twisted now. I’m not here to preach about how unlucky Neptune as a club have been. I can just give you a list of players. Colin O’Reilly, who is arguably the best player in the league, played with Neptune until the age of 19. His brother, Niall, who just won his 6th national cup, won a Superleague title with Neptune, where he played until he was 21. Brian O’Neill, who captained Demons’ Regional League team to cup success at the weekend, also played with Neptune until the age of 19. Kieran O’Brien, who when fit is one of the most dominating irish bigs of the last decade, played with Neptune until he was 24. Due to work commitments, O’Brien now lives in Dublin and has been playing with Killester for a number of years. Emmett Neville, God rest his soul, passed away tragically at the age of 21. Neville should still be wearing the blue and white of Neptune today. Mick McGinn, who had back -to-back 49-point games last year, choose the Southside of Cork this year to play with Fr. Matthews. Matti Rudak and Jermaine Kamara are currently in the States while Jordan Blount is pursuing his career in Spain.
There’s a list of 9 legitimate, and talented, players. When you add a team together with myself, an American, Ger Noonan, Gary Walsh, and Ian McLoughlan…
I’ll tell you you one thing, you wouldn’t be licking your lips at the Demons team of today anymore.
Every player I’ve named above has represented their Country at respective levels and has also played the majority of their careers with Neptune Basketball Club. The oldest would be Niall and Emmett with the youngest being Jordan. John McHale, of the Evening Echo, wrote an article over Christmas after Demons thumped us by 40. He asked,
“What happened to this great big club called Neptune? Where have all the great players gone?”
Well John asked and I’ve answered! I know now that it is not possible but, if I had one wish, it would be for these 9 players to tog out in a Neptune jersey. Then and only then would we see just how “great” this Demons’ “dream team” is.