This coming Saturday the National Basketball Arena plays host to the Gathering Shield, a game between a Welsh Select side and “Ireland’s Best Premier League Players”. I know it looks sarcastic to put that in inverted commas but if you go to the Basketball Ireland website, that’s what they use on the image. See?
I hope they’re not planning on putting that on the jerseys.
The game follows on from the incredible victory of the Irish select side over their English counterparts back in January. Coach Mark Keenan, who has been among the most successful coaches in the league since taking over at Limerick in 2011, took charge of the side in January and has will reprise his role this weekend. The team is not identical to that of January and Keenan commented:
The team selection was based on rewarding players that were part of last Januarys great victory over the England Select Team. Several players from that team are not available for selection for this game and therefore several new players have been introduced.
The January side was:
Shane Coughlan (UCC Demons), Niall O’Reilly (UCC Demons), Rob Taylor (UL Eagles), Jason Killeen (UL Eagles), Rob Lynch (UL Eagles), Neil Campbell (UL Eagles), Darren Townes (Bord Gais Neptune), Michael McGinn (Bord Gais Neptune), Ger Noonan (Bord Gais Neptune), Mindaugas Tamusauskas (Dublin Inter), Keith Anderson (DCU Saints), Mike Westbrooks (Killester), Cian Nihill [reserve player] (Moycullen)
Notable absentees include the two American players who played in January – Robert Taylor ex-of Limerick and Darren Townes, who returned to Neptune this season – and Jason Killeen of UL, now playing in France. The current version of the “Best Premier League Players” is:
Shane Coughlan – C&S UCC Demons
Niall O’Reilly – C&S UCC Demons
Colin O’Reilly – C&S UCC Demons
Mike McGinn – Bord Gais Neptune
Ger Noonan – Bord GaisNeptune
Matteusz Rudak – Bord Gais Neptune
Neil Campbell – UL Eagles
Scott Kinnevane – UL Eagles
Keith Anderson – Swords Thunder (Basketball Ireland Men’s Division One)
Isaac Westbrooks – Killester
Mindaugas Tamusauskas – Dublin Inter
Paul O’ Brien – Moycullen
With all due respect to the players involved, it seems a stretch to really claim that this is the strongest squad available to the coaches.
Firstly, it contains no Americans. Now, this could be a deliberate move to firstly give more Irish players a shot (Rudak, while Polish, attended school in Ireland) as it is hard to imagine too many American players in the Welsh side. So, we’ll let that slide.
What is particularly odd about the team is the configuration in terms of the sides represented.
January: UCC 2 / UL 4 / Neptune 3 / Inter, DCU, Killester, Moycullen 1 each
October: UCC 3 / Neptune 3 / UL 2 / Inter, Killester, Moycullen, Thunder 1 each.
If we overlook the DCU-Thunder discrepancy, as it’s the same guy just playing for a different team, that’s the exact same teams represented in more or less exactly the same proportions. It is hard to imagine that if Killeen and Taylor (if we’re including Americans) were still in Limerick that they wouldn’t have been picked. It also would have been a stretch to leave Colin O’Reilly off the panel of the best players in the Irish leagues.
There are two new teams in the Premier League this season: Belfast Star and Templeogue. There are also the two university teams in Dublin, UCD and DCU, now both completely unrepresented.
The argument that the best players should be chosen for games like this might counter any arguments against having equal representation of all Premier League clubs in the select team, but, let’s just consider a couple of examples.
Paul Dick has 57 points this season. That’s better than some imports. His 18.3 PPG is good enough for ninth in the whole league. Yet he’s not in the squad?
The fourth top scorer in the league is Conor Meany, of UCD. The eleventh top scorer is Phil Taylor of Templeogue and his team-mate, Dan James, who had 21 against Dublin Inter, is sixth in the league in assists.
What about Kieran O’Brien, someone who has been among the leading players in the top league for years now? He’s fifth in offensive rebounds, ninth in total rebounds and yet still thirteenth in assists.
Of course “it’s all a matter of opinion”…except it’s not really a matter of opinion to say that, for example, Paul Dick is a better player than a significant number of the guys in the squad. It’s a matter of statistical fact. Paul Dick is the best player on his own team, which includes an American import.
This is without even addressing the issue of a “Premier League Select” that includes a player who doesn’t play in the Premier League.
The persistent lack of a senior mens national team has troubled Irish basketball for years. An entire generation of elite Irish players will go without ever getting to play for their country. Is this select team designed to try and segue into the return of the national team? If that is the case, then surely there has to be more scrutiny over its selection.
The fact is that several clubs were surprised to read the announcement of the team: this was the first they had heard of it.
Would it have been too much trouble to hold a trial, perhaps in Dublin? All clubs could have sent two or three players to allow Coach Keenan to cast his eye over all available players. One day, that’s all they would have needed. If people don’t want to attend the trial, then by all means, go ahead with whatever team you want to select.
One of the major, and completely fair, criticisms of Irish basketball is that it is too parochial. This is an inevitable by-product of having teams that depend on one or two families to help sustain them, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aspire for better.