Top 25 Irish Women’s Basketball Players?

Back for more punishment, all so that we can all have even more fun and rows, writes Kieran Shannon.

After yesterday’s men’s Top 25 stirred a lot of good memories and even better arguments, it’s the women’s turn.

A few qualifiers from the outset. Just like with the men, no current player 26 or younger was considered. We can see Orla O’Reilly, Claire Rockall, Aoife McDermott, Sarah Woods, Aine McKenna and Jessica Scannell all breaking into a similar select list a few years from now but we’ve to see some more of them, hopefully and especially in a green singlet.

More so than the men’s game, the ladies game can be complicated by the scholarship factor.

Some terrific talents went Stateside and played in some D1 schools but hardly played again anywhere. Longevity was favoured here, though there was one exception.

The good news though is a good few college players would return to play and adorn the domestic league.

If this were a Top 30, we can think of the five players who’d squeeze into it. Waterford’s Mary Fitzpatrick, for her defence, durability and league-winning tally with Wildcats.

Philly Grennell, Breda’s — and Martin’s — sister for establishing Killester and then Naomh Mhuire as the first dominant sides of the National League era. Marie Breen, for continuing to bring honours to Cork, particularly for her 29 points in Glanmire’s classic 2007 Cup final win over UL. Sandie Fitzgibbon and Angie McNally for their firebrand style that lit up multiple final weekends, and in Sandy’s case in particular, multiple titles to Blarney, then Tralee.

Do they make our Top 25? No; we were looking for people who dominated games, not merely influenced them. Do they make our Top 30? Yes. So hard luck, girls, and very well done.

As for who made the Top 25. Drum roll…

25. RACHEL KELLY:

The kind of player that doesn’t have an obvious support base to ensure she’s not forgotten but her record ensures she’s not here. A big player for the Tolka Rovers team that played in a good few big games and won a few big trophies too a few years either side of the millennium. Before they’d wind up and go their separate ways, the northside Dublin club would win two Cups, a Top Four and the 1999 Cup in which the dynamic Kelly would rightly finish MVP.

24. MIRIAM FORDE:

No shortage of people to champion the late, great Blarney forward, and understandably so. She maybe wasn’t the most polished or technical of players but could she rebound, score, mark Americans.

23. MARIAN WALSH:

The flipside to Miriam in a way: while she didn’t quite win as many honours as Caroline’s older sister, Walsh was the kind of technical player international coaches loved. A terrific shooter and scorer, averaging 18 points a game in both the league and national semi-finals and finals for three consecutive seasons for Corinthians in the mid-80s.

22. ANN-MARIE KYNE:

Naomh Mhuire had some terrific rural talent playing for Pat McKenna in the mid-late 90s. Eilis Ni Laoire from Kerry. Edel O’Gorman from Wexford. Ursula Kyne from Oughterard. But the pick of the lot was probably Ursula’s sister, the explosive, rangy, versatile Ann-Marie.

21. SHARON KELLY:

A taller, stronger and more technical player than Sharon; her post moves especially were delightful — unless you were playing against her.

20. LINDSAY PEAT:

This league has seen a lot of warrior guards — Sandie, Angie, Louise Galvin — but for a decade now Peat has led the standard in that department to keep DCU among the top three teams in the country.

Two of the best.

Two of the best. Photo courtesy of RTE.ie

19. SARAH McCLOSKEY:

Would help Naomh Mhuire to eight national finals in a 10-year senior career starting in 1985, and though she would win ‘only’ three of them, McCloskey was a rock all through, averaging 15 points in the last seven.

18. EILIS NÍ LAOIRE:

Another inside player who served Naomh Mhuire and the Irish game so well in McCloskey’s era — and beyond; the year after Sarah retired, Ní Laoire would guide the Inchicore club to a cup win and within two points of winning the league. Started her career in Tralee, where she’d also win a league and cup in ’87. Smaller than McCloskey and her fellow county-woman Maire Ní Laighin, but played almost as big as them.

17. MARY O’MAHONY:

Another great stalwart and inside player of that era. With Meteors she’d win three cups staggered from ’85 to ’92 to ’96, winning the MVP in the last of them.
That same ’96 season she’d also win and top score in the Top Four national championships final.

A leader, ambassador and winner.

16. ROSE BREEN:

Yet another terrific inside player from that era.
A fabulous big-game player. In the 1991 league final she put up 21 points for Blarney; in the 1994 decider, 24 for Tralee.

And yet for all that it was how she complemented fellow scorers and stars like Caroline Forde that made her so valued and respected.

15. GRÁINNE DWYER:

With the sudden disintegration of a magnificent UL Huskies team, Dwyer is the most dynamic and best player in the country.
Truth is, she probably was that already last year, scoring 49 points over both 2014 national finals against James Weldon’s side, a tally no player other than Caroline Forde in 1991 has passed.

Aggressive and athletic, she can run the floor yet scrap and score inside with the best.

14. KAREN HENNESSY:

You can nearly guess: another post player from the mid-80s to late 90s generation, only this one also played D1 college ball. As well as her moves and footwork in the post, she had a neat jump shot that would help reestablish Meteors as a national force upon her return home. Captained national team regularly too.
13. DENISE WALSH:

The Adrian Fulton of the women’s game, only she won even more, be it with Naomh Mhuire, Tolka Rovers or especially Glanmire.

12. MICHELLE MAGUIRE:

Another cerebral, technical player loved by both her club and international coach — in this case, Gerry Fitzpatrick.
Through her leadership, Wildcats would go from perennial contenders to continuous league winners to then finally making their cup breakthrough in 1998. She neatly book-ended it all. When they won their first Top Four in 1990, she scored 16. When they won that cup in ’98, she sank 24. It was fitting she was MVP that day — because she was on so many other days too.

11. MAIRE NÍ LAIGHIN:

Funny, her name didn’t come up that prominently among basketball heads and coaches, but if you consult the record books she’s possibly the most underestimated player of her era. She was also among the most influential. Prior to the 1985 Top Four national championship final, every previous national title had been solely the preserve of Dublin clubs. That St Patrick’s Day, Tralee would change all that with a teenaged Ni Laighin scoring 23 points. The next year they’d win the next national title, the Cup. Again she scored 23. The following two years she’d win the league each time. She’d eventually retire in 1992, after scoring 28 points in a league final defeat to Naomh Mhuire, bringing her average in eight national finals in as many years to 19 points a game.

10. MAGGIE TIMONEY:

The one player who hardly played after college that just had to make this list; to this day there’s a plaque in the corridors of D1’s Iona College for all the scoring records she broke there. She could also score in the national team and the national league either side of going Stateside; in 1984 she would be the league’s top scorer, guiding little Ballina Pacers into the Top Four ahead of Blarney. If she’d stayed around, she’d have been the Irish Liam McHale. As it is, her claim to fame is that the hardly-modest David Brady’s isn’t that he won an All-Ireland club medal and played in many more September games for Mayo but that he’s Maggie Timoney’s aunt.

9. BREDA GRENNELL:

A product from one of Ireland’s greatest basketball families and one of its greatest players and servants as well. Even when Meteors would come along to break up the dominance she enjoyed with Killester and then especially Naomh Mhuire, she was still always there, Chris Evert to their and Siobhan Caffrey’s Navratilova.

8. SUZANNE MAGUIRE:

Like Maggie Timoney, she draws parallels with McHale. First there’s her longevity. Back in 1992 she won an U19 Cup with Tolka Rovers; 23 years on there she now has Liffey Celtics as a real competitive force, not to mention the 3×3 European Olympics she helped an Irish select qualify for. Then there’s her game — outside, or inside posting up and turning around, she could kill you, a bit like the men’s game’s greatest. She maybe could have won a bit more with DCU outside their 2007 league and 2010 and 2011 cups, but don’t forget her role and trophies with the Kellys and Tolkas over a decade ago.

7. NIAMH DWYER:

A star at schools and underage level. Played college in the States. Then Euroleague ball for Vilnius. Top scorer in the English league during her sabbatical from Glanmire in 2011. A starter for the national team before it was disbanded this month five years ago.
And oh yeah, all those finals and trophies with Glanmire. As proud a Tipp woman as you’ll meet but an honorary Cork one at this stage.

6. CAROLINE FORDE:

No disrespect to all those who have been aforementioned, but we’re going to another level here with the Special Six. Forde was a force of nature for a decade or more, whether it was for her native Blarney, then Tralee, or for an even shorter stint, Waterford. Along the way she’d rack up five leagues, three cups — in which she’d score over 20 points each time — while the Top Four would probably host her finest hour; in 1991 she’d knock down 41 points in an overtime final win over Wildcats in the Neptune Stadium.

5. MICHELLE ASPELL:

Another streetballer streetfighter whose style was merely effective with the national team and outright unstoppable in the national league — just like with Forde if there was one player who you wanted to get a bucket in a league or cup game here, simply clear out and give it to Michelle. Either with Waterford or UL she’d play in 10 cup finals — winning five —scoring 173 points, an average of 17.3 a game. When UL won three consecutive leagues in the mid-noughties she averaged 29 points a game in each league or Top Four final. The player of the noughties.

4. SIOBHAN STAPLETON/CAFFREY:

The league’s first truly great player. With Siobhan as team captain and her husband Gerry as coach, Meteors would win four consecutive leagues from ’82 to ’85. That was largely down to her craft, fire and scoring power; during that time she’d average 22 points a game. The gold rush would slow down after that: she’d have to wait until 1992 for her second cup win in ’92 in which she’d win the MVP, before finishing up with clinching her fifth league in 1993. But anyone who played against her in her pomp will never forget her.

3. JILLIAN HAYES:

An exceptional post player for both club and country. Technically exceptional, and after serving a rough apprenticeship, she and Waterford Wildcats would get their silverware too. For all the talent they had in the 1990s, Hayes was always the standout.

2. MICHELLE FAHY:

It was almost as if she’d studied all of Hayes’ game film and text book and then taken the evolution of the Irish post player to the next stage and level. Defensively she was exceptional, while offensively there’s never been an Irish player with better hands or feet. Her vision and passing meant she was the ideal teammate because she always shared the ball and made them better. After returning from a fine D1 career in Iona College and a stint playing abroad the Galway native would return to Ireland in 2006, signing up with Glanmire. For the next eight seasons there wouldn’t be a year she wouldn’t win either a league or cup, bar a gap year in 2010. Add up all her medals with UL and Glanmire and you’re looking at six league and five cups. An exceptional career for an exceptional talent.

Photo courtesy of Galway Independent

Photo courtesy of Galway Independent

1. SUSAN MORAN:

She might never have graced the domestic league but Moran produced enough magic in the National Basketball Arena for school and country as well as the biggest gyms in American collegiate basketball to earn this ranking.
We’ll never forget the first time we saw the Tullamore Tyro. It was 1998. In the school’s cup final she’d score 48 — hours after sitting the US exam papers that would take her to St Joe’s and Philadelphia. In the U19 club final she’d notch 52. As I wrote at the time it was like watching Michael Jordan’s old scoring exploits in the Chicago Stadium 10 years earlier. Ten years on she was still the standout player with the national team — and as Mark Scannell will say, invariably the best player from either side on the floor. She’d break all kinds of records at St Joe’s where she now coaches, to the point she was drafted by the WNBA’s New York Liberty. Whether she had to play the two or the four, sometimes even the five, Moran could do it, both ends of the floor. She could do it all.

READ MORE: Top 25: Ireland’s greatest ever male basketball players

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