With UCD having beaten UL to reach face UCC Demons in the final of the Men’s National Basketball Cup on January 24th, Ciarán Sweeney speaks to captain Conor Meany about his hopes for the final, basketball in Ireland and his approach to the game
Getting to the final of any competition is a massive achievement, especially the Men’s National Cup Final. What would you say is the key ingredient behind the recent success?
I think our team unity has been the biggest thing this year. We’ve had a lot of injuries and different issues off the court but our group have played together for a long time and we have complete trust in each other.
How would you analyse UCD’s performance in the semi-final against UL and is there anything, despite the win, that you would change in the performance before the final?
We played quite well in parts of the semi-final but were a bit sloppy in the second half. We know that the final is going to be completely different and we’ll need to put in a full 40 minute performance to have a chance against Demons.
Will your recent loss to UCC Demons have any psychological impact ahead of the game on Saturday week, or will it be easy to convince your players that each and every game is different?
No, that loss was back in November before we started playing well. We’re a much better team than we were back then. We know Demons are excellent but every game is different and we have to believe we can compete with them.
What have you learned from the loss to UCC before Christmas and are there any flaws that you picked up on in UCC’s performance that you can exploit on Saturday?
They are really an excellent team and have beaten every team they’ve played this year by double digits. They don’t have many flaws but I’m sure our coach Ioannis will have a gameplan ready for us.
How do you try and bring your momentum from the success in the Cup through to the form in the league?
Our league form has actually been quite good since mid November. We’ve only lost twice, one of those was on the last play of the game when we played without our professional. We know our season doesn’t end next week after the final so we are hoping to continue recent form for the rest of the season.
Where does basketball in Ireland lie at the moment in terms of its popularity? Is it in decline or is the sport growing and where would Ireland therefore lie on an international level?
I think the sport is growing again in popularity. The final has sold out 8 days in advance and tickets are in high demand. We aren’t far away from the cup final maybe needing to go to a bigger venue than the Arena. TG4 has increased their coverage this year which has helped the game get to a wider audience too. We’re still on our way back internationally but there’s a lot of good work being done at grassroots level.
What in your opinion is the key to being a successful captain?
I think once your teammates trust in you and see you’re working as hard as possible you will be seen as a decent captain. Our team has a lot of older players so we have a level of understanding between us that makes my job as captain very easy.
Has there been a difference in the approach to the cup games as there has in the team’s approach to the league games?
Cup games often increase your focus because it’s knockout basketball so there’s no second chance. But in terms of overall preparation Ioannis works with us the same for every game regardless of whether it’s preseason or a cup final.
With Basketball considered somewhat of a minority sport in Ireland, what was your reasoning for getting involved in it as opposed to any other sport?
My family are heavily involved in basketball so it was always the sport for me. I also love the way it’s so fast paced and you’re constantly involved.
Is it hard for some of the lads on the team who are in college doing undergrad or postgrad degrees to try and balance the time given to those courses with the time needed to excel at such a high level on the basketball court?
It is a challenge certainly. I was on a basketball scholarship while in UCD for both my undergraduate and postgraduate courses and so were a number of the guys. Guys on the team have huge commitments with work and study so finding time to get to our 3 practices a week can be difficult. We all make huge sacrifices just like the GAA or any other sport so hopefully we can reap the rewards for that next week.
What are the team’s aspirations now for the remainder of the season in the league?
We just want to keep the momentum that we have at the moment. After a tough start to the league our team is playing well and we just want to keep that going and see where it takes us.