A new coach, a new season, and a sixth place position in their last league campaign were the challenges facing UCD Marian when they began their Superleague campaign back in September. At the time of writing, Marian stand in fourth in the league, posting a record of three wins and five losses.
The team are still hoping to build on their 2010 season, which culminated with a victory in the final of The National Superleague Cup. For Marian, it has been a methodical approach to reconstruction of the team and their ultimate destination within the league.
UCD are one of the youngest sides within the league. With patience and with years of planning, new coach Sasa Punosevac believes he has the blueprint to form a side to equal the likes of Bord Gáis Neptune, whom he has previously coached.
“We have created a programme of three years. In the first year we want to develop individual tactics from every player, we want to promote their individual defence and offence. In the second year the focus is on group tactics and group offence and defence work and the last year to bring it all together and fit like a team,” he explains.
As a four year veteran of the side, Cathal Finn understands the importance of every nuance of training and preparation, something that he believes has been strategically treated to adapt to the league.
He describes the chemistry between the new coach and his team by saying: “I think this year Sasa has worked a lot on approaching it defensively, looking at each team individually and tactically, working on specific tactics for teams, whereas last year we would not have done all that. Our offence has changed and is still changing. Sasa brings in new offences every week. There is a huge variety in what we do compared to what we did.”
Finn, who plays at point guard, singles out a crucial part of the team’s evolution, with each member now aware of their position on the court. “I guess we’re taking on a different style this year and we’re more focusing on players playing to one position, as opposed to last year we had a more of a system where I guess everyone was rotating through. Now everyone is specified to a position, and you do have to work to get better at that position. Other than that, we’re training more often this year, where we have three sessions as opposed to the two that we had last year and we have extra sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Finn also accepts that, as a University team, Marian is always going experience a large turnover of players every year. “We have, as happens every year, gotten in some new players. There was a new scholarship player; Liam Conroy has added a lot of strength to our offence and we have a new professional this year; a new American big inside player John Galvin. We’re the same core players, but we have added some strength and depth to it.”
These players represent a key advantage to the side, scholarship programs and a wealth of incoming international talent allow a full and diverse locker room with which Punosevac can pick and choose, mould and reform.
When Punosevac joined the team in August, he was well aware of both the team’s capabilities, and shortcomings, claiming that: “When I arrived here there were some problems with the team’s ego. These players were the best at their age. Now, because they are so young, they have had problems adapting against senior teams”.
Punosevac quickly decided these negatives were outweighed by the positives, in particular the team’s work ethic. “The positives? Firstly, the fact that we are now a very athletic and fit team. We have the best defence in the league, and we say at meets every time, nobody can work harder than us.”
Despite the rebuilt and refocused regime, the team’s record is the single most important factor in the players’ minds. The team may be making leaps and bounds in training and strategy development, but the results have not been up to Finn’s high standards, with Marian losing over half their games to date.
Despite this, UCD remain in fourth position, although this is mainly due to the dominance so far of UL Eagles and UCC Demons. There is a clear sense of frustration evident in Finn’s tone when he talks about the league. “We would prefer to have a better record than three and five, but I mean what we have done defensively, we’ve kept teams to a lower score and I think were second in the league defensively in keeping teams to low points.”
In fact, Marian are first in this category, with an average of just under 64 points conceded a game, compared to an average of 72 for the rest of the league. “At the moment we are working on our offence to click and to be getting scores that back up our defence. A lot of the games we’ve lost we have been competitive and is encouraging and we’ve just fallen down in the last couple of minutes offensively, but other than that we have formed well and we’re consistently playing defensively, but were just not quite there yet.”
The next few weeks remain decisive in the season for UCD, with a matchup against Bord Gáis Neptune in Cork on the 1st of December to occupy the team until the quarterfinal of the National Cup on the 8th of December, in which they face Moycullen in Leitir Mór, Galway.