UCC Demons’ Shane Coughlan fully committed to landing major trophy
Now 33 and 16 years playing senior Cork’s Shane Coughlan is still aiming high
Shane Coughlan of UCC Demons under pressure from Barry Drumm and Neil Baynes of UCD Marian Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
MEN’S FINAL: C&S UCC Demons v Dublin Inter
National Arena, Tallaght, 8.45pm
As defeats go, this was the sweetest of Shane Coughlan’s basketball life. In the quarter finals of the National Cup last November, Coughlan and the rest of the UCC Demons team met Marian in the second leg having won the first match by a whopping 30 points. So all they had to do was lose by 30 or less.
If there is one certainty in Irish basketball it is that Demons, one of the old firms of the Irish game, do not lose games by 30 points.
And yet they had fallen into a hole, watching mesmerised as the Marian players shot on sight and hit nothing but net.
“Their statistics from that evening were just off the charts,” says Coughlan – and the name is pronounced in the Corkonian Cawww-lin.
“And we had nothing. Not one of us had a spark. Half the time, we were playing the scoreboard rather than the team and that didn’t help us.”
What it meant was that with less than 30 seconds left, Marian hit a free throw to lead by 98 to 66 , or by two points on aggregate.
Control of the ball
The Dublin team pressed hard and Coughlan found himself in control of the ball.
Nationally, he isn’t the most famous of Cork sportsmen but within the city, his achievements are well known. Tall and rangy, Coughlan has a loping stride and immaculate ball carrying skills and even though Demons felt trapped in a bad dream as they took the ball up court, they had the ball in the hands of the right man.
Coughlan’s final move – a hard drive for the basket then a neat reverse dribble and textbook fadeaway three pointer to win the game as the final buzzer sounded – will go down as one of those moments.
He walked out of the gymnasium after the buzzer sounded, followed by the loyal Demons gang from north Cork who swamped him in the corridor.
“All our initial plans were just to get a basket, the two points and get the game to overtime. I tried to go but it was good ‘D’ by Colm Meaney and it was just step back then and let it go and see what happens. It was unbelievable because for the entire night, it felt like we were out of the cup. Even though we got through, it was a heavy defeat and it made us focus for the league.”
Demons have played in front of bigger crowds in a history that stretches back almost 50 years but the cognoscenti in the gym that night went berserk. Coughlan is literally a child of Demons: his father Peter played ball for the club and later coached the senior side; his uncles Páidí and Joe were Demons stalwarts and his three siblings all played for the club.
Anyone who has remotely followed the Irish game over the past decade is familiar with the casual grace he plays with. He is 33 now and has played senior for 16 years, representing Ireland from schoolboys through to senior and twice winning National Cup MVP.
But he had to think twice about another Superleague winter. “Yeah, last summer I was wondering if it might be time to step aside. But then you want to go out on a bit of a high. We have gone four years without a major trophy so once I committed, that was it.”
Coughlan was one of the children who packed Gurranbraher and Neptune for those psychedelic basketball nights of the late 1980s so evocatively captured in Kieran Shannon’s book Hanging from the Rafters.
For a few years in Cork city, basketball was the only show in town. Coughlan saw the game go through peaks and dire struggles in his playing career and believes that the flaring success of the game in the late 1980s was a matter of place and time.
“It probably would have been very hard to keep it at that with other sports growing. Back then, basketball seemed next to GAA in popularity. Rugby was an outside thing, even soccer. But those sports grew massively.
“People say that reducing the Americans from two to one had a big effect on the game here. But they brought two back and the crowds weren’t as big.
“The game has had tough times. Seven or eight years ago, it was very tough to finance clubs. We lost the Kerry teams, a huge blow. But it is coming back. Clubs are trying hard now and there is a real sense of resurgence.”
Strong Cork city clubs are vital to the Irish game. Demons – originally Blue Demons but now UCC Demons – are keeping up their part of the bargain, formidable in the league this year and now favourites against Dublin Inter in tonight’s final.
“People will say that and were probably surprised to see Inter getting past Neptune in Neptune stadium. This is my ninth final and it feels great to be back here. But it is the classic cup final thing. They’ll love being outsiders, there’ll be a big Dublin crowd in the Arena and these cup finals produce the unexpected.”