Basketball, cake and bubbly on Monday nights in Greystones

A group of mothers get together weekly for a fast-paced game of basketball

Pictured at the Shoreline Leisure Centre, Greystones, Co Wicklow: Back row (left to right): Rachel Megarity; Claire Macaulay; Elaine McCarthy; Lucy Pappas; Emer Callaghan; Caroline McCloskey; and Roisin Williams. Front row (left to right): Mo Gahan; Linda Walsh; Rachel McClean and Lynn Hodgins. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Pictured at the Shoreline Leisure Centre, Greystones, Co Wicklow: Back row (left to right): Rachel Megarity; Claire Macaulay; Elaine McCarthy; Lucy Pappas; Emer Callaghan; Caroline McCloskey; and Roisin Williams. Front row (left to right): Mo Gahan; Linda Walsh; Rachel McClean and Lynn Hodgins. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

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Returning home from a run one night I bump into a neighbour on the street, I’m new to the neighbourhood so I’m keen to introduce myself. I’m red-faced, with a slight pant and I’m sweating, so you can imagine my delight when I realised that she was in a similar state.

My introduction went something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Fiona Alston, I live down the road, what made you sweat tonight?” and that is exactly how I ended up on a basketball court, eating cake and drinking bubbly on a Monday night in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Fiona Tilson tells me she plays basketball on a Monday night with a group of 40-plus mothers and invites me down to try it out. “It’s great camaraderie and great to go back to something you did in secondary school. Certainly, at this stage in our lives, we probably thought we’d never do it again, so it’s good in that respect. It’s a weekly catch-up for us as well, we run out the house for 7.30pm and leave the dads to put the kids to bed. It’s a good workout, physical and full on.”

Now, I’m not a mother but I’m within their 35-50 age range so I don my gear and join the group on a Monday night, frantically trying to remember anything from my limited high-school basketball experience as I drive down to Shoreline Leisure in Greystones. I’m full from my dinner, forgetting I’d agreed to an hour’s physical exercise, so I’m praying I don’t get the call up. My attire suggests otherwise.

Warm-up gets under way with runs around the perimeter of the indoor court and a few passing drills as I stand, in awe, trying to remember if I have any ball-handling skills. As a game gets under way, I grab a word with a couple of the subs.

“I started last year, a neighbour of mine told me about the group that met here on a Monday evening so I just came down with her. We live up in Moneystown which is about a 20-minute drive from here but it’s worth coming down,” Róisín Williams tells me.

This group of women are all mums and Lucy Pappas, who is sitting with us, explains why she thinks taking up this sport has had a positive impact on her family. “I think it’s important for my kids to play sports, it’s good for them to see me also playing a team sport. However, I’m equally glad we’re not in a league as I wouldn’t be competitive enough. Sport in our house is usually my husband playing his hockey or cricket, so it’s great for the kids to see that I’m also interested in playing sport.”

The women warm up before their basketball game at Shoreline Leisure in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The women warm up before their basketball game at Shoreline Leisure in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

As we enter back onto the court the two women sub in for another two players who leave the court glistening in sweat and breathing heavily, I’m beginning to see what a great workout this game is. Catching her breath, Linda Walsh explains. “Our husbands play football and we found that we wanted a sport to play, a team sport. We all do yoga, pilates, walking, gym, it’s all individual.

“We were just chatting one day and saying how the guys have a great time playing football and we didn’t have something similar. We looked at what we played when we were in school, basketball was the common denominator, so we just put a few feelers out to see would anybody be interested and we got 10 straight away.”

There is no structured coaching to the group but once a month or so they get a little assistance to keep them in check. “You get the fear when Marian turns up but she comes and sort of puts in a bit of system and process into our game and leaves us to it for another few weeks,” says Linda Walsh. “Anytime we want she just volunteers, she loves the game so we have a bit of coaching.”

The game they are playing is in full swing now and it’s starting to look very fast-paced. Emer Callaghan, who originally set up the group, subs off. I mention it’s getting competitive. “It is funny when you talk about being competitive, it starts and we are all delighted to see each other and we do the warm-up but then when the match starts , it’s elbows and scratches and knocks, nobody holds back at all, and then at the end we are all like ‘great job’.”

I’m mortified

It’s time for me to sub on and dust the cobwebs off my hoop-shooting skills. I’m put on the wing and am remembering to stick to my opponent like glue, there is a little bit of shuffling and bumping but I feel like I’m holding my ground. We start making for my end of the court, amazingly I find myself right within reach of a shot on goal when the ball is passed to me, it’s my big moment, I go line up my shot but someone approaches me and I panic, I throw the ball in any direction, I don’t know which, it hits the wall out of play. I’m mortified as it signifies the end of the game.

There’s a 50th birthday in the camp to celebrate, and the women have organised cake and champagne. The black forest gâteau and sip of bubbly soon disperses my shame.

We start to leave the court and I’m invited back to play again sometime but I’m pretty sure they are just being polite. I was dreadful. I think I’ll end on my sugar-rush high. Still, if I was to reignite my hoop-shooting skills, I can’t imagine a nicer bunch of women to do it with, although I’m not sure the cake is a regular fixture.

Anyone in the area looking to relive their basketball-playing youth on a regular basis is welcome to leave their details for the women at Shoreline reception. It costs €5 a night and I can promise they will make you smile while you sweat – what a great way to start to the week.

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