Home improvement makes imports less crucial
The Budweiser Superleague season began a with new set of foreign players on show, but an old-style set of results that barely raised an eyebrow.
It is a tribute to the growing influence of Irish players in the league that this should be so. The strong squads of cup-holders Delta, Top Four champions Star of the Sea and perennial challengers St Vincent's ensured that their campaigns got under way with victories, while the one result that was difficult to predict went the way that most would have forecast as Killester won the Dublin derby against Marian 83-73.
Predictable too were the results in the new ESB-sponsored women's Superleague as threetime champions Wildcats and strong challengers Meteors eased into the campaign without undergoing major duress. Only the emergence of new boys Waterford in men's division one caused a stir, albeit a minor one. They confirmed that their cup win over MSB a week earlier was no one-off fluke by repeating the performance on an 88-75 scoreline and they are already marked down by most observers as serious promotion contenders. Waterford's American point guard, Trent Forbes (28 points), was again the main difference between the sides. The absence of defending champions Neptune from the Superleague fixtures over the weekend gave a `Hamlet without the Prince' aspect to the opening weekend of action. Due to complications which arose when Tralee made a late decision not to leave the national league, the opening match between the title holders and the Kerrymen was postponed until January 9th.
That means that if any other of the main challengers for the title, like Star of the Sea, get off to a fast start in the campaign, that Neptune will be playing catch-up until the new year. And from the evidence of Star's convincing 90-74 win over Ballina in Killala on Saturday night, the Belfast side are odds-on to be among the top challengers again. With a squad of Irish players the envy of most clubs and a solid, experienced American in John Leahy, who is back for a second season, Star have also found an outstanding rookie in Chuck Guitar who scored a game-high of 29 points on his league debut.
Equally impressive were Delta in a 98-67 win in Killarney in which rookie Paul Hodges also top-scored in the game with 27, while St Vincent's had more to spare than their 90-81 margin of victory yesterday over newly-promoted Dungannon would suggest.
The Glasnevin side went into a 30-11 early lead over the Tyronemen and were well ahead at the break (48-34). In the second half, though, the Dubliners rested both Karl Donnelly and American Lamont Duckett allowing Dungannon to close the gap to five points with less that three minutes remaining.
On a good weekend for new faces in the Superleague, St Vincent's new Irish passport-holding acquisition from America, Dave Conlon was the game's top scorer on 30 points, while Dungannon's new free-shooting Alcinder Bowler matched that tally.
The difference between the sides was the huge contribution of Karl Donnelly to St Vincent's effort. He marked his return to his old club after a year with Star by scoring 28 points. Killester's promising young squad, which included four under19 players, got the better of UCD Marian in a suitably-heated Dublin derby. Amos was the top scorer in the game on 26, while Killester's new men Mike Trimmer (23 points) and Andy Wilmot (24) look to be good acquisitions as well.
Meteors also seem to have a real `find' in new squad member Gillian Morris who scored 22 points in their opening women's Superleague win over Limerick by 76-40, while there were comfortable margins of victory as well for champions Wildcats and newly-promoted Tolka.