Hoops hordes rock Tallaght

 

BASKETBALL ALL-IRELAND SCHOOLS’ FINALS:THE ENERGY, excitement and often unexplainable imagination of youth were on full display yesterday as the best young basketballers in Ireland descended on Dublin for the schools’ cup finals.

Chants rang out and dances broke out throughout the four A Division finals for under-16 and under-19 boys and girls at the National Arena in Tallaght.

It is a unique day when the schools pack buses of supporters up to these matches, most of whom are so happy to have a day out of the classroom that they create an unmatchable atmosphere.

It all began at 10.30am when perennial contenders of recent years, St Malachy’s of Belfast and St Joseph’s of Galway, took to the court for the under-16 boys’ crown.

Despite the early start, an energetic tone was set when the self-styled “Tom O’Malley’s Barmy Army” from Galway (named after the team’s coach) arrived in force, faces painted and welding drums that quickly rid the crowd of any sluggishness.

However, it was the team from Belfast that lifted the silverware as twins Aidan and Conor Quinn added a new chapter to the legacy of St Malachy’s basketball.

“We’ve been waiting so long – it just feels like a weight off our shoulders,” said Aidan, who scored six three-pointers while his brother won the game’s overall MVP.

The buzz in the gym never faded as new waves of supporters rolled in towards the end of the game preceding theirs.

Some brought cheerleaders, others hip hop dancers, but all were topped by Coláiste Éanna from Dublin, who turned up with a dancing monkey for their under-19 boys’ final.

It is a tradition for the school’s supporters to bring a dinosaur mascot to basketball finals, but this year when fifth years Owen Lewis and Travon Ncube went to the local costume shop, all they could find was a monkey suit.

The pair put on quite a show throughout the game.

Although they alternated being in the suit, “the dancing monkey” never stopped and genuinely wowed the crowd with moves suspiciously learned in a nightclub for lads so young.

The game itself saw two familiar faces on the sidelines coaching.

Jerome Westbrooks and Ahmad Smith are two Americans who first arrived in Ireland to participate in the SuperLeague but have since made their impact on schools.

It was Ahmad and his Coláiste Éanna team who left victorious, comfortably defeating Jerome and St Fintan’s of Dublin.

“I stayed around here because of these guys right here,” said Ahmad.

“They are in the gym all summer, these guys put up more shots than anybody, probably in the country. It means more to me when guys are really committed,” he said.

On the girls side, Calasanctius College of Oranmore in Galway made it to both finals but were forced to leave disappointed as St Vincent’s of Cork and St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy in Limerick won the under-16 and under-19 titles respectively.

Despite defeats on the court, the Calasanctius half-time show of dancers was a definite success and proved that it wasn’t just the players who had been working hard before the finals.

“They got together about two weeks ago and they have been training themselves everyday after school,” said Patricia Treacy, an Oranmore teacher who helped the girls.

So as the last buses pulled out and minds began to drift towards a return to schoolwork, winners and losers both left with memories that will be cherished long after the school uniforms have been packed away for good.

Roll on next year and a new batch of heroes.