New superleague format


The advent of almost every new basketball season throughout the last decade has invariably heralded significant new changes in a sport which has unstintingly tinkered and adjusted their product to maximise both commercial and public interest.

No one can ever accuse the IBA of settling for mediocrity. Despite setbacks, their efforts have, in general, helped elevate the profile of the sport, but the mens national league has remained an unfinished article.

The long association with former sponsor Budweiser came to an end last season and now the ESB have heavily involved themselves in the task of making the league as much a success as the annual Sprite Cup.

A relaunch of the league was inevitable with the change of sponsor but the IBA also took the opportunity to devise yet another new format which has resulted in the expansion of the superleague to 14 teams which is effectively an amalgamation of the two mens national league divisions from last season.

There are, however, the notable absences of Tralee and Ballina, two clubs who have recent histories of winning major trophies in the sport while still struggling to maintain their national league existence. It is hoped that both will use their year out to regroup in the new regional leagues which have been designed to act as a feeder system to the superleague.

The absence of Ballina and Tralee is partly counterbalanced by the return of former champions Blue Demons who will play their first national league game in over five years at home to Dublin Bay Vikings (formerly MSB) tomorrow in Gurranabraher.

There are also some missing personalities most notably from the outgoing league champions Star of the Sea who have lost both veteran player Javan Dupree and their longtime coach Danny Fulton through retirement. In addition, with Ballina no longer in the top flight, Liam McHale will not be playing in the superleague after rumours of a midsummer move to Sligo failed to materialise.

There is also a major change in the timing structure of a game which will now consist of four quarters (as in the NBA), instead of two halves.

The opening programme of matches features the renewal of just one old rivalry with the meeting of one of the most successful Dublin clubs, St Vincent's and Cork giants Neptune in Glasnevin on Sunday.

Also that afternoon, the reigning champions Star of the Sea are at home to Tolka Rovers while the cup holders for the past two years, Notre Dame host Dungannon at the National Arena.

Killester travel to play Limerick on Sunday as well while tomorrow night Killarney are home to Waterford while Marian are in Sligo.

In all there will be 26 matches to be played by each team, which is eight more than last year. With the season extended by three weeks into the end of March, there will be a number of midweek games and several weekends during which clubs will have to play twice.

The league will also have heightened television coverage with TnaG presenting a weekly highlights package.