Joanne O’Riordan: Rejuvenated Dwyer hungry as ever and ready for the fray

Ireland and Fr Mathews stalwart hopeful for a good year for Irish basketball

Lockdown 1.0 came at the right time for Irish women's basketball legend Gráinne Dwyer. Her body needed a break after giving her all to Ireland 3x3, 5x5 and Glanmire and Fr Mathews for the last 18 years.

"Just during the lockdown, I suppose, for me, when we were in the first lockdown, I actually really embraced it. I suppose I was 35 at the time 36, I was going into my 18th season. The break for my body was welcome. I think everyone was just mad to get going. We were fortunate enough with our senior team. Our head coach, James Weldon, has been so proactive.

“We have an app called HomeCourt where we can do many workouts, be it agility, basketball, speed, quickness, everything, dribbling. We’ve had nutritionists on board. We’ve had our S&C coaches, and we’ve been doing Zooms since the end of, I think April, maybe February just to touch base and like start to prepare us for our July”, explains Gráinne over Zoom during her lunch break from her banking job.

July is a manic month for Basketball Ireland. They have the Fiba 3x3 Europe Cup Qualifier in Romania, the Basketball's European Championship for Small Countries, and also Basketball Ireland's roadshow for 3x3, which kicked off in Dublin over the weekend, a festival of basketball with over 100 stops to get people out, active and playing basketball. So, what's the difference in 3x3?

“It’s outdoors, so it’s 3v3. You probably know about 3v3. It’s like a revised version of the game, half-court, wooden baskets, 10-minute game, and 12-second shot clock. Literally, it’s like street ball, so it’s really tough, really quick, so much fun.”

The videos and snaps dotted across Basketball Ireland’s social media confirm this.

Underage players can participate, as well as senior players and wheelchair basketball teams/players. With restrictions still not having relaxed for indoor participation at a recreational level, according to Dwyer, this is one of the best ways to get back out there.

However, the senior Ireland basketball team have been back the last 8-10 weeks, with players commuting to the National Basketball Arena in Dublin every weekend. Funnily enough, some restrictions still prevent them from sharing a ball indoors. Even funnier, these restrictions still apply to senior teams preparing for international competition.

That, however, hasn’t stopped progress being made for the women’s senior national team. With new sponsors Gotham Drywall allowing Irish players to actually play without paying for the privilege, Gráinne Dwyer admits it’s a huge step, but more is needed.

“We would have been fundraising or paying our own way, which we always have to do. Look, I don’t think any international player, no matter what sport they’re playing, should have to pay to play, but look, that’s the way it is.

“I wouldn’t change it [my involvement] for the world. I’ve been doing it for so long. We’re taking out the fundraising and having the sponsorship there just means we could come back and focus solely on the basketball to get to where we need to be in July.”

Best matches

While Gráinne says there is still appreciation on her end, we delve into a back and forth on why women’s basketball tends to be preferred by basketball purists. We joke about the male ego and how some men’s teams over-complicate the game tactically. But one word pops up from Gráinne.

“Appreciation, I think. What I found, especially in Ireland, the appreciation for other women in sports and across the sports, and I think, Lindsay Peat and Aoife McDermott have it – and you see a lot of the Dublin footballers who have talked about their transition from football and basketball and how it’s a better pair, isn’t it?

“I always remember talking to Lindsay, and she’s like, ‘I wouldn’t be as tough as I was if I don’t have to go out every so often and play against people like Aoife in the [basketball] league’. There is a lot of appreciation”.

Gráinne Dwyer was part of some of the toughest and best matches in Irish women’s basketball history. The rivalry between Glanmire and DCU is one of the best for Irish basketball fans, both casual and die-hard.

Incredible players were on all sides, with Gráinne's sister Niamh, Lindsey Peat, Aoife McDermott and Suzanne Maguire, who went on a scholarship to Florida and broke records over there.

“The rivalry, I think, is what made the game. I look back at a lot of those cup finals or even cup semi-finals because we happened to meet DCU like two or three times in the semis to knock them out.

“I just think you’ve got just a bunch of competitive women. These games, and in fact, this is what kills me about Basketball Ireland, even though I think they are great to promote women, I still feel that we are not [treated] equal to the men, still to this day. I don’t, but when I look back at their games, it’s like I don’t want to watch the men’s final over the women’s.

“The women surpass the men every year, and that’s great for our sport, and then even in the last few years, they started putting the men on, it used to be RTÉ covering it back in the day, but [National] cup weekend was like a big, big thing.

“Now look, we’re lucky Setanta has been covering and TG4 now, but even putting the men and women on different days, it’s fine, and I get it. They’re giving a peak viewing time, but putting the women’s game at four o’clock on a Sunday evening with two travelling teams is ridiculous to give the men the peak on a Saturday night. Again, even at that, the women’s games are still more competitive and more exciting than the men.”

Big transition

So, it’s another big transition for Gráinne, getting coached by her sister Niamh after having her on the court for the last few decades.

"I actually had a big fight with her one day, and I was like, 'I just need you to play. I need you to be the Niamh Dwyer of Glanmire'. She's like, 'That's fine. I am that Niamh Dwyer, but you also have to realise I'm 36. I've had surgery on my knees after taking me nearly two and a half, three years to come back'.

“ She’s a player-coach. I just see the game through a player’s eyes. She’s seen it on both sides. We came to a kind of an agreement that when she’s on the court, she’s playing, she has to be a player and just focus on what she needs to do as a player and all the rest then. Niamh’s like that old player as well who, I won’t say can just switch it on and off, but when she tunes in, she could kill anyone with her game.

“It was very challenging. I suppose, like I said, we’re very vocal people, and it could be a bit much for our teammates, a lot of the time.”

For now, Gráinne’s eyes are firmly focused on the upcoming international tournaments, and with youth and experience, expectations are high within and outside the group.

“We have a really nice squad. Hopefully, it will be picked by the end of June, and going forward, we’ll get a gold medal in July in Small Countries. We’re hopeful for the 3v3, too. We have a few people there. The team isn’t picked yet, but there’s a bit of experience there. I just think people are hungry to get back out and play. You never know what might happen”.