National Men’s Final 2015 - UCD Marian: 65 , UCC Demons: 91

With these two teams having played each other before Christmas in the league, both teams had a fair idea of what they could expect to come up against. The mentality of league games in contrast to cup games is very different, never mind a cup final. With both teams having played really well en route to the final, it came down to forty more minutes of basketball to decide a winner. With the UCC Demons deemed to be the red-hot favourites to take home the cup, both teams would have had different concerns going into the game mentally. UCD Marian coach Ioannis Liapakis would have been worried that the game could go out of reach of Marian very quickly and would have been adamant to keep the game tight and the tempo slow early on, to avoid being miles behind after a quarter or two.  On the other hand, Demons’ player and Coach Colin O’Reilly wanted to make sure that hints of complacency wouldn’t have been sneaking into the Cork side’s minds and would have been desperately looking to avoid a cup upset here.

As well as the wealth of experience that O’Reilly brings to the Demons’ side, the fact that many of this Demons’ team would have been part of the UCC side that played in last year’s final would help, as opposed to UCD, with very few of their current squad having played in their last cup final, back in 2011. The game started off quite nervously for both teams, with the first five attempts missed between the two teams. UCD were desperate to try and get the first score and assert some kind of control on the game in the opening quarter. After 2 minutes of the match, this is exactly what happened as Daniel James netted a lovely three-pointer, but this was countered upon straight away by UCC as strong link-up play from the Munster side allowed Captain Shane Coughlan to find space under the basket and he dunked the ball in for 3-2.

The game then very quickly started to heat up, with baskets flying in with seemingly every attack. Scores from Neil Baynes and Michael Chubb for Marian either side of a Demons’ equaliser made it 7-5 to Marian, but again the Demons’ didn’t wait for an invitation to respond and Lehmon Colbert, at 6’8”, made the most of his height to capitalise on a loose ball after a rebound to level the game up again. With Marian scores through Baynes and Preston Ross being cancelled out by scores from O’Reilly and Kyle Hosford, O’Reilly then duly converted both of his free-throws to give UCC the lead for the first time in the game after 5 minutes, with the score at 11-13.

Daniel James then stepped up again with his second three-pointer of the match, and the score of the game so far as the ball sailed in from a long-range effort just inside the side-line. To win the game, UCD would need big performances from their key players, and so coach Liapakis would have been delighted to see captain Conor Meany get on the score-sheet early on, as he fended off looming pressure from the Demons’ defence to restore Marian’s lead at 16-14. With consecutive scores putting UCC ahead by two points as we approached the end of the first quarter, a resilient response through the two Marian reliables of the game so far, Baynes and Ross, put Marian back in the lead, this time with by their biggest margin so far of 4 points. With the last play of the first quarter, Adrian O’Sullivan snatched a two-pointer for UCC to peg the score back to 23-21.

With a really high tempo game played in the opening quarter, Coach Ioannis Liapakis would have known that Marian would struggle to keep that kind of intensity up for the rest of the match and would probably have been concerned with 21 points conceded in the opening quarter against such a free scoring side as UCC. However, if the first quarter belonged to Marian, the rest of the game was total domination from the Cork side. As they started to pull away in the second quarter in relentless fashion. Colin O’Reilly and Shane Coughlan were starting to find their feet in this final, and were constant threats as they took a score each to quash a UCD lead which has been fuelled by Preston Ross and Daniel James. Michael Chubb then fired again for UCD who were refusing to lie down, and his three-pointer made it 30-28 to the Dublin side. However, little were Marian to know that this was the last time they would have the lead in the match, and when Hosford, Coughlan and Colbert all scored without reply for UCC, followed by two further scores from Colin O’Reilly and another from Coughlan with only a meek response of a two pointer from Marian amongst all this, the Demons’ started to open up a healthy lead. Captain Coughlan and player-coach O’Reilly were leading impressively from the front and were the heartbeat of every sharp UCC attack. Marian were really struggling to cope with these two, and with Kyle Hosford also getting in on the action again, the second quarter ended a very different story to the first, with UCC holding a 15-point lead at 32-47.

With only two 10-minute quarters left, Liapakis would have known that if Marian were going to get anything from this game, they would need to start turning the screw in the third quarter. Despite Marian showing heart, with scores through Ross, Baynes and another from Daniel James, such scores proved futile as they were all pounced upon by the Demons, who cancelled out every UCD progression with a score of their own. To win a final you need to take your chances when they are presented to you, and this was telling in the third quarter, as Lehmon Colbert hardly missed any attempts for UCC and it was this kind of clinical edge that Marian lacked. With Colbert the tallest man on the court, he was mopping up any kind of rebound that fell his way, and between his predator instincts under and around the basket, and O’Reilly and Coughlan played their counter-attacks at ferocious pace, Marian were really struggling to deal with this Demons onslaught, and when Adrian O’Sullivan and Colbert both picked up another two scores each, the third quarter was coming to an end, as was the game essentially with the score now 42-65 to UCC.

With Marian now adopting a nothing-to-lose mentality, they started to beat to the rhythm of Barry Drumm as two great solo efforts from him gave the Dublin crowd something to cheer about. But UCC didn’t let up, and were as ruthless in the last quarter as they had been all game. The problem for Marin was that, when Preston Ross was not on the court, they had no one who could properly deal with the presence of Lehmon Colbert and he continued to polish off every opportunity for the Demons’. With Barry Drumm and Ross fighting right until the end and trying to keep the score-line respectable, they were overrun by another onslaught off UCC scores, the catalyst of which was substitute Shane Duggan. It showed the strength and depth of the squad that the Demons had, when they could bring on subs in the last few minutes of the game to continue to press on and dominate.

In the end, it was Marian substitute Rafa Borgos who wrapped up the game with the final score of the match, but it was a mere consolation score to make it 65-91 to UCC and wrap up what in truth had been a procession in the last quarter. However, serious credit needs to be given to the UCD side for reaching the final, the first time they had done so in 4 years and on another day, the cup might have been theirs. Having that said, credit needs to be given where it’s due and to  that extent, Colin O’Reilly and his side got their tactics spot-on and were in the end, fully deserving of their impressive victory in Tallaght.

UCD Team: 4 Connor Ross (Guard), 5 Conor Meany (Capt.) (Guard), 6 Michael Chubb (Guard), 9 Daniel James (Guard), 10 Barry Drumm (Guard), 11 Francesco Borsetti (Centre Forward), 12 Neil Baynes (Forward), 13 Rafa Burgos (Centre Forward), 14 Renatas Nedzveckas (Centre Forward), 21 Kevin Foley (Forward), 40 Preston Ross (Forward)

C & S UCC Demons Team: 4 Adrian O’Sullivan (Guard), 5 Kyle Hosford (Guard), 6 Lehmon Colbert (Centre Forward), 7 Ciarán O’Sullivan (Forward), 8 Shane Coughlan (Capt.) (Guard), 9 Darragh O’Hanlon (Forward), 11 Shane Duggan (Forward), 12 Niall O’Reilly (Forward), 13 Carlton Cuff (Forward), 14 Niall Murphy (Forward), 32 Colin O’Reilly (Forward)