On April 14th, I travelled with the Irish Womens U16 Squad for an International Tournament in Leeds, UK against the England U16 Ladies squad.
Let me rewind for a second… I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have been blessed with an opportunity to do what I do. In my role as a coach, I have the unique opportunity to impact and make a difference in people lives as I help them achieve their goals and ambitions.
I am extremely blessed to be involved in the International program, with this bunch of players, who are very talented and just a pleasure to work with. Working with an experienced coach, has been a great learning experience for me as I get to learn each and every day (that is not a joke, he’s constantly talking to me, and discussing ideas of how to make our program better).
A top notch manager takes care of all the small, intricate details, so that we can just get on with the basketball specific side of things and the parents who have completely bought into the program that they trust the coaches to make the right decisions and look out for their children, whilst developing them to become a strong, cohesive unit that will represent their country in the FIBA European Championships in Talinn, Estonia this summer.
Then come the players; the selection process is never easy, and where we once stood with twenty four extremely talented young players, now there are only twelve players who have been assigned the responsibility of playing for their country, being given an opportunity to represent their nation and wear the emerald colours proudly. These players have bought into the system, are dedicated and hard working, which makes coaching them all that more rewarding.
Our flight landed in Leeds in the morning, and after a slight mix-up with our bus taking us to the wrong campus, we arrived at Leeds Metropolitan University for our first practice session. The morning session was good, as we put the team through their paces getting rid of all that stiffness from sitting on a plane and a bus earlier and making some final preparations for the first game at 16:30 later on that day.
Five players on the squad had played in the U16 All Ireland Club Championships over the Saturday and Sunday, with three of them playing in the finals. It was impressive to see that these players weren’t about to use that as an excuse to go through the motions, rather they practised just as hard as everyone else.
Game 1 took the English side by surprise as they were not expecting what our team brought. The passion, energy, hustle and pride that the team showed in wearing the Irish green was more than impressive. The team out fought, out ran, out played and out rebounded the English side to take the first game by five points.
As the players got back to the hotel to have their dinner and take a well deserved rest, our job as the coaching staff began… the coaching staff poured over tape, analysing game play of both the teams and assessing what hurt us and how we would prevent that in game two and also how we could take advantage of the opportunities presented. The video session went on well into the night.
Tuesdays practice was used to go over the items that were highlighted and what the game plan for the second game would be.
We’ll spare you the nitty gritty details, but the team was outstanding, going on a 17 – 4 scoring run in the first quarter and led for the entire game, finishing eight points better in a comfortable win against the English side. 2 – 0 to the Irish.
Day three began to take its toll on the team and we made sure we used the practice time to get loose and stretch out the muscles trying to reduce any stiffness. A light session on the third day was followed by an impressive game with both teams going head to head for the entire game….
With less than 3.2 seconds left on the clock and both teams tied at 55 – 55, England forced up a shot from the elbow that went through the net, leaving 0.9 seconds on the clock, and not enough time for the Irish squad to put up a Hail Mary, England managed to take Game 3.
A positive learning experience gained by everyone on the squad, but one that has given me more confidence that this squad is special, that their pride carries them on, that their heart is in the right place and that the team will not give up or turn its back on each other. This squad and group of players are meant for great things, and I am just blessed to be a part of it.
Ireland Womens 1998 Squad: #4 Annie Fanning, #5 Billie Jean Byrne, #6 Olivia Reid, #7 Aoife Maguire, #8 Aine McDonagh, #9 Anna Maguire, #10 Catherine Connaire, #11 Jenny Morrison, #12 Verity O’Connor, #13 Rachel Leavy, #14 Aisling Kindle, #15 Lizzie McGonnell
Coaching Staff: Head Coach – Ger Tarrant, Assistant Coach – Nabil Murad, Team Manager – Joanne Holmes, Strength Coach – Matt Jennings-Temple
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