LAST Saturday night’s seven point Super League victory for Merry Monk over Limerick Lions has given the Ballina club a huge boost before their National Cup clash with the same opposition this coming Saturday night at 7.15pm.
Cup games always reserve a special place in the hearts of the fans and players of the Mayo based Super League team, and Limerick will face a very warm reception in what is the first game of the season at home for the Monks next weekend.
Limerick and Ballina have been fierce rivals over the past number of seasons, and last weekend’s meeting will only serve to heighten the tension further for the greatly anticipated first round encounter. The Lions defeated the Merry Monks on three occasions last season, including in the post season play-offs in Cork, so revenge will be on the cards for both teams.
Renonwed Ballina coach Terry Kennedy has made it clear that this year Merry Monk are intent on success in the Cup, hoping to emulate the fantastic victories the club enjoyed in the nineties.
“Our focus is very much on the Cup this year and I think we have the team to achieve that objective,” he told The Mayo News.
The team Kennedy has brought together is one of the strongest the club has had in a long time and there is no doubt that they look good enough to go all the way in the Cup. The core of last year’s group remain and are playing better than ever.
Ronan McGarrity is raring to lead his side to a national trophy while the massively under-rated Paul Freeman is playing some of the best basketball of his career at the moment. Meanwhile, the incomparable Deora Marsh who has come out of retirement for another shot at glory, and the other home-grown members of the squad, Brian O’Malley, William Popplewell, Mark Cunningham and the ever improving Dara McGarrity, have all had a year of Super League experience under their belts.
However, the team has been greatly boosted by some astute signings by the shrewd Kennedy and these could offer Ballina something different. Exciting Irish under 20 international and three-time national under 19 cup winner Scott Kinevane has made the switch from Shamrock Hoops in Dublin to join Merry Monk, while he has been joined by Bosman signing Jay Marriott, and two American signings, the towering centre Chris Smith and guard Tyrone Hammonds.
The Chicago born Smith and the Washington DC native Hammond have been showered with praise by their coach and team mates alike for their all round team game. Terry Kennedy maintains that it is much more of a team than ever, while former NUI Maynooth captain Brian O’Malley pointed out that the teams game has improved thanks to having “Americans who share the ball and really care about the team”.
Both players are enjoying their time in Ballina so far and have settled in quickly to the pace of the town. Smith is still adjusting to the “food and accents” he claims, but smiling he admits that he is just happy “that everyone speaks English”.
Both players noted that Irish basketball is a lot more defensive than they are used to but they are quickly adjusting to the change. They are also full of praise for their new team-mates and Hammond revealed that they are very keen to bring success back to Ballina.
Another of the new signings Scott Kinevane, who has played against Merry Monk in Ballina on a number of occasions, was moved to sign for the club because of the special atmosphere he believes that exists there.
“There really is something special about the place and that’s why I came. The coaching, the players and the fans are just brilliant down here. I really want to win something with the club and to win the Cup would be brilliant.
“Whenever I have played against Ballina you knew that they would bring amazing heart and hunger into the game. I honestly think now that we have one of the strongest teams in the country and we will be there or thereabouts this season. In my opinion as well Terry is probably the best coach in the country.”
Jay Marriott, who Kennedy has been tracking for the last three years, knows how much the Cup means to the people of the town. He played last season with Ajaccio in France and previously with Brighton Bulls and has been looking into the history of the club since his arrival.
“It’s unusual that the Cup is valued more than the Conference title, but I’ve been learning the history and it’s clear how much it means. I’ve sat down with Liam (McHale) and Deora and listened to them, and I’ve also got copies of the club’s annuals from over the years.
It’s such a big part of this club, the Cup, and I really want to win it for the fans. It’s unusual to have a team like we do. There are no egos and every week there could be a new MVP. It would be a crime if we didn’t win the Cup this year.”