FAMILIAR FACE Legendary Ballina coach, Terry Kennedy. Pic: Sportsfile
Leading basketball coach Terry Kennedy says the sport has been hit hard by Covid lockdown
BASKETBALL is likely to take a considerable time to recover from the effects of the pandemic, according to one of the country’s top coaches.
Legendary Ballina coach Terry Kennedy says that the near total shutdown of the sport, which is played almost exclusively indoors in Ireland, since March of last year due to Covid-19 restrictions is likely to adversely affect participation numbers.
Kennedy, who coached Ballina during its glory days in the 90s and is still actively involved at Masters level, believes it could be next year before any local or national leagues are played.
“It’s been affected a lot. You don’t know if the kids are going to come back because they are gone on to new games,” he told The Mayo News. “When kids aren’t able to play indoors, they go to different sports… it’s going to hurt basketball.”
Ironcially, the pandemic hit at a time when Terry Kennedy was trying to revive basketball at underage and adult level in Mayo. He and his wife, Trinie, are known all over the country for their experience and expertise in the area of basketball coaching.
While recalling his own heyday in the Liam McHale-inspired Ballina club, Terry also pointed out that large towns like Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Crossmolina, Killala and Foxford once boasted men’s adult teams too.
Indeed, Ballina once had two teams when the sport’s popularity in the area was at its peak.
Today, bar a few Masters’ sides, there is no adult men’s team anywhere in Mayo.
Instead, those looking to play basketball after Under-16 level must go to either Sligo or Galway to join teams.
Determined to reverse the decline, Terry Kennedy founded the ‘Mayo Basketball Academy’ - which currently caters to underage teams – with a view to putting together a Mayo-based team that would some day compete in the national leagues.
The pandemic has dealt that ambition a considerable setback, with virtually no competitions or training taking place for the last 15 months.
“In general, it’s been a very bad... it’s tough on kids at any age, but we haven’t been able to train since last spring,” explained Kennedy.
“We were ready to go in the Shannonside League, but there’s no way we could go and enter a team in the national league because we won’t be ready.
“It’s going to affect basketball in general. I’d say teams are going to pull out because last year they had no finance coming in, especially relying on crowds for national league.
“You’ll get a sponsor, but that’s not huge. You have to have bodies coming into games.”
“It has probably damaged basketball the most of all sports.
“It’s going to be hard to get it up and running again. There are some good people out there but it’s going to take tremendous work. You are starting nearly afresh to get some kids who might just walk away.”
THE Government’s theme of an ‘outdoor summer’ for the country currently restricts indoor training for ‘elite’ sports teams and athletes only.
This means basketball teams can currently only train outdoors in pods of 15 — weather permitting — with indoor training scheduled to resume from July 5 under the current reopening plan.
While outdoor training is far from ideal, Terry Kennedy says he has seen many youngsters using Ballina’s various outdoor courts, the very places where the legendary McHales and McStays et al learned their trade back in the day.
“There’s a lot of kids in Ballina that never played basketball that are down there every day, it’s nearly full. It’s great to see, but there’s not enough courts around,” he said.
“The weather is the big thing, you can’t train if it’s any way wet because it’s too dangerous.
“You can go there any time you want to practice or shoot around.”
While Covid-19 restrictions have landed him almost back at square one, Kennedy remains determined to press ahead with the revival of Mayo basketball, which he insists will always be a popular winter sport.
“If we get the go-ahead it will get kids playing, but I’d have my doubts myself if there’s going to be a national league this year,” he said.
“Even referees, you might go look for a referee and they’ll say, ‘I’m gone out of that’”
“We’re hoping, but it’s going to take an awful lot of work from the area board and basketball Ireland. We’ll have to try and push it again.
“Ballina is renowned for basketball, but there’s a lot of good towns around that’s doing super stuff, like Crossmolina, Belmullet, Kiltimagh, Killala, Ballinrobe, Castlebar.
“A lot of the better kids are coming from those areas. The clubs have come on leaps and bounds. There’s two lads on the Irish U-15 panel that are from Lahardane and Killala, Jack O’Shea and Brian Donoghue.
“Hopefully we’ll get it going again, enter a national league, get the kids playing, get an Under-20 league, an Under-18 league, a senior men’s or even a women’s league,” he declared.