CORNERED Ronan McGarrity (left) and Chris Smith of Merry Monk close down the options for Limerick Lions player Theo Powell during Saturday night’s Cup game in Ballina.
Lions roar shocks Ballina
Men’s Superleague National Cup
Limerick Lions 93
Merry Monk 81
Ballina Leisure Centre
AT the half time interval on Saturday night, local singer Bob Taylor thrilled the crowd with a wonderful rendition of the James Brown classic ‘I feel good’.
He wasn’t the only one feeling that way with the home support, players and management in buoyant form following a first half which had seen Merry Monk Ballina lead their Limerick based rivals by a comprehensive 13 points, thanks, in no small part, to a whirlwind second quarter. Large partisan home support, big lead, and having beaten your opponents away the previous week surely the second half was going to be a mere formality, as everyone with Ballina blood in them, turned their thoughts to another glorious Cup run.
Alas Limerick did not read the script. Or if they did, they sneakily rewrote it while no-one was looking and left the Mayo team and their supporters singing the blues by the end.
The second half belonged to the Southern Conference side as they out-muscled, out rebounded and most significantly out-scored their hosts by a whopping 25 second half points.
Put simply, when the two teams went into the dressing rooms at half-time, only one came back out.
Limerick consigned Ballina to the scenic route in their Cup quest, as they must now re-enter the competition via the back door, and if they have any dreams of claiming the National Cup this year, they will have to do it the hard way.
Before that can happen though, there is going to have to a serious examination of what exactly happened in that disastrous second period, and questions asked of how they contrived to lose a game that they actually still led entering the final quarter. Only time will tell if Merry Monk can recover from this unexpected and stunning set-back.
The first quarter of play had been as tight and tense as you would expect given the fact that the teams had faced off against each other in the league seven days previously.
Limerick had the better of the opening and led four to nil before Ronan McGarrity, and the two newest Americans to don the green and red singlets of Team Merry Monk, Tyrone Hammond and Chris Smith, gave the home fans something to cheer with seven points between them. The play swung back in favour of the Limerick men as they stormed back to lead by three themselves thanks to captain Robert Lynch, Theo Powell and their eventual leading shooter Rick Harrigan. That was pretty much the way the first period continued as the outfits traded points, as the lead changed hands on five occasions and was shared a further three.
Limerick lead heading towards the end of the first quarter but a superb reverse pass from Ballaghadreen native Paul Freeman released McGarrity to tie the scores at 22 points each at the buzzer.
The second quarter started in a similar vein when McGarrity brilliantly fed Deora Marsh who made no mistake much to the delight of his legion of fans. Hammond then added another two points to open a small gap, but that was quickly hauled back as point guard Matt Hall and Thomas Wojialik put the Munster men in the lead by a solitary point.
However, Ballina then upped the ante, and they slowly but surely began to turn the screw on their foes and establish a commanding advantage by the end of the half. Central to the surge was the rebounding and scoring of Smith who emerged with twelve points for the quarter, while he was ably helped by his marauding team-mates who lifted themselves clear of their struggling opponents.
While hardly playing breathtaking basketball, Merry Monk were clearly superior in all aspects on the court and with the scores reading 50-37 to Ballina at the half time break, it seemed that the Limerick Lions would be heading back to the Southern city on the back of a heavy mauling.
What happened next though will cause major headaches for Merry Monk coach Terry Kennedy in the coming weeks. Inexplicably his side were totally unable to counter Limerick’s charge in the second half.
A Scott Kinnevane three pointer actually moved Ballina fourteen points clear at one stage early in the third quarter, but from then on there was only one team in it. Limerick shot thirteen baskets to the home side’s eight, and by the end of the quarter had reduced the gap to a mere two points.
The fourth and final quarter began the same as the last had ended - Limerick doing all the scoring. Two successive Powell baskets meant that they took the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter. Harrigan added another two from the free throw before McGarrity hit back. Hall then restored the four point lead, but team captain Jay Marriott sunk a three to put the bare minimum (70-71) between the teams with just under eight minutes on the clock.
That though was as close as Ballina would come to Limerick, and in truth they never really looked capable of overtaking the Lions. At one stage, with less than three minutes remaining, a burst of six points from Smith, Hammond and McGarrity against two Powell free throws dropped the advantage to just two points, but Merry Monk failed to register another score while Limerick notched up another ten points, eight from the free throw line, to run out convincing twelve point winners.
Merry Monk, Ballina:
Chris Smith (29), Ronan McGarrity (23), Tyrone Hammonds (12), Jay Marriot (8), Scott Kinnevane (6), Deora Marsh (3), Paul Freeman, Mark Cunningham, Mark Lacken, Dara McGarrity, Brian O’Malley, Willie Popplewell.
Rick Harrigan (25), Theo Powell (22), Robert Lynch (21), Matt Hall (15), Thomas Wojialik (4), Neil Campbell (3), Stephen King (2), Ger Myles (1), Stephen Kelly, Darragh Honan.