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Cup brings best out of Ballina

From left to right, Merry Monk Ballina’s Jay Marriott, Scott Kinevane, Terry Kennedy (coach), Oisin Ginty (committee) and Chris Smith were all involved in the team’s win last weekend.

Cup brings best out of Ballina

Merry Monk  91
UCD Marian   83

Cormac O’Malley

THE bandwagon is rolling again. This was a second bite at the cherry for Team Merry Monk and UCD Marian following defeat in the first round of the Cup. Championship basketball, winner takes all, and Saturday night in Ballina was no where for the faint hearted. Team Merry Monk seemed at one stage to be set for a runaway victory; but they never make things that simple for their supporters do they? UCD worked their way back into the contest and almost pipped their hosts at the death in a heart-stopping finish.
Leading by twenty points during the second quarter, a dreadful third quarter for the home side had seen the lead whittled down to eight by the beginning of the fourth and final quarter. Suddenly nerves began to jangle and fingers were being crossed in earnest hope. Among those watching on was the injured Ronan McGarrity, hoping that he would get another crack at Cup basketball this season.
UCD’s charges had other ideas, however, and a period of dominance from the college outfit reduced the gap to just two points with just over five minutes remaining. Chris Smith and Scott Kinevane grabbed back the initiative for Merry Monk with two baskets, but instantly Tony Mitchell and Conor Meany hit back and reduced the gap to a solitary basket once more.
The game – and each side’s participation in the Cup – now hung in the balance and the next minute and a half was to prove pivotal. On UCD’s next attack the Ballina defence restricted their opponents to such an extent that they suffered a shot violation. Possession was won and lost before Deora Marsh, as ever a calming influence, stepped up to the mark, winning and then converting two highly pressurised free-throws.
Ballina held strong in defence once more and came up with a massive score at the other end of the court as Scott Kinevane sank a fantastic three-pointer. Now the gap was seven points and less than two minutes remained. Mitchell replied with two and was rewarded with a free-throw for a foul incurred in the profit. Deliberately hitting the ring looking for the rebound, UCD’s hopes were dashed when Marsh rose highest to grab the ball, and Merry Monk’s Chris Smith found his range with an invaluable two points. Kevin Foley hit a single free throw only to see his second rebounded by the outstanding Paul Freeman. Swiftly the ball was transferred down as far as newest signing Robert Taylor, who engineered  the room to put another two points on the scoreboard.
Taylor then added a free throw to increase the lead to a very healthy nine points with less than a minute remaining, and suddenly the sighs of relief could be audibly heard around the arena. Two baskets in the dying seconds from Ba and Mitchell sandwiched points from Dara McGarrity and Kinevane, but these only proved a cosmetic touch to the scoreboard, allowing Merry Monk to celebrate in style.
Much debate in the pre-match build up had centred on Ronan McGarrity’s ongoing injury concerns and also the introduction of former Limerick Lions star, Robert Taylor, into the squad, in place of Tyrone Hammonds. It did not take long for Taylor (who had performed so influentially when he helped dump Merry Monk out of last year’s end of season play-offs) to show that he was in form, despite only joining up with his new team-mates the previous day.
With the intoxicating beats of DJ Paul Bourke sending the crowd into raptures, the team followed suit in a blistering opening period of superb defensive play and lightening quick breaks. A trio of three pointers from Marriott (2) and Kinevane was the opening that Merry Monk were hoping for, and despite UCD scores, Taylor and Marriott combined to put Ballina eight points in front early on and in command.
At one stage – much to the chagrin of the visitors’ bench – a whistle blown in the stands caused the UCD team to halt their attack, but Taylor was alive and he grabbed possession to add another score for his team. Even without that outside help Ballina were clicking to a much more impressive degree and entered the break 32-18 in front.
The second quarter was much tighter as UCD began to show their mettle, but at the half-time buzzer Merry Monk continued to lead by fourteen, 52-38.
The third quarter almost cost the home team the game. UCD bombarded their hosts, and as the team and personal fouls totted up, the Dubliners took advantage and had managed to reduce the gap to just eight points to set up a grandstand finish entering the final decisive quarter.
Merry Monk now enter the draw for the Cup quarter-finals which was held yesterday (Tuesday).

Merry Monk
Robert Taylor 23, Chris Smith 22, Scott Kinevane 21, Jay Marriott 18, Deora Marsh 6, Darragh McGarrity 1, Paul Freeman, Brian O’Malley, Mark Lacken.
UCD Marian
Tony Mitchell 22, Papa Ba 20, Kevin Foley 13, Conor Meaney 11, Barry Glover 6, Pat Glover 6, Peter Flynn 3, Brian Sharkey 2.

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