Ireland’s U18 women depart for Bulgaria this week with high hopes of imposing themselves and their game on the FIBA European Championship.
Sofia is the venue for this ‘B’ Division competition which will see Ireland compete in the five-team Group D, where the top two teams from Serbia, Austria, Denmark, Romania and Tommy O’Mahony’s Irish squad will qualify for the last-eight. Ireland’s recent participation at this level has been encouraging. A 6-2 record in 2019 saw Ireland claim a 9th place finish overall, on the back of a 20-point performance by Katie Walsh in the final classification game against Slovakia.
Lucy Coogan in action against The Netherlands at the National Basketball Arena. Credit: Billiedalysport
This time around, hopes are high within the Ireland squad that achieving a similarly strong performance aren’t overly ambitions. Their preparation games have been against the highest quality opponents. The team travelled to the Carnide International Tournament to take on ‘A’ Division Belgium and a team who are hotly tipped to figure at the business end of the ‘B’ Division in Portugal. The Irish suffered defeats against both opponents but improved as the games racked up and combinations began to gel on the court.
This progression was evident as they returned to the National Basketball Arena for a two game series against another ‘B’ Division opponent in the form of The Netherlands. Tommy O’Mahony’s team split that series and turned in a sensational performance in game two to level it. Kilkenny Stars’ Lucy Coogan with a very impressive 28-points during the course of that contest. The impressive nature of these performances is added to by the fact that Ireland were without one of their leading performers, Waterford Wildcats Sarah Hickey for the preparation games.
Hickey returns to the fold after a very impressive showing at the FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship. The 18-year-old averaged 10-points, 6.7 rebounds and 2-steals to lead Ireland in efficiency per game over the course of the tournament. No doubt she will see plenty of minutes in O’Mahony’s system, but the Irish team is not short of clutch performers. The aforementioned Lucy Coogan has stepped up when her teams was in need in the prep games, Lucy Devoy is a precocious young talent at just 16 years-old and in Caitlin Gloeckner and Micaiah Fubara, Ireland have plenty of options when the game is in the melting pot.
Speaking in the aftermath of that 70-64 win over the Dutch, head coach Tommy O’Mahony said:
Delighted with our preparation just finished our home series with the Netherlands on the back of trip to Portugal last week. Each game presented us with different challenges and different styles of basketball which forced us to make individual and team adjustments. That is exactly what you are looking for going into a FIBA European Championship.
In some games we were able to adapt quick quickly, while we struggled in others. The positives we can take are that we have seen a progression in our performance from the first game we played.
We play Denmark in our first game which will be tough contest. Their U16 teams have competed in the ‘A’ Division in the last numbers of years. Saying that, it’s a game we are eagerly looking forward to. The girls can't wait to get out on the floor after all the hard work they have put in over the last few months. We will need all players to play their part for us to get over the line.
Rachel Callery (Ulster University Tigers), Lucy Coogan (Kilkenny Stars), Lucy Devoy (Limerick Celtics), Amy Duggan (Cobh BC), Erica Egan (Malahide BC), Micaiah Fubara (DCU Mercy), Caitlin Gloeckner, Sarah Hickey (Waterford Wildcats), Maria Kealy (Letterkenny Blaze/LYIT Donegal), Niamh O'Leary (Liffey Celtics), Rebecca Sexton (Carrigaline), Niamh Tolan (East Cavan Eagles)