After a few difficult years for Irish basketball, the sport is emerging this week as the Irish senior women’s team take their place among the European elite for the first time in 12 years.
Amid all the upheaval in boardrooms and the overwhelming pandemic restrictions that have hampered play here, 2021 has actually been a great year for Ireland’s elite teams.
The women’s team reached the final of the FIBA ââEuropean Small Nations Championship in July, then the men’s team won the men’s equivalent in August.
And women are returning to their place among the elite of European basketball after a 12-year absence, a wild period sparked by the financial crisis when Basketball Ireland chose to “deactivate” the senior men’s and women’s international teams.
Tomorrow they begin their EuroBasket 2023 qualifying campaign, as the fourth seed in a formidable group including Belarus, the Czech Republic and Thursday’s opponents the Netherlands.
Great Irish basketball player Niamh Dwyer – longtime international player, currently head coach of Father Mathew and older sister of current Irish co-captain GrÃ¡inne – told RTÃ 2fm’s Game On about the long journey back to this level.
âWe haven’t been at this level since 2009. It’s been a long time since basketball fans arrived. It’s great to be back at the elite level,â said Dwyer.
The Irish women’s basketball team begin their Eurobasket qualifying campaign in Amsterdam on Thursday – @jacquihurley talked to the coach @ jamesweldon1 and players @grainne_dwyer and Sarah Kenny pic.twitter.com/tAtuVED14B
– RTÃ Sport (@RTEsport) November 9, 2021
âWe have a team of young players who have been very successful in underage basketball. They have won silver medals by competing in the European Underage Championships.
âWe dip our toes in the water. In fact, we’re jumping right into the deep end to be honest! But it’s great to give these girls a chance to develop even more and we have the experience of people like Grainne. [Dwyer] and Edel Thornton there too.
“We have a good mix of players and they deserve to be at this level.”
In August 2009, Dwyer was part of an Irish team which won a historic victory against the Netherlands in the Basketball Arena. In less than six months, the sport was in deep crisis, grappling with a debt of 1.2 million euros and forced to liquidate all international teams.
“We’ve always had a day-to-day existence here,” said then Executive Chairman Paul Meany. “But a combination of bad financial information and maybe trying to grow the sport as quickly as possible left us with no choice but to make those decisions.”
Reflecting on the hard road back, Dwyer says the clubs and the base are in debt.
â9 am was the last time we played at this level and then the financial crash happened. The governing body struggled and it had a real impact on the senior teams. All teams of miners have also been withdrawn. [from European competition] at this point, just to regain a financial base in sports.
âOver the years the minors have been gradually reintroduced. These players have had experience of playing in European minors championships and now they are quite old. And now the women’s team is finally back in the squad. European qualifiers It’s been a long process to get back here, it’s been a step-by-step process, starting with the minors.
âAnyone involved in basketball will understand the support network that exists, on and off the court. It has been phenomenal.
âI remember event planners (from outside Ireland) talking about the scale of Irish basketball’s social media audience. For a nation in Europe that wouldn’t be known for basketball, they’re always amazed at how much support we have.
“And that has been reflected in bringing these young players to where they are ready to step into the elite of European basketball.
âThe clubs have to take a lot of credit, grassroots football has to take a lot of credit, for that to continue and to continue to develop and to have to reset and restart over the years. There has been a lot of work on the ground. Thank God that is starting to show itself at the highest level as well. “
The qualification process is quite long, consisting of three windows over eighteen months, with two games in each window.
After the match in Amsterdam against the Dutch, Ireland welcomes the Czech Republic to Tallaght. The next window isn’t until November 2022, with the final two-game window in February 2023, five months before the final.
With Ireland exiled from that level for just over a decade and feeling the effects of long pandemic restrictions, Dwyer stresses the importance of realism.
âWe just came back to this level a few months ago at the end of the summer after a very competitive competition for the smaller nations. This is going to be a big step forward compared to the international summer program.
âWe have to remember that basketball, as an indoor sport, has had a year and a half of hiatus due to the pandemic. So that’s another step forward for these girls. I think they are. are very realistic.
âThis window is used to assess where we are, in terms of performance, against these teams. the next days.”