by Mary Kyne
Basketball originated in America and like all other games that are now styled National it started in a humble way. In 1891, Dr. James Naismith had the idea of this game when he was a student at Y.M.C.A. Training College at Springfield Mass., U.S.A. A peach basket was erected at each end of the gymnasium and two teams selected. The object was to get the football that was used into the opponent’s basket, using only the hands.
The possibilities of the game soon became apparent and experience led to certain rules being drawn up for the good conduct of the game. As it was not intended to be any kind of indoor rugby, contact with opponents, or tackling in any form, was forbidden. Moreover, the players were not allowed to take more than two steps while in possession of the ball. Thus, skilled passing became and remains to this day – the chief feature of the game.
At first Basketball may seem a little tame: but now it is no exaggeration to say that Basketball is now one of the most exhilarating and popular indoor game known. It requires absolute fitness, skill, dexterity, co-ordination, agility, alertness and the ability to co-operate with the other members of the team. So extensive has been the advance of Basketball that it was included in the 1936 Olympics and has maintained its place ever since. It is now played world wide.
“I challenge you to take me into one of the classrooms across the land and have someone teach me something about team work, loyalty, self discipline, sacrifice, unselfishness, determination, committment and hard work. There are no such classrooms, but all these are being taught on our basketball courts daily”
Coach: Earl Red Blake
Basketball is an indoor sport and is an ideal game for long winter nights. It is played by people of all ages and is a non contact sport; enjoyment and excitement, fitness and fun is all but guaranteed. The game was introduced to Oughterard as far back as 1944 through the local F.C.A. platoon, Jimmy Joyce R.I.P., Brendan Gibney, Henny Halloran, Martin O’Toole, Paddy Darcy, Mick Joyce, Frank Gibney and Joe Lydon.
The present game of basketball made a humble but nonetheless enthusiastic revival in the Kirk in 1965. The game was introduced to the community by Matt O Sullivan, then a student at U.C.G. The first committee consisted of Matt O Sullivan, John K. Walsh, Christy Ward, Oliver Fahy and Mary Joyce. The game itself bore no resemblance to that of the present day, even though the rules have changed but little, it resembled a cross between rugby and Gaelic Football, and to participate one needed to be sound in mind and limb. Facilities improved considerably in a short time and by 1967 the club could boast of having a better playing area than any other club in the county and floodlit at that!
Canon Mc Cullagh R.I.P. parish priest of Oughterard and club members’ enthusiasm was responsible for this major achievement. Many keenly contested encounters took place in this new outdoor fenced arena. Bitter cold winter nights were spent under the flood lights endeavouring to put Oughterard on the basketball map. Success finally came in 1967/1968 when the girl’s team – Mary Kinneavey, Sheila Sullivan, Peggie O Connor, Mary Coyne and Carmel Joyce were comfortable winners in the Galway League.
1967/1968 Men’s Team: Oliver Fahy, J. J.Mc Carthy, Paddy Kelly, Kevin Blehein and Fr Frank Larkin.
St Paul’s Secondary School 1964
St Paul’s Secondary School was founded in 1964 and John K. Walsh introduced the game. The school had an outdoor court which was far from ‘full size’! However great players emerged from that era to achieve college success and national success after leaving St Paul’s, Ita, Mary Angela and Niamh Walsh, Nora and Frances Clancy, Marie Mc Geough, Pauline Mc Donnell, Vera and Maura Tierney, Lorna Keogh, Fiona Curran, Róisín Kendrick, Mary Teresa Mc Donagh and many others continued to play basketball and in deed one player Ita Walsh, must be singled out for her achievement at national league level as captain and most valuable player of Galway’s ladies Democrats
The Basketball flag was kept flying down through the years by many enthusiastic players and followers to name but a few: Nuala Walsh, J. J. Mc Carthy, John Gill, Gus Joyce, Jim Parslow, Tim Molloy, Tom O’Sullivan, Paddy Kelly, Edward O’Sullivan, Frank O’Connor, Michael Walsh, Kevin Blehein and Tom Coyne.
Nuala Walsh held mini basketball blitzes almost every Sunday for children in the Kirk Hall during the winter. Indeed it was Nuala’s enthusiasm for the game that instilled a love of the game in children during the late 60’s and 70’s. Nuala was also a member of the ladies team.
The old saying that success follows success could indeed be proved wrong by the club, as many years passed without success, but still the club was successful in its main endeavour, and that was to take part in competitions. Competitions were monopolised by Galway City teams, indeed it was said at one time that no team had a chance of winning unless from the city of Galway. Perhaps the success of the club or rather the failures of the club at competition level was reflected in the hall development between the years 1975-1978 when the old Kirk was replaced by a splendid new structure measuring 120 feet by 60 feet overall, but with a substantial basketball playing area of 60 feet by 50feet.
Club enthusiasm was not to wane however and in 1977-1978 a revived men’s team found themselves runners-up in the Galway League. The cost of travelling to so many matches and having to play ‘home matches’ away, finally took its toll and after a lapse of a few years, a new eagerness to participate together with the splendid work being done by what surely must be rated as one of the best basketball nurseries in Ireland i.e. St Paul’s Secondary School, a new club mushroomed. Many players were now attending special Basketball clinics and playing more games than ever and were finally rewarded by being chosen on the County, Provincial and National Basketball teams. The local community even though now directly involved, unknowingly share , the honours achieved by the Basket-balling community for without their fantastic financial support it would have been most difficult for the club together with the Badminton Club to achieve an ambition many other clubs at that time dreamt about, that is the facility of an 80 by 50 indoor playing area.
In the early years Kevin Blehein was the main inspiration behind the rise of the club. His input along with a good school’s programme resulted in the club producing some of the finest underage international players in the 80’s – Kevin Walsh, Tony O’Connor, Kevin O’Reilly, Patrick Faherty, Mary Kyne and Ann Marie Kyne.
Kevin always had high aspirations for such a small club. In February 1984 a full length court was opened with a friendly game between Galway Democrats and Team West. Over 400 spectators enjoyed this encounter. Democrats had American Dave Beckom and 1983 Galway Basketball Sports Star Ciaran Murphy in their line up. Team West who drew their resources from the Tuam Ballina areas, had American star Deora Marsh to lead them. Both teams gave an excellent display of skill and power on the court.
The club previously had a 60 feet court and added almost 20 feet extra at the cost of £6,700. Club members carried out all the work under the chairmanship of Kevin.
The opening of the full length court saw Kevin’s dream come through. It marked a significant watershed in the short history of the Club. Up to now the club was unable to play any home games in the County Basketball League. From ‘84 onwards the people of Oughterard were able to enjoy home games and local competing teams were able to avail of home advantage. Great credit was due to Kevin Blehein and his dedicated team of helpers.
There was always a school team in St Paul’s but the teams of the 80’s were more fortunate in terms of coaching time and facilities available to them. Mary Conlon Nihill, Mary Dolan Clancy coached boys and girls teams and through their dedication, commitment and expert coaching skills achieved success at local and National level. The school in 1981 entered three panels of players in AOS competitions (aos- óg-i- sport) which was the national governing body for girls’ basketball. Teams were entered under categories Junior, Cadet and Senior and were entered in the Connacht region which included Athlone, Clare and North Limerick. There were three grades A, B, and C and on entering AOS competitions for the first time a school was graded C and were upgraded when they reached a Connacht Final stage.
By 1984 St Paul’s girls was graded A as a school after reaching a Connacht Final at Cadet B level.
On the first of April 1984 the cadet team: Mary Kyne(Captain), Ann Marie Kyne, Aileen Faherty, Melanie Cotter, Imelda Walsh, Rosemary Walsh, Jacinta O’Halloran, Martina O’Halloran, Ciara Joyce, Ann Marie Tierney and Gráinne Mc Geough beat one of the strongest rival schools in the country – North Presentation Cork.
In the lead up to the final the girls won a thrilling all Ireland semi-final in Limerick on March10th 1984 after two periods of extra time. They defeated a very strong Rathmore, County Kerry team by a score of 46 points to 36 points.
In the final they defeated North Presentation by 45 points to 40 points in a thrilling game that went to one period of extra time. At half time the girls were trailing by 4pts and with four minutes to go they were losing by 8 pts. Experience combined with controlled determination and tactical changes swung the game in St Paul’s favour and they recovered to equalise just at full time.
Their recovery boosted the team in extra time when they secured vital scores to win by a margin of 5points. The team sported the traditional Galway colours of Maroon and white. St Paul’s was to the forefront of Basketball in Connacht at this time.
Connacht Selection (Girls) 1983/1984
Mary Kyne, Ann Marie Kyne and Jacinta O’Halloran were chosen on the Connacht U15 panel and won coveted All Ireland Inter Regional trophies when the event was hosted for the first time in Galway.
Results: Semifinal: Connacht 44points Dublin 28 points
Final: Connacht 46 points Cork 45 points.
This was an historic victory for Connacht.
The girls team led by their coach Kevin Blehein reached the All Ireland Finals in Mosney where they received silver medals. The team put on a fine display by defeating Kilrush, Co. Clare in the semi-final. However, in the final a very strong Malahide , Co Dublin team found the edge over the girls. The team were nearly all under age for the following year and were satisfied with their silver medals.
Team: Mary Kyne(Captain), Ann Marie Kyne, Aileen Faherty, Jacinta O’Halloran, Ciara Joyce, Sandra O’Connor, Melanie Cotter, Ann Marie Tierney, Rosemary Walsh and Gráinne Mc Geough. This game was played in the airport hanger In Gormanstown on a concrete floor with a two seater British fighter plane parked beside the court.
St Paul’s Senior Boys team created history by bringing the first ever Connacht Basketball title to the town by defeating St Mary’s College, in a very exciting Connacht final, winning by 8points.
The measure of achievement and success for the school was the result of hard work, dedication and co-operation on the part of players, coaches, parents, supporters and well wishers both in the school and the community.
St. Paul’s boy’s team captured the Connacht schools ‘A’ basketball title in a closely contested Connacht U15 final with St Nathy’s College of Ballaghaderreen. St Nathy’s were strong favourites to hold on to the title but from the start of the game St Paul’s and particularly, their Irish U15 cap Kevin Walsh left the Roscommon school in no doubt they would be no pushover.
Aided by some fine ball distribution by Tony O’Connor, Walsh attacked the Nathy’s defence relentlessly and he got good support from Kevin and Brian O’Reilly and Finbar Thomas who also scored some very crucial baskets.
St. Nathy’s, however, came back and St. Paul’s had some difficulty in coming to terms with their fast break. However at the final whistle St. Paul’s had one point to spare on a score of 71 to 70.
This was a fine display by a very young Oughterard team. It was also a personal triumph for Kevin Walsh who scored 43 points of his school’s total.
The St. Paul’s panel was: Tony O’Connor, Kevin Walsh, Brian O’Reilly, Kevin O’Reilly, Finbar Thomas, Tony Mahon, John Kelly, Bernard Molloy, Gerry Conneely, P.J. Gill and Seán Carter.
Tony O Connor was selected on the U14 Basketball Selection at the Inter-provincial Tournament in Sligo and gained selection on the All-Star panel following the tournament.
Patrick Faherty was selected on the Irish U17 team following a fine performance in the Inter-provincial tournament in Athy, Co. Kildare. Patrick’s selection came as a real boost to the school which by this time had risen to the fore of Connacht basketball which could in no small way by attributed to the fine work, dedication and coaching expertise of staff member Mary Conlon Nihill.
Kevin Walsh was selected on the Irish U15 team and played for Ireland V Scotland in front of a capacity crowd in Renmore Sports Centre. To have two international players in one year from a school the size of St. Paul’s was a unique achievement.
The school juvenile team represented Connacht in the All Ireland Tailtean Games in Cork. Despite been included in a very hard pool St. Pauls only lost by one basket to Colaiste Caoimhin, Dublin – the eventual winners of the All Ireland.
The Killanin boys team also reached the All Ireland finals in Mosney. They were unlucky to be drawn against an exceptionally strong Cork city team who were looking for the gold medal for the 3rd year in a row.
After losing to the Cork boys the Killanin boys were determined to make a strong bid for bronze medals. This they did and defeated a Cavan team very convincingly.
Team: John Walsh(Capt), Kevin Walsh, Finbar Thomas, Tony O’Conor, Michael Feeney, Kevin O’Reilly, Brian O’Reilly, Tony Mahon, John Kelly, Michael Walsh. Coach: Ita Walsh.
This win was a remarkable achievement for the boys. After coming from the bog or the meadow it was on with the basketball boots and up on the bikes and down to the outdoor court at the National School for Community Games Training under the watchful eye of coach Ita Walsh and assistant coach Mary Conlon.
Kevin Walsh also won a silver medal in the shot putt competition despite the fact that both events, basketball and shot putt were timetabled at the same time and he had to be satisfied with throwing three shots in order to compete in the basketball.
Both Oughterard girls and Killanin boys were given a rousing reception in both parishes on their return home.
1984 St. Pauls U19 championship ??? Date for this one
St. Pauls boys basketball team were runners up in the All-Ireland U.19 championship.
Team: Kevin Walsh, Michael Feeney, John Bosco Walsh, Kevin O’Reilly, Brian O’Reilly, Tony O’Conor, John Kelly, Bernard Molloy, Michael Walsh, Finbar Thomas, Adrian Harris, Gerry Connelly.
Coach: Mary Conlon Nihill
The girls U.16 team took the honours at the Renmore gym under their coach Kevin Blehein, the girls turned in a powerful performance in the semi-final defeating Ballina by 56-35. An important feature of this victory was the excellent team work of the players who took the initiative from the start and stretched their lead to 30pts to 23pts at half time. They strongly resisted the challenge of the Ballina girls in the second half and never allowed the margin to decrease.
In the final, they met Castlerea who were coached by Joe Henry (Connacht U.15 girls coach). The Oughterard girls were favourites to win and after a nervous start, they soon gained confidence and took control of the game.
In one period of the first half, from the 16 – 20 min, Oughterard scored a massive 19pts. This high scoring was achieved by brilliant movements, some fine fast breaks and accurate shooting. At half time, the girls had an 18pts lead and they went on in the second half to add to their lead, finally winning 64pts-33pts which earned them a place in the National Finals in Mosney.
Team: Jacinta O’Hollaran, Mary Kyne (Joint Captains), Aileen Faherty, Ciara Joyce, Melanie Cotter, Ann Marie Kyne, Mary Bresnihan, Rosemary Walsh, Gráinne McGough, Ann Marie Tiernay. Coach: Kevin Blehein.
Five girls from St. Pauls were selected for the Connacht girls basketball team. Ann Marie Kyne, Melanie Cotter, Ciara Joyce gained selection in the U.15 division while Jacinta O’Holleran and Mary Kyne featured in the U.17 selection. Mary Bresnihan attending secondary school in Dublin and a member of the Oughterard basketball girls team was chosen on the Dublin regional team.
At this time, Mary Dolan Clancy St. Paul’s and Kevin Blehein at club level devoted time and energy to girls’ basketball.
Following on from the Inter Regional tournaments, Ann Marie Kyne was selected on the Irish U.15 team and Mary Kyne on the U.17 team.
Kevin Walsh and Tony O’Conor were selected on the U.15 Irish basketball team.
Four pupils from St. Paul’s secondary school represented their country. Kevin Walsh and Tony O’Conor travelled to Scotland with the Irish team. The Irish boys encountered a much bigger Scottish team and the final score saw Ireland finish 8pts behind. However, the two Killanin boys proved beyond doubt that St. Paul’s was a major basketball force with their inclusion. Tony O’ Conor was the sides most valuable player and Kevin Walsh finished top scorer in the match.
Meanwhile in Waterford, another St. Paul’s pupil, Ann Marie Kyne again playing for her country against Scotland was also selected as the Most Valuable Payer, The Irish girls lead by Ann Marie had a convincing win against the Scots 84pts-56pts at the Mercy Convent gym Waterford.
In this series, the Irish girls lost to a strong English team in their opening game and went on to defeat Wales on Feb 8th 1985 at Castledermot under coach Michael Marshall. Ann Marie Kyne was awarded the Most Valuable player award at this international.
Mary Kyne was chosen on the Irish U.17 panel on the strength of her performances at the Inter-regional competition. The Irish team played against England, Scotland and Wales in West Bromwich, Bermingham in March 1985. A striking element of the squad of twelve was the domination of players from Cork, Tralee and Dublin with Mary Kyne and Dolores Fahy, Tuam the only ‘outsiders’. Mary kept St. Paul’s name in basketball to the forefront when she was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Mary Kyne took the prestigious award for Basketball at the award ceremony in the Sacre Couer Hotel, Salthill 1985. She was given the award because of her exploits on the basketball court for her club, St. Paul’s and the Irish team. She captained her school’s team to the all Ireland Final U15 Cadet B Final and also the Oughterard Community Games side to the National Finals twice in successive years. She represented Connacht on numerous occasions even though she came late to the game having played just four years prior to her selection. Her all round ability especially as a re-bounder at the boards was an important factor of her game. Aged 16 she shared coaching duties for the club under 13 teams.
July 1985 Oughterard Girls and Killannnin Boy’s Team make it Three in a Row
For the third successive year both teams qualified winning the Connacht Finals to represent Connacht in the All Ireland Final of Community Games in Mosney. In
the Connacht final Kilannin recorded a victory over Castlerea, and the girls booked their ticket to Mosney with a win over Ballina by a margin of 32 points.
The girls had a tremendous start with some brilliant scoring from Ann Marie Kyne, Ciara Joyce and Melanie Cotter. Oughterard assumed command midway through the first half displaying an abundance of skill and direct play throughout the game in which every member of the panel received worthwhile court time.
In the semi-final against Mohill, Leitrim Sinéad O Holleran, Mary Bresnihan and Ursula Kyne were outstanding showing great skill and confidence, while Marie O Holleran, Colette Conneely and Susannne O Toole showed great spirit and strength particularly in defence.
Although this was an easy victory with Oughterard winning by a margin of 20 points they showed great determination in reaching the final against Ballina. In reaching the final against Ballina the team defeated Mervue, Duiche Pobal Seoighe, Kilannnin, Tuam, Castlerea and Mohill. Mary Kyne coached the girls in their games leading up to the Connacht Final but was unable to be present at the final and the team was coached by Kevin Blehein. The team went on to represent Connacht in the all Ireland Finals in Mosney in September.
The Oughterard Girl’s Team and Kilannin Boy’s Team maintained their tremendous form and brought All Ireland tittles to the area. Both teams took home gold medals and were given a heart warming reception on their return home.
Courage and determination gave the girl’s team the gold medals. They beat Leinster champions, Wexford,in the semi-final to qualify for the final against Ascension, Cork.
The semi-final presented them with no great problems and they were 16points up on the final whistle.
In the final both teams started well and were evenly matched. At half time Cork were leading by 3points. Due to slack play by the girls Cork girls increased this lead by 6 points with three minutes left to play. Oughterard were not beaten and they fought back to level the score with a faultless defence and control of the boards.
With 38 seconds remaining, Oughterard looked the stronger of the two teams, but a three point shot from a desperate Cork side changed the situation totally.
The pressure was on Oughterard again, and the spirit the team showed in those remaining seconds was tremendous.
Oughterard scored four points to secure the gold after three years. (The previous two years, they hade won silver medals.) It was a fitting reward for the hard work of the team, coach Mary Kyne and assistant coach Kevin Blehein.
Oughterard’s Team: Sinead O Holloran (3), Ann Marie Kyne (22), Ciara Joyce(9), Ursula Kyne(3), Mary Bresnihan(2) Melanie Cotter (1), Shirley Angland(13), Marie O Holleran, Susanne O Toole and Colette Conneely
Community games basketball in both parishes during the 80’s served a much greater purpose than just improving the standards of play of players involved – it built up a tremendous team spirit within both teams and between the two teams. It also served to highlight the game of basketball within both communities and the tremendous welcome afforded to both teams from both communities on their return from Mosney will remain in the players’ memories forever. In hindsight a lot of their subsequent successes can be traced back to the long summer evenings’ basketball training sessions in all kinds of weather and to the dedication and commitment of coaches Ita Walsh, Mary Conlon, Kevin Blehein and Mary Kyne as player and later coach.
The club hosted the girl’s basketball team form Southfield-Lathrup, High school U.S.A. the week’s events included walks, video shows, swimming, tennis, a cycle trip to the Hill of Doon, a tour of Connemara, Irish nights and exhibition games.
The major of Galway Alderman Bridie O Flaherty gave the team and their coach Bob Harding and his wife Calista a civic reception at Arás Fáilte, Galway City.
Members of the Michigan Team: Darlene Blackwell, April King, Paula Carey, Kristina Jacobson, Audrey Harris and Karen Pike.
The visit of the girls proved an outstanding success and firm friendships were forged between the girls.
The Oughterard girls received an invitation to spend two weeks in Michigan in August 1986 and a further week at a Basketball camp in New Jersey.
When the Michigan girls returned to the USA sports writer, Linda Skrok wrote in the local ‘Tribune’, “Thirteen players and coach Bob Harding’s squad were in Ireland in July to challenge Irish Basketball Association teams to a little hoop action and came back primed for the 1985 high school season.
“We loved it,” said Harding, who is entering his lucky 13th season at the helm of the Chargers. “We had a lot of fun over there and it made the team very cohesive. We’re very much a family.”
The team needed more than just their high tops for the trip as they toured Ireland on a 20-mile bike trip, took a long boat ride, saw the sights on three different bus tours and closed four of their days in the Irish discos.
“It was a great experience,” said Charger co-captain Darlene Blackwell, returning 5-10 starting forward. “The whole team got to be a lot closer.”
The team played four official games against Irish basketball clubs and split 2-2 before heading home.
“It was a little different basketball than we are used to,” said Harding. The game was a lot more aggressive. Also, the Irish emphasised continuity and flow of the game more.”
“The Irish guards concentrate more on penetrating the key.” said Chargers’ playmaking guard, 5-4 junior K.B.Murawski. “We generally stay outside and try to pass into the key, but not them.”
This tour was a very successful meeting of two different styles of basketball.
St Paul’s Boy’s team represented Connacht in the All Ireland Tailteann games at Westside Sports Centre complex.
Team: John Kelly, Kevin Walsh, Tony O’ Connor, David Healy, Kevin O’Reilly, Brian O’Reilly, Finbar Thomas, Michael Walsh, Ronan O Molloy, Bosco O Holleran and Gary Fahy
Ann Marie Kyne, Ciara Joyce, Ursula Kyne, Shirley Angland and Sinead O’Holloran were selected on the U17 panel and U15 panel. Ronan Molloy was selected on the U15 panel
Corrib met Galway Democrats. Both teams had American professionals in their rank. Ed Randolf (6-5) from Florida USA lined out for Democrats while Corrib had the services of Curtis Gilson from Missouri, USA. Curtis was playing for Claremount Admirals at the time and was recognised as one of the best professionals in the National League.
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