Demons and Galway set for double visit to Belfast
CRUNCH games don't often come back-to-back, but that's what will happen at Methodist College in Belfast on Saturday as Belfast Star and Ulster Rockets face table-toppers UCC Demons and NUIG in the men's Premier and women's Division One National Leagues.
It is early in the season but these two games could be ground breaking for both clubs who cannot afford to slip too far down the table and allow the opposition to move ahead and open up big gaps.
The Cork Demons raced to league success last season with an 18 unbeaten run. They lost their opening match this season but from there they have tasted victory in each game. Undoubtedly, they are a quality side as Star coach Neil McCotter agrees.
“I would put Demons among the best National League teams of the past couple of decades. They rank up there with the Neptune team of the eighties and the Belfast Star sides of the 1990s,” said coach McCotter.
Among their top players is ex-professional Colin O'Reilly who is Demons and Hibernia Ireland player/coach. Roy Downey (21) is another star as he showed in midweek when top-scoring, on 16 points, in the away European Cup game against Slovenian champions Tajfun.
Not enough, however, for the Irish side to grab victory as they went down by 82 points to 55, despite a good third quarter before tired Irish legs allowed the home team to pull away.
Star have been dealt a big blow with the news that Michael McKillop looks to be out for the season with cruciate ligament trouble. That robs the team of much-needed height against teams like Demons who have a towering centre in Lehmon Colbert.
Colbert may not be the most agile of players but his bulk is difficult to contend with and Keelan Cairns will be the man to, hopefully, curb his Hibernian team mate.
Star are hopeful of getting a Top Four place at the end of the season but the team cannot afford to slip too far down the table. Shawn Vanzart has shown that he is among the best imports in the country but everyone needs to be at their best if a win is a possibility tomorrow evening (tip-off 7.00pm).
Opening the action at Methody will be a clash of unbeaten NUIG and Ulster Rockets in women's Division One with the home side without their U18 players as the National U18 Boys' and Girls' Cups are on this weekend.
New Yorker Emma O'Donnell will make her home debut with Rockets, after sharing in victory over Marble City Hawks, at the NBA last Sunday. She liked what she saw.
“It was good to start with a win and the standard, I felt, was pretty good,” says six-footer Emma (22). “This is my first time outside of the USA, apart from playing in one basketball game in Mexico, and I'm enjoying Belfast and Breda's (Dick) cooking.
“I don't know much about our opposition (NUIG) apart from the fact that they are in a 5-and-5 situation so they must be pretty good. I'll just have to see how it goes,” added forward Emma who impressed on the boards in the low-scoring 36-31 defeat of Marble City Hawks.
The Galway side has included former Premier League stars Michelle Fahy and Sinead Ireland and if they travel to Belfast they will be difficult to deal with. Still, the availability of Charlie McGrath and Louise Donnelly, along with the form of Ciara O'Neill, Helena O'Dornan, Nicola Rafferty and Rebecca Barker plus the addition of Emma O'Donnell could give the Galway girls their biggest hurdle, so far.