U19A Regional Final
St Macartan’s College 60 – St Malachy’s College 51
The 2014/2015 sporting year in St Macartan’s College has had a wonderful start. The capture of the Rannafast Cup for the first time in thirty seven years was a truly remarkable achievement and a great credit to all involved. Many would have been content had the Sem’s sporting success for this season ended there. Obviously no-one told this to the U19 basketball team. The Sem teams are playing in A level competitions this year and continually pit the boys against the best basketball players and coaches in the country. The Sem is in the North East region and this year the Northern Ireland region was included thus making it the largest geographical basketball region in the country. The team had a baptism of fire in their first game as they travelled to basketball stalwarts St. Malachy’s College in Belfast. On that occasion the Sem came out on the wrong side of a 24 point margin. Malachys are a renowned basketball school with a vast haul of All Ireland titles to their credit and are strong contenders every year for honours. The Sem refocused and got their campaign back on track with wins over St. Mary’s Diocesan School Drogheda and St. Joseph’s Granard. These victories ensured a regional final against St. Malachys. That game took place on Wednesday 10th December in Kingscourt. The U19A final is the jewel in the crown of schools basketball competition and this one did not disappoint.
In an epic pulsating game Malachys just about edged the proceedings for the first thirty minutes. The Belfast boys, with quite a few All Ireland medallists among their starters raced into a 6 point lead. They were finding openings in the Sem defence and as is typical of Adrian Fulton’s teams they were punishing any weaknesses with clinical finishing. The Sem boys changed their defence to a 1:3:1 formation and it seemed to make a difference, as the pressure applied, caused the normally composed Belfast boys to fluff their shots. The 1:3:1 defence is a highly intense system that requires huge work rate and commitment. Nobody epitomises this more for the Sem than Andrius Jastramskas where his defensive contribution is inspirational. The Monaghan boys worked hard to create scores and stay in the game as you simply cannot afford to let St. Malachys steal away from you. The first quarter ended 12-11 to St. Malachys.
The second and third quarters followed a similar pattern with the Belfast boys lead by Quinn, Ryan and Eastwood just keeping their noses in front by 5-7 points. Great post play by Ramunas Ramanauskas, Mantas Zalikas and Captain Richard Wilkie helped keep the Sem in touch. The third quarter ended with Malachy’s up by 45-40. The Sem coaches Garrett Coyle and Enda O’ Brien assured the boys that this game was well within their reach but the intensity, effort and belief would have to be maintained for the final eight minutes. Simonas Seskevicius was working well in defence and the introduction of Michael O’ Brien and Robbie McAlister at different stages kept the defence sharp while changing the dynamic of the offence, both lads offering varying options. The Sem drew level for the first time since the throw-up with 1min 58 sec remaining at 51 pts each. In most close games, there comes a turning point or defining moment that decides the outcome. Such a moment came with just over 90 secs left. John Smye, Malachy’s most prolific scorer fired up a shot but missed and hit the ring. Mantas rose with purpose and conviction to secure a monster rebound, under extreme pressure. The sheer single-mindedness of his effort seemed to infuse the Sem boys with belief while it simultaneously drained the life blood out of the Belfast lads. It was obvious to everyone in the gym that the Monaghan boys were simply not going to lose this game. The Sem ran in nine unanswered points to win the game 60 pts – 51 pts. This victory was well deserved and was very much a team effort. The attitude, work-rate, skill, team spirit and character displayed were quite exceptional and needed to be. While the coaches deserve credit, this victory is very much a tribute to and a recognition of all the work carried out over the years by many teachers with the Sem basketball teams. Great credit also goes to the school for putting emphasis on the basketball programme this year. On the day, Ramunas, Mantas and Andrius were stand-out players while Richard, Simonas, Michael and Robbie all played a huge part. James Gallagher, Albert Seliu, Lorenzo Tommolni and Dowydas Lapinska did not get court time but have all contributed greatly throughout the campaign. For now, the team can enjoy the capture of their first U19 A regional title but not for too long as they have an All-Ireland quarter final to look forward to on the 10th Feb. While they will respect all opponents, they will fear none!