This wasn’t just about scrapping for the sweet, if short term prize of a National Cup final berth on January 27. This was about marking out territory in Cork for the future.
With Glanmire in transition, top dog status in women’s basketball in the second city is up for grabs again. That a first Cup final for either club was on the table too only spiced the stakes at the Stadium last night.
In the end, the Nellies from the city’s north side prevailed, and in truth, their dominance was at least as considerable as the nine-point winning margin. Maddie Ganser and Linda Rubene, the Latvian out of Indiana University, were giants under both boards, while Danielle O’Leary (11 pts) and Tricia Byrne (12) made the telling interventions from the shooting arc.
Brunell has tested the recruitment boundaries of its heartland in the past two years with some success, but Fr Mathews came into this semi with a claim on the south side of the city since this season’s elevation to the Superleague.
The club and their coach James Fleming knew too well that advancing to their first Women’s Cup final would only frank that expansion plan. It wasn’t their night. Though she battled gamely, Grainne Dwyer was limited on offence by the brilliance of Ganser’s defence, and American Shannon Brady never got motoring.
Nevertheless, if there was one certainty in the Neptune Stadium it was that nobody would be closing the book on this one too early. The first two quarters only confirmed that instinct. Brunell got out of the blocks quicker, but by the end of the first half, Mathews had edged 32-30 in front.
That didn’t tell the story of Brunell’s frustration though. With Ganser dominating both boards – 10 rebounds for the American in her second campaign with the Nellies after a initial Victory Scholar season - there had to be a greater reward.
They made 14-43 shots from the field, and Mathews’ Chantelle Alford made that Brunell profligacy pay with three 3’s.
Brunell led 20-15 at the end of Q1 with a two from Simone O’Shea – the daughter of ex Blarney and Tralee standout Caroline Forde – but a big three from Alford with 3.17 left in the half edged Mathews ahead for the first time, 25-24.
Victory Scholar Tricia Byrne, from Scranton, Pennsylvania who played at Holy Cross, grabbed 8 first half points for Brunelll but her hand went cold as the clock clicked down in Q2. When Byrne and O’Shea missed from outside, Alford punished them on a fast break. The American grabbed 12 first half points as Mathews eased 29-24 in front. Amanda O’Regan and O’Shea swapped threes – the latter key – to keep it tight at the half but Mathews must have felt in the locker room the momentum had swung to them.
Not so fast. Tim O’Halloran’s girls delivered a huge third quarter for their coach, blowing the semi open as a bucket and three more from Danielle O’Leary put Brunell in a commanding 47-35 lead.
Done and dusted maybe? It might have been but wasted chances was something that developed into a recurring theme for Brunell as Q3 moved into the final segment.
They led 49-42 going into the final quarter but as Mathews veterans kept plugging away, they were energised by their opponent’s incompetence at the other end. Eventually Danielle O’Leary again nailed from downturn to calm Brunell nerves, and made the assist for Byrne to add two more. That seemed to release the pressure valve for a side in their third successive semi final – and in danger of coming up shy again. Not this time. 58-49 Brunell with 2.23 remaining, finally the Cup semi was tilting conclusively north.
Byrne knocked down another three for good measure. The north side lights were dancing now and they go to the Mardyke today with a spring in their step as they spy the possible final opponents from Liffey Celtics or reigning champions. DCU Mercy.
Brunell top scorers: Tricia Byrne (15), Linda Rubene (12) Danielle O’Leary (11), Amy Waters (10).
Fr Mathews scorers: Chantelle Alford (16), Grainne Dwyer (13), Niamh Dwyer (7)