Basketball’s Rising Tide

In the end, the Irish U18 team had to settle for Silver medals in the European Championships hosted here over the past ten days, but that is only part of the story.

The team has secured promotion for those who follow them next season to play in the top flight of European Basketball for the first time ever.

Packed Arena’s over recent days and a wider audience again watching on the high-quality live stream provided by the European Governing body will have prompted the tens of thousands who play the game at school level to keep it up through clubs and play on with the hope of representing their country.

The success of the team was driven by the momentum of their own performances.  Unbeaten in the group stage with a notable win over Team GB last Tuesday night they beat Israel on Friday and Poland on Saturday to set up last nights final in front of a raucous and partisan crowd who made as much noise as the 75,000  that packed Croke Park only a few kilometres away for the Hurling All Ireland semi final win of Waterford over Cork.

Basketball, like every other sport, has to compete with the alternative attraction of the big three national games of GAA, Rugby and Soccer but days like this give it hope that it can.

The sport is already a winner in schools and through to third level college and the spread of clubs across the country is sufficient to provide a pathway.

The profile given by being a favourite sport of Gaelic Footballers like Aidan O’Shea, Kieran Donaghy and Michael Darragh MacAuley is another plus as is the fact that it has equal appeal for girls and boys.

Basketball Ireland, led by CEO Bernard O’Byrne invested in bringing these Championships to Dublin and putting on a show which impressed the visiting members of FIBA no end.

The team though has largely been kept together by fundraising and the goodwill of parents, coaches and supporters.

Germany, who proved just too strong, last night took to the court in kit that bore the logo of ING Bank.  They have sponsored the German Basketball Federation since 2003, a partnership that has stepped up the coaching reach of the sport.

Ireland’s jerseys bore the name of the country and the name of the players who represented it and themselves so well.  There was room for a sponsor who wants to make a difference in a sport with wide appeal and which next year will be playing at the highest level possible.

It may not necessarily drive the greatest return in terms of TV audience or other metrics but it is a sport on the rise and if tapping into youth is a target there are few better opportunities.

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