The newly-named Britton’s Insurance Donegal Town team will become the first side to host a Basketball Ireland Women’s Division One fixture in the county this Saturday evening when they roll out the red carpet for the visit of Team Tom McCarthy’s St Mary’s on Saturday evening (tip-off 6pm).
The step-up to the national league, as well as continuing to moonlight in the North West Regional League alongside Kilcar, Ballyshannon, Letterkenny Blaze, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Sligo Warriors, is an ambitious one for Donegal Town.
The team, who play their home fixtures at Abbey Vocational School, is managed by Sheila Campbell from Glenfin and coached by Ballyshannon’s Brendan Drummond and Kevin Sinclair from Donegal Town, and they intend to speculate to accumulate.
While it promises to be an expensive escapade - with the other constituents of the league being Tralee Imperials, Scruffy St Paul’s and Team Tom McCarthy’s St Mary’s, who are all from Kerry, as well as Galway’s Foireann naGaillimhe Mystics, Meteors from Dublin and the University of Limerick - there is also a silver lining. It comes with the chance for basketball players from the county to play at the highest level and it will make the venture worthwhile.
“Financially it will be very difficult to sustain,” Sinclair said. “But to have such an outlet for young lady basketball players to aim for and to play in is wonderful for the area. It takes cities and big towns to sustain such a standard normally but with a great group of players already playing senior and the coaching that is going on in the underage club we should sustain and flourish in the highly competitive league.
“The team has got a great sponsor in the form of Britton’s and are kitted out as well as any in the league and great thanks to Pat Britton Insurance and Kathryn Martin for their continued support. The big expense is referees have to come from the likes of Belfast, Sligo and Dublin for the games and also transport for the team to Kerry, Dublin, Limerick and Galway. I would hope you the public get behind us in any way they can.”
Locally, Donegal Town has been the top side in the north-west for several years. When Thurles Knights from Co Tipperary pulled out of the National League Division One due to lack of players to complete last season, Donegal obtained an invite following successive regional league championships, which followed up three successive cup triumphs.
Last weekend, Donegal played a double-header of fixtures in Kerry, their first appearances at their loftier level. After a nervous start against Scruffy St Paul’s in Killarney on Saturday, Brid Murphy scored the team’s first baskets. At one stage in the third quarter a scoring spree from Laura Deeney, who netted 22 points in all, got the visitors back to within two points at a stage in the third quarter but their hosts finished strongly to win 69-46.
On Sunday, Tralee Imperials, newcomers themselves although a team with considerable pedigree who had won the National U-20 Cup this year and had consistently fared well at U-18, were the opponents. Without the inspirational Deeney due to coaching commitments elsewhere Donegal were led by daughter and mother combination of Lisa McGill and Murphy, however, it was Tralee who won 87-52.
“The standard in this league is huge and it’s a big step-up for us,” Sinclair added. “But we realised against Scruffy St Paul’s we were in with chance for a stage and we’re not that far away. We have a young squad of players and this season, in out first season up, we’d just like to be competitive and if we can do that in every game then we will pick up a win here and there, which will be a bonus.
“We’re basically competing against cities and large towns but we’ve a few good players in Donegal. They will learn the standard of basketball that there is but we can also offer them an avenue to the top level - that gives the players something they can aim for.”
Saturday’s game is the first of three home appointments for Donegal Town as they welcome Dublin’s Meteors for twice in the next two weeks, once in the league and then in the cup.
The Donegal Town squad is made up of Kate Keaney, Yvonne Bushel, Vanessa Quinn, Julianne Murphy, Rosa Devaney (Donegal Town); Tara Khan (captain), Ruta Balezentyte, Libby Duffy, Claire Breslin (Ballyshannon); Laura Deeney (Falcarragh); Brid Murphy, Lisa McGill, Lauren McSharry (Killybegs); Charlene Mc Hugh (Ardara); Leanne Shovlin (St John’s Point) and Michaela Breslin (Frosses).