TWENTY years ago this weekend, on Saturday January 25, 1997, the Kerry Spring St Paul’s U-19 team enjoyed a spectacular 65-63 victory over Star of the Sea Belfast to clinch the U-19 National Cup at The National Basketball Arena in Dublin. It was the second time in three years that St Paul’s enjoyed success in this competition following another victory in 1995.
Star of the Sea were hot favourites for this title but the Killarney side caused a big shock in a thrilling encounter that was viewed as the most exciting game of the weekend of the Sprite National Cup series that hosted ten different fixtures. St Paul’s were well in contention from the start with team captain Shane Horgan, David O’Flaherty, Paul Kennedy, Michael Clifford and David Griffin all contributing well. Star of the Sea were led by Irish International and Longford GAA player Trevor Smullen and the Belfast side led 26-20 midway through the first half. However St Paul’s responded magnificently hitting 13 points without reply through Griffin, Horgan, O’Flaherty and Kennedy to lead 33-26 with five minutes left. Star hit back but St Paul’s stayed in front to lead 41-37 at the interval.
It was a closely contested third quarter and St Paul’s enjoyed a narrow 52-50 lead entering the final quarter. The outstanding David Griffin produced some magical moments on both ends of the court to keep St Paul’s ahead but Smullen levelled matters at 56 points each with seven minutes remaining. The title seemed destined for Star as Smullen pushed them 61-58 in front with three minutes left but Horgan and Griffin turned it around for St Paul’s to lead 62-61. Star were ahead again with 90 seconds left but a crucial basket from Clifford gave St Paul’s a 64-63 lead entering the final minute.
Both sides squandered opportunities in a tense and drama filled finish before Shane Horgan converted a free throw with 13 seconds left to secure a magnificent victory for St Paul’s.
Match MVP David Griffin led the scoring for St Paul’s with 24 points followed by David O’Flaherty 16, Shane Horgan 12, Paul Kennedy 9, Micheal Clifford 4, Kenneth McCarthy, John Brosnan, Aidan McCarthy, Michael O’Mahoney, Cathal Bartlett, Colin Russell, John Griffin and Ciaran Driver. Coach: Karl Fleming.
Star: Trevor Smullen 30, Neal McCotter 14.
On the same weekend in 1997 on Friday, January 24, the Kerry Spring St Paul’s senior men’s team were competing in the showpiece weekend of Irish Basketball before a capacity crowd at The National Basketball Arena. St Paul’s featured in the first live TV semi-final against St Vincent’s Dublin but it was a disappointing performance from the Killarney side losing 88-74.
St Paul’s did enjoy a promising start with Nick Browning leading the way and they raced into an early 13-4 lead and were 30-23 in front with five minutes left in the first half. However St Vincent’s bounced back and enjoyed a 38-37 advantage at half-time.
Above: The Kerry Spring St Paul’s U-19 team celebrating National Cup success in January 1997. Front from left are David O’Flaherty, Aidan McCarthy, David Griffin, Shane Horgan (Captain), Cathal Bartlett and Ciaran Driver. Back from left are Gerard Coughlan (Kerry Spring), Michael O’Mahoney, John Griffin, Colin Russell, Paul Kennedy, Kenneth McCarthy, John Brosnan, Micheal Clifford, Karl Fleming (Coach) and Mike Murphy (Kerry Spring).
PICTURE: EAMONN KEOGH