By Denis J. Croke
NO fewer than five Portlaoise Panthers players have been named on the Ireland U/20 women’s basketball squad. The 18-person squad are preparing for the FIBA European Challenge 2021 where they will take on Europe’s best in ‘A’ division basketball.
And the Portlaoise connection does not end there as the Ireland’s head coach Martin Conroy also hails from the town.
The five Portlaoise Panthers players selected are Jasmine Burke, Ciara Byrne, Shauna Dooley, Sarah Fleming and Lisa Blaney. All five of the Portlaoise Panthers players have previously represented their country. Lisa Blaney was capped at U/16 and U/17 as was Shauna Dooley while Jasmine Burke and Sarah Fleming were capped at U/17 level. Ciara Byrne was another to have been on two Irish panels, the U/16 and U/17.
Speaking about his squad, head coach Martin Conroy said: “We’ve been away from the game for a long time, but these young women were fantastic at our three Talent ID sessions and gave our staff a lot of difficult decisions to make. Our coaching staff talked it through, and we have selected these final 18 players.
“There are some incredibly talented players that have missed out, but that’s what we expected at this level. It’s going to be a very fast turnaround, with just six to seven weeks to prepare, but we’re here to make sure that we put in maximum effort, so that we will be ready for the European Challenge tournament.”
The FIBA European Challenge 2021 replaces the Youth European Championships, which were cancelled by FIBA earlier this month. Four Irish underage sides will be competing this summer, after confirmation by Basketball Ireland’s Elite Performance Committee (EPC). Ireland’s U/20 women, U/18 men’s and women’s teams and the Irish U/16 women are all participating.
Chair of the EPC, Tim Rice, said: “While not having Youth European Championships is disappointing for all, the opportunity for these four teams to test their mettle on the international stage in the European Challenge tournaments this summer is a big win for Irish basketball. Our players, parents, coaches, and team management should be commended for continuing to strive, persevere and never give up.”
The EPC will assist these squads logistically and financially as much as possible. This participation is contingent upon government guidelines on travel and general health issues, which we continue to monitor on a daily basis.