By: Andrew Barnes
Lorcan Murphy cut through the lane, caught the ball and calmly turned around and placed it in the basket. Forty points from Templeogue’s player of the year last season would have been enough to beat middling competition– last season. Instead, as the buzzer sounded and Eanna fans roared, the reigning Superleague champions were on the wrong end of a 92-86 scoreline; their second straight loss and all of the question marks it brought with it.
Last season, Templeogue put together a historic run. The team, two years removed from their first Superleague campaign, which saw them record just two victories, won sixteen of eighteen games. They were stripped of the chance of winning consecutive National Cup titles with an eight-point loss to eventual winners Swords Thunder. Comprised of aging professionals like Michael Bonaparte and the 6’11 Jason Kileen, as well as upcoming national-team stars like Lorcan Murphy and Neil Randolph, the reds put together an unbeaten league performance to win the first Superleague title in club history.
Now, with a record of 1-2; that lone victory coming against the young and inexperienced DCU Saints, Templeogue must look for answers.
“It’s not like last year, or the year before it,” Murphy explained after Saturday’s loss. “Every season brings different challenges. Every team brings back different players and changes from year to year. Winning as much as we did last year was great, but it brings a lot of pressure. You have a mark on your head and the longer you go without losing the more pressure that builds on the team.”
The Superleague landscape certainly has changed this season. Through three games, UCD Marian and Belfast Star stand as the only unbeaten teams in the country. Led by Irish guard Paul Dick, Star, after finishing second-from-bottom last year, are the surprise this season with convincing victories over Neptune and DCU Saints. Powerhouses like UCC Demons, who have won two Superleague titles in the past five years, and Killester, who have won three of the last ten, have begun to take a step back from dominance as stars like Lehmon Colbert and Jermaine Turner – who turns 47 this season – begin to slow down.
“The league, as a whole, is definitely more wide-open this year and improved this year,” Irish star Neil Randolph said. “If you look at the younger guys for Star that are starting to play at a high level in the league, or even the newer teams like Tralee that are combining some of the better older guys in the country with some fresh faces, every week you’re going to be playing against high-level competition and that’s harder for us but good for the league as a whole. But we’re just getting started and I know we’ll put it together.”
With five games in four weeks, October brings a chance for the south Dublin side to show that they are the same team that picked apart the competition last season. Their meeting with league-leaders Marian this Saturday in the Oblate Hall in Inchicore provides an opportunity to do just that.
“We will be back,” Murphy promised. “It’s early doors.”