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Warriors survive 40 minutes of fury to achieve Irish cup last

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O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A gym for a stage
And highlight reel displays to behold the swelling scene

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this colum hold
The many dunks of Gilmore? or may we cram
Within this medium O the very fouls
That did get drawn by the Roso?

O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.

For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our players,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er the rim,
Turning the accomplishment of 40 minutes
Into a few paragraphs: for the which supply,
Admit BiE to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, this game.

Tralee Warriors and DBS Eanna delivered an all-time classic of unbridled speed, action, and drama in the fight to make it to the Irish Cup final. The bard himself could not have scripted such a clash as both teams left everyone with but one regret, that it had to end.

The first timeout of the game felt necessary just for those of us watching. While the teams had only combined for 19 points in just under 6 minutes, it was frenetic from the off. Both teams wanted to push it hard and fast with little care given to finesse or precision. It was fast, wild, and fun, even if the whole core product of why teams do that wasn’t quite working out. There was no way to gauge who had objectively been better, even the tied up scoreboard late in the frame felt like it was fibbing, because this was just speed and movement. A fantastically fun quarter was finished off with a three pointer from Stefan Zecevic to give Éanna a 22-19 lead after 10 minutes.

Romonn Nelson and Alex Dolenko got the Dublin side running hard to start the second as Éanna created the first smidgen of daylight in this game but Tralee’s Nikolo Roso was going a great job drawing fouls to ensure there was no real risk of a big hole opening up. Any concerns that this game might slow down were put to rest as Devin Gilmore, a former Murray State Racer, did all he could to break the glass on a dunk midway through the quarter. The one moment of pause came when Ronalds Elksnis of Warriors fell awkwardly to hold matters up for a couple of moments. Fortunately he was able to get up and walk off under his own power. At the end of 20 minutes, Éanna led 43-40.

The scoring pace remained normal, even a bit slower, upon the resumption but nothing else slowed down as both sides kept motoring hard. This time is was Warriors doing more of the scoring as they opened the frame on a 9-3 run but that felt secondary to the overall entertainment for the neutrals watching. Éanna finally opted to force a slower tempo midway through the third, as if they felt compelled to bring something approaching conventional basketball to what had been a furious festival so far.

Devin Gilmore of DBS Éanna puts Aaron Calixte of Tralee Warriors on a poster in the Irish cup semi final

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There was, after all, the small matter of a place in the cup final at stake. Éanna had made the last one, falling to Templeogue when the lights shone brightest, before the pandemic called time on play for 18 months. The Warriors, meanwhile, were looking to make it to their maiden cup game, having won both the Super League and post-season Champions Trophy in their few years of operation. Getting to the game that’s on the telly has its own appeal and you could sense the urgency take on a twinge of tension as the teams neared the decisive final quarter.

An exchange of threes caused an exchange of the lead with the Kerry side holding the edge towards the tail end of the third. Elksnis, back on the floor, finished off a fast break with a lay-up even though he winced from the gentle landing. With 10 minutes to play, Tralee led 54-58.

The tying score at 60-60 was indicative of this game. Gilmore, who had put together a mixtape of highlights already in this game, went up high to block Roso, he comfortably swatted it away but landed on Zecevic in the process. Both landed hard, while Nelson raced up the floor to level matters on the fast break. That forced a necessary timeout from the Dublin side but they looked fine upon the resumption, with Mark Reynolds giving them the lead for the first time since early in the third. Roso continued his foul drawing streak when Tralee needed it most, drawing his eighth before the subsequent possession resulted in a Fergal O’Sullivan three to briefly bring the gap back to the minimum and, eventually, Tralee clawed back in front.

Up 3 with 41.6 seconds to go, Calixte drew a shooting foul that felt decisive. Finally, some order and resolution to the day. He made both and the two possession lead brought the limited travelling support (due to pandemic requirements) from Tralee into raptures. Two more free throws, this time from Daniel Jokubaitis, removed any remaining doubt. Tralee, at last, would get to play the big one in Dublin.

For those wondering, the intro is from the opening to Henry V with some well intentioned edits

Emmet Ryan


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