Portlaoise Panthers 75
Trinity Meteors 71
Trinity Meteors fell just short in the Hula Hoops Women’s Division One National Cup Final, losing 75-71 to a clinical Portlaoise Panthers in the National Basketball Arena, Tallaght on Sunday. Despite fighting back in a thrilling second half, the students never managed to wrestle the lead from Portlaoise, whose potent inside partnership of Claire Melia and MVP Trudy Walker were instrumental in their side’s triumph.
The Meteors headed into the final as favourites, thanks to their sensational form in both the league and the cup. Edel Thornton has shone for Trinity this season, amassing 26 points in the semi-final victory against Ulster University. Flanked by American imports Lauren Grigsby and Carolyn Binder, it is no surprise that the Meteors have only lost one game so far this season. An impressive 88-81 win over Tipperary Knights last weekend meant that the students could look ahead to this match full of confidence.
Portlaoise, however, seemed unfazed by the apparent superiority of their opponents, and Ciara Wheeler immediately opened the scoring from the Panthers. Walker, who joined the Laois side from Jacksonville University, was irrepressible in the first quarter, clocking up 11 points for her side. Thornton, Grigsby and Binder each added a 3-pointer for the Meteors, but Portlaoise had made the stronger start, leading 24-15 at the break.
The Panthers picked up from where they left off, with contributions from Walker and underage star Melia helping to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The Meteors were struggling to disrupt the Panther’s attacking flow, while also lacking the killer instinct to reduce an ever-growing deficit on the scoreboard. There were some excellent moments from Thornton, who managed a spectacular interception to prevent a certain score for the Panthers, before scoring herself after a rare quiet spell in the game. However, the Panthers led by 12 at half time, 40-28.
Down but not out, the Meteors knew they would need to charge out of the gates at the start of the third quarter if they were to stand a chance in this game. They could not have asked for a better start – Grigsby’s 3-pointer marking the start of an outstanding period for the students. Back-to-back scores for Binder, two 3-pointers from Sarah Kenny, and more scores for Grigsby and Thornton were enough to bring them back to level terms with Portlaoise at 52-all.
The arm-wrestle continued for the remainder of the quarter, with the Panthers holding a slight advantage, although they were visibly rattled by the scale of the Trinity onslaught, and were unable to shake their re-energised opponents. A handful of free-throws for both sides kept tensions running high in the arena, with virtually nothing to split the teams except the scoreline. Portlaoise now only led by the smallest of margins with the score at 58-56, and the stage was set for a thrilling finale.
Now very much in the game, Trinity coach Vinny O’Keeffe chose to rotate his team in order to keep his key players fresh for the crucial final few minutes. However, Trinity’s limitations began to show, with some players unable to keep up with the game’s blistering pace. Despite lengthy cameos, players such as Eimear Mairtín and Niamh Kenny could not make an impression on the scoreboard. The Meteors would need their talismanic trio of Thornton, Binder and Grigsby if they were to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It was 69-all with two minutes remaining, but Trinity conceded three free-throws on the trot, allowing the ice-cool Melia to seal victory for her team, completing a flawless day for her on the charity stripe.
While the Meteors showed plenty of character and quality to work their way back into the game, Portlaoise were deserved champions and never allowed Trinity to edge ahead. Speaking to Trinity News after the game, Thornton acknowledged the pedigree of their opponents and admitted that there was something missing from her team’s performance: “We did give it a lot, we gave it everything we had but I still think we had another gear to go into, and we didn’t. It’s hard to play against two tall players when you’re a small team, but we could’ve, and should’ve, prepared for it.”
“We want to get promoted [to the Women’s Super League]. We lost this, we don’t want to feel this again, and I don’t think we will feel this again… we can push on from here, and hopefully when we get to the league final, it won’t be the same story.” Trinity Meteors are currently 2nd in Basketball Ireland Women’s Division One, 6 points behind leaders Ulster University. They host NUIG Mystics in the Sports Centre on Saturday February 1 at 4pm.