LETTERKENNY Blaze’s under-16 girls’ basketball team have enjoyed a season to remember by capturing five titles and a Strabane man has been heavily involved in keeping them firing on all fronts.
Jay McMenamin, a former Ulster under-15 and under-17 captain who came through the St Colman’s High School ranks under the guidance of revered basketball coach Jim McCloskey, assisted head coach Lynda McGuiness as their side swept all before them in 2018/19.
The County Donegal girls won the North West League and Cup, the Basketball NI League and Cup and the All Ireland Division B U16 Girls Cup Final.
They were unbeaten all season, losing just once to Maree during a pool game at the All-Ireland finals in County Meath. That defeat smarted particularly badly as the same opposition had ousted the girls from that comptition at under-14 level at the semi-final stage.
Galvanised by that reverse, the Blaze girls responded well to defeat Maree 36 -31 in the final to be crowned All-Ireland champions for the first time.
Such was the club’s success at underage level this season that on Saturday night, Jay and some of his colleagues travelled to Dublin to be recognised by Basketball Ireland as the underage coaches of the 2018/19 season.
“The season was about as good as you can have – there’s not much else we could have won!,” beamed a delighted Jay, who has coached at school and national level and has refereed for almost a decade.
“The award was for the collective efforts of all the underage coaches at the club, from under-10, under-8s and stuff like that. There’s plenty of coaching goes on at junior level.
“The club has big numbers wanting to play down there and really are a fantastic club who do things right. Everyone’s onboard, from the parents right through.”
While Jay is thoroughly enjoying his time working with the Blaze, he admits he would love the sport of basketball to once again take route in his home town.
Apart from a spell of coaching in Holy Cross College for an hour a week a couple of years ago, the sport is ‘practically non-existent’ in Strabane at present, but he hopes it can make a comeback.
“Basketball is now practically non-existant but I would love to see something in Strabane,” he said.
“Hopefully, when the right time comes up and if there’s the interest I’d love to do something in my own town, it would be fantastic.
“It’s a shame there’s nothing at the minute because there’s a massive cross over between basketball and Gaelic football and they’re promoting it down around Kerry and Dublin.
“It compliments everything and eventually someone will see that it works, but anytime you can get anyone involved in sport and improve kids skills it’s good.
“Hopefully the profile of the thing can rise up a bit and we can grow from there.”