Women’s Premier League Basketball

LIFFEY Celtics lost out in overtime in a thrilling Women’s Premier League encounter to Team Montenotte on Saturday evening last.

The two sides were locked together throughout an enthralling clash on more than ten different occasions throughout normal time. In a stunning final quarter Celtics were put to the pin of their collar as the Cork side tried to shake them off before the final buzzer but the home side heroically hung on in a superb finish.

They thwarted Montenotte’s efforts in the final five minutes, only coughing up a single two pointer to Amanda O’Regan with two minutes left on the clock.

Then in a dramatic finale with exactly a minute remaining of normal time Erin Bracken sank a brilliant two-pointer as the shot clock wound down. With seconds to go Ailbhe O’Connor tied the scores with a heart-stopping basket as the lively Amenities crowd erupted.

There was still more drama though as first Montenotte went in search of a winner but they were denied by a scrambling Liffey Celtics defence. The home side themselves had one final chance with 1.4 seconds left but the visitors managed to stifle Irene Sanchez’s attempt and an exhilarating game was sent into five minutes of overtime.

Despite coming up short in overtime as Irish internationals Clare Rockall, Gráinne Dwyer and Niamh Dwyer helped push their side on, the significance of the Liffey Celtics performance cannot be underestimated, even in defeat.

Alongside DCU Mercy and University of Limerick, Team Montenotte are one of the favourites for the Premier League title this season. In the same fixture last year they defeated Liffey Celtics even more comprehensively than the eventual fourteen point margin might suggest.

Even more emphatically they ran up a three digit tally against Celtics in February when the sides last clashed, almost apologetically winning by 82 points in a complete mismatch.

That was the background to what the Celtics faced in their first home game of the season and with new signings Irene Sanchez from Spain and American Shelby Smith still fitting into the young Celtics line-up, Montenotte would have felt confident that another routine victory was on the cards.

That was nowhere near what transpired however as the home team took the game to the National Cup finalists from the tip-off. Sensing a different attitude and demeanour in the home team, their loyal support created boisterous and at times intimidating atmosphere. The team fed off the support and the supporters lifted the team higher and higher. What followed was a showcase for women’s basketball in the country as good as you are likely to see all season.

Led by the irrepressible Shelby Smith who notched all ten of Celtics early points as they stole into the lead, the Celtics seemed a team with a confidence level far beyond last year’s team.

Ailbhe O’Connor and the excellent Erin Bracken with a massive three pointer gave them a seven point lead in that opening quarter and although the inevitable Montenotte backlash arrived, the Celtics were never out-fought or out played.

Rheanne O’Shea and Emilie Harmon led a run of six unanswered points for the Cork side as they went ahead in the last minute of the first quarter to lead 17-19 but Celtics bounced back early in the second period. Sanchez and Áine O’Connor popped up with the scores to take the lead back for the home side and the remainder of the quarter see-sawed back and forth with Harmon and Niamh Dwyer helping the visitors take a marginal four point lead into the half thanks in no small part to an 11-4 run in the final six minutes.

Two free throws from Smith brought Celtics to within four points 31-35, at the interval but it looked like Montenotte were in the perfect position to kick on for the second half. That has been traditionally the time when the more experienced teams in the league have pushed past Celtics but that was not the case on Saturday.

Liffey Celtics burst from the blocks from the resumption and Ailbhe O’Connor, Smith and Sanchez regained the lead for them.

Montenotte, sensing they were in a real tussle hit back with Rockall, Aine McKenna and Grainne Dwyer, but Celtics kept in touch with two points from the revitalised Áine O’Connor.  The Munster side pushed ahead again but Celtics drew level with five points in thirty seconds from Smith who eventually finished as the top scorer overall for the game.

There was still time for Grainne Dwyer to edge Montenotte 46-48 in front at the very end of the third quarter but Celtics were far from finished.

The Glanmire women raced five points ahead in the final quarter but Celtics kept pulling them back every time right up until the thrilling final seconds when Ailbhe O’Connor’s basket sent the game into overtime.

The visitors proved that bit stronger in the final stretch but if Liffey Celtics can continue this sort of form for the remainder of the campaign then it promises to be an exciting season for Igor Petrovic’s side.

LIFFEY CELTICS: Shelby Smith 24, Erin Bracken 13, Aine O’Connor 11, Irene Sanchez 9, Ailbhe O’Connor 6, Shauna Homan 1, Fiona Fitzsimons, Aoife Tiernan.

TEAM MONTENOTTE: Emilie Harmon 18, Niamh Dwyer 15, Clare Rockall 14, Grainne Dwyer 9, Amanda O’Regan 9, Áine McKenna 4, Rheanne O’Shea 3, Lauren Flavey, Kate Walsh, Claire O’Brien, Sarah Kenny.


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