Portlaoise Panthers are itching to get back going
The basketball season came to a shuddering halt as the coronavirus lockdown came into everyday life, leaving several Portlaoise Panthers juvenile teams who were leading their respective leagues high and dry.
While the U18 Girls and National League Women’s sides secured two National cup titles earlier in the year, the club were looking forward to seeing their upcoming juvenile players qualify for their own All Ireland titles.
Panthers chairperson Shay Dooley reflected.
“It was a huge blow to our young players and their coaches who had trained hard all year to get the results needed to win the regional honours.”
"The club have secured their position as the most successful in the Midlands a feat that they felt were on course to maintain again this year.
“The basketball community and ourselves reacted very quickly to the pandemic which we felt was absolutely the correct decision to play our part to safeguard wider community".
The coronavirus lockdown also meant a suspension of all fundraising for a number of months considerably denting the club’s budget for the new season.
The club have announced a golf classic to take place in Portlaoise Golf Club on Saturday 8th August, with teams of four costing €100.
The club are currently seeking sponsors for the event and all enquiries and tee times can be made to Head Coach Jack Scully 085 188 9768.
The Panthers also resumed their ever popular Lotto, streaming the draw live on Facebook for the current jackpot of €20,000.
To support social distancing the club now facilitate new lotto players to make electronic payments on their website at www.portlaoisepanthers.com/lotto
Return to Play
In line with national sports bodies and clubs, the Panthers have liaised with the latest Return to Play guidelines issued by Basketball Ireland with the club executive member Lynda Scully leading the implementation of best practice.
Although the basketball season is officially on the summer break, Lynda has facilitated some coaches and players who wished to prepare for the new season early and keep abreast of the ever changing guidance from the authorities.
A large number of coaches have completed the Sports Ireland COVID Officer course thus ensuring a safe return to play for both the players and the local community.
As well as affecting the club’s finances, family finance has also taken a hit by the coronavirus and with the Panthers registration for 2020/21 season impending.
“As our basketball hall rental costs make up approximately eighty percent of the membership fee, we have asked St Mary's Sports Hall Committee if they can reduce their hourly rental so we can pass this saving onto the players and their families”, explained Shay Dooley.
The club will implement an instalment plan but a reduction in costs would help hard pressed families at this time.
Ladies National League
Head Coach Peter O'Sullivan's thoughts are on the forthcoming season ahead.
“We really look forward to the season ahead although the circumstances may be a bit different.
“While the structure of the competition isn’t changing for us, there are two teams promoted from last year (Trinity Meteors and St Mary’s Castleisland) while St Paul’s Killarney and LYIT have joined the league so it should be interesting.
“We just have to hope that we don’t see a second wave for all concerned but I’d imagine there is apprehension across the board and we’ll just have to follow the guidelines and go with the flow.
“We are currently monitoring visa guidelines which may hamper our chances of strengthening the squad with an American player but we also understand that these restrictions are there for a reason.
“At present we believe that American student players may be allowed in so this will give other clubs an advantage if the visa programme doesn’t open back up in time.
“We have the same core group as last year and I’m excited with what’s in store and trying to add to the squad with some more young enthusiastic players.
“It’ll be hard to replicate the season we’ve had in winning the National Cup but we won’t fear any team this year.
“The girls have a great years experience under their belt so hopefully we can push on for a Super League promotion bid this season”.
Men’s National League
Head Coach Niall Berry's thoughts are also on the forthcoming season ahead.
“As far as the season goes, we’re excited to get back to basketball.
“I think everybody in the squad got a lot of experience last season, some great experiences, some very difficult moments, but the season as a whole provided some massive growth moments for us and I’m sure everyone is excited to take those lessons into this season.
“Covid-19 makes the preparations more difficult.
“It provides questions that we normally wouldn’t have like bringing in professionals, is there going to be a halt to games and practice at some point, is everyone really safe and how do we keep everyone safe and healthy.
“I think a lot of the Covid prep comes down to blind trust that our organizational leaders and our government will act swiftly if we find ourselves in a potentially unsafe environment.
“It’s hard to project any real goals for the season with uncertainty and the fact that we finished quite low last season.
“If all goes well we’ll certainly be competitive (as we were last year, even though we lost by fine margins).
“I don’t think last years position accurately reflected the talent in the team and regardless I’d be starting the season having faith that our boys can compete with each team in the league.
“If we take the lessons learned in the past season and use them as points of development to perform and compete at a higher standard this year, there’s no reason why we can’t fight our way into the upper half of the league table.
One of the past seasons great success stories was the introduction of the Panthers Inclusive Team who, with the assistance of Laois Sports Partnership and the Midlands Area Basketball Board, assembled one of the most enthusiastic group of new players to the club.
The abrupt close of season again due to the coronavirus meant the club could not recognise the great achievement of these new players.
Keen to make amends when the restrictions allowed, the Panthers organised a drive-by presentation of certificates, medals and basketballs to the players with the invited guest incoming Basketball Ireland President PJ Reidy presenting the medals.