Keenan, James and Killeen look back on the stunning rise of Templeogue

By Stephen Leonard

FEW TEAMS in any sport will have experienced the rapid rise that Griffith College Templeogue Men's Basketball team have enjoyed since their move into the  Super League ranks back in 2013.

From somewhat ominous beginnings in the top flight of the sport in Ireland that saw them manage just a solitary win in the league that maiden season, the Reds quickly turned it around thanks in no small measure to the arrival of both new Head Coach Mark Keenan and experienced centre Jason Killeen.

Griffith College Templeogue captain Stephen James celebrates with team mates as he lifts the National Cup for the third time in five seasons 1

Griffith College Templeogue captain Stephen James celebrates with team mates as he lifts the National Cup for the third time in five seasons

Both men had helped UL Eagles to league and cup success the previous two years and they quickly set about moulding the crop of young and talented Templeogue players into one of the most successful outfits in the country.

Indeed, after finishing third in the league and reaching the Champions Trophy decider in his first season with the club, Keenan and his coaching staff have seen their team raise a major trophy in every one of the past five years, amassing a haul of three National Cups, one Super League and one Champions Trophy.

The Echo caught up with both Keenan and Killeen as well as team captain Stephen James to take a look back at what has been a phenomenal journey so far.

“We always kind of had a Dublin Division One team and then in 2012/13 we had the opportunity to go into the National League so we went there and we had a successful enough season” recalled James.

“After that season there was another opportunity then to go to Super League and we took that again with no experience, bar one player, but we had a lot of young talent in the team.

Lorcan Murphy and Neil Randolph take to the air in celebration after Templeogue beat UCD Marian for the National Cup in 2018 1

Lorcan Murphy and Neil Randolph take to the air in celebration after Templeogue beat UCD Marian for the National Cup in 2018

“So 2013/14 was our first Super League season and we got spanked a lot. We ended up winning only one game and that was against Limerick who at that time were coached by Mark.

“It was a bit embarrassing after having had such underage success and underage internationals in the team who were used to winning. It was an eye-opener because as a club, we were used to winning loads of leagues and cups at underage.

“But to make the jump up to the Super League was something we needed to do in order to progress the club. It was a frustrating year, but it was a learning year.

Templeogue players and coaching staff are all smiles after the team landed the Mens Super League crown 1

Templeogue players and coaching staff are all smiles after the team landed the Men's Super League crown

“Mark came in in 2014/2015 which was the club's second year in Super League.

“With Mark, he brings heaps of experience and he has a lot of great contacts. He was coming in to win straight away which was great for us and the young players there, to bring in the experience that we could learn from as well” said James.

Seeing the team was lacking in players accustomed to the challenges of top level basketball, Keenan knew just who could remedy that, telling The Echo “Looking at the team that year, one of the things that struck me was that if we could get Jason, he would be a huge piece of the puzzle in getting the team moving in the right direction.

Michael Bonaparte takes on Tralees Kieran Donaghy 1

Michael Bonaparte takes on Tralee's Kieran Donaghy

“We did think that would be enough, but that first year Jason got injured the night before our first game. He missed the first three games that season and we realised in that period that we really do need and American as well.

“Iaasc Gordon had played with the team the previous year and I liked Iaasc and we convinced him to come back.

“And, after a little slow start that year we found our feet and we finished third in the league and got to the Champions Trophy Final.

Puff Summers centre and his team mates can hardly contain their delight at seeing their side win a third National Cup last January 1

Puff Summers (centre) and his team mates can hardly contain their delight at seeing their side win a third National Cup last January

“Then Year Two we decided we'd go after Mike Bonaparte because he had played for me before in Killester and we thought he'd be a great fit. Conor Grace and Paul Cummins came on board as well, a couple of really experienced winners.

“But Mike got injured and he was out for a period and we managed to get through the cup semi final without him and that was a massive win for us in Cork against Killester. Conor Grace was superb down the stretch and a young Sean Flood was with us then.

“But then as Mike was trying to get back for the cup final, Conor Grace picked up his injury which finished him for the whole season.

Since Mark Keenan took over as Head Coach in 2014 Templeogue have won the Super League three National Cups and the Champions Trophy 1

Since Mark Keenan took over as Head Coach in 2014, Templeogue have won the Super League, three National Cups and the Champions Trophy

“But Mike just got back. He wasn't a 100 percent fit, but he got back, and himself and Paul Cummins came through big time in the second half of that final against Swords Thunder. I think we were 11 down at halftime.    

“Paul came out on fire in the third quarter and that was a great victory.

“At that early stage the Templeogue older guys were Shane Homan and Ronan McLoughlin. So it was great for them lads that they got to experience that cup success nearly at the end of their career” he said.

Templeogue players and coaches after their 2018 National Cup success 1

Templeogue players and coaches after their 2018 National Cup success

Having landed the club’s first piece of senior men’s silverware, Templeogue embarked on a phenomenal Super League campaign the following year that saw them ship just one defeat before they clinched the coveted prize on an unforgettable night in the Oblate Hall in Inchicore when, inspired by the superb Lorcan Murphy, they fought back from 18 points down to beat Garvey’s Tralee Warriors.

“The season we won the league and the manner in which we won it was great” recalled Killeen. “Our last three games were Killester away, Tralee at home and Swords Thunder away and we had to win two out of three.

“We went into Killester and we were down for 30 odd minutes of the game and we pulled it out in the fourth quarter and ended up winning.

Templeogue players celebrate winning the Super League for the very first time in 2017 1

Templeogue players celebrate winning the Super League for the very first time in 2017

“I think the confidence of being down and coming back against Killester gave us that boost for the Tralee game.

“We knew it was the last home game of the year. There was going to be a big crowd, Tralee were going to have a big crowd.

There was a bit of a rivalry building up there between Templeogue and Tralee at the time.

Templeogues Lorcan Murphy is now regarded as one of the best players in the country 1

Templeogue's Lorcan Murphy is now regarded as one of the best players in the country

“It was probably the biggest game that we've played just in terms of the atmosphere. The Oblate Hall is an awesome place to be. Everyone loves the Oblates so there's not much of a home advantage.

“But the game was just unreal. I remember looking at the little glass slots in the doors and there were people taking turns to watch the game through the glass. They had to open all the emergency doors because it was so humid with everybody. A COVID nightmare now.

“One of my recollections of that game was our point guard Baolach [Morrison], he's a little lad and he made one of the plays of the game. He went up over [Kieran] Donaghy and got a rebound. It was a game full of that.

The arrival of Jason Killeen in 2014 was a huge coup for Templeogue 1

The arrival of Jason Killeen in 2014 was a huge coup for Templeogue

“It was game full of a millimetre less and you were getting blocked, a split second slower and you don't get that little gap to score. It was just one of those games that was so intense. Both teams wanted to win so bad and everyone was playing well” he said.

“At that stage we were the team beating everyone else when a few years before they would have been hammering us, so we definitely had a bullseye on our back and we still do” insisted James.

“2017/18 wasn't as successful a league as the season before. We got off to a shaky start and you're in trouble if you're relying on other teams to pull out results for you.

“But once the cup came around we knew every game was a must-win.

“In the semis we played Demons and that was in their home gym in the Mardyke and we beat them 98-77. It was always nice to beat Demons after them dominating the league for so long.

“UCD had a great year. They won the league and were in the Cup final and the Champions Trophy so they were competing for three cups” he recalled.

In what was a thrilling encounter, Templeogue edged in front in the closing stages when a somewhat controversial call was made on UCD coach Ioannis Liapakis.

“He was called for a technical for running too far on to the court” explained James. “It was a bit controversial. It probably shouldn't have been called, but it shows that at whatever stage in the final, you still need to keep the cool.

“We were up by two or three points and he was just trying to get across to his players what to run. And that's why you need to have that communication with the players. You might not have to speak. It could just be a quick look-over, an eyebrow raised.

“But it [winning the cup a second time] re-assured us that we were a top team in the country. We deserved to be winning trophies, it's no fluke.

“The dedication and the time that you put in and the effort, this is why you do it. You play to win the trophies.

“A lot of teams don't get to win trophies. There are only three of them in the year and to be able to get one every year has been special.”

Next to be ticked off the title list for the Reds was the Champions Trophy, a competition in which they had suffered no shortage of heartbreak.

“In the Champions Trophy we lost to Demons when they went unbeaten in 2014/15 and then the year we won the league, we lost to Tralee in overtime by a point” sighed James.

“We lost to Tralee the following year 2017/18, so we were zero for three in the Champions Trophy.

“To get to the final three times and not get over the line, it's still so annoying to this day that we're only now one for four.

“Thankfully we got it in the end. It was something we needed to do as a team and as a club.

“We beat Belfast in that final. We were fed up of getting there and not winning it and also this was our last hope to win a trophy [that year].

“To have your name on the three trophies, I mean not many teams get to put it on one or two, so to have it on the three major trophies that are available, it's just great.”

“But 2019/2020 wasn't a great league campaign. We got off to another slow start.

“We had a lot of changes since we had first come into the Super League. There was a lot of player turnover. We still had a core group of myself, Jason, Lorcan [Murphy], [Neil] Randolph and Puff [Summers].

“But something just wasn't clicking with us last year. I suppose that was good because it was a new challenge for us, a new team. You don't want anything to be easy. You want to work for it and you want to earn it.

“We've got younger guys coming into the team now and we don't want them to think that you're just going to win every year. It needs to be worked for and earned and at some stage they're going to have to take over as leaders.

“So the league campaign didn't go well for us, but again we were able to be successful in the cup.

“We played Neptune in the semi finals and we were down for a lot of it, but we flipped a switch for six or seven minutes and we were able to get into the lead in the fourth quarter and we never looked back then.”

For Killeen the final against DBS Éanna was a particularly memorable occasion largely for the electric atmosphere generated by both sets of fans in what was a hugely anticipated clash of two neighbouring rivals.

“The Éanna game was awesome. I think we knew we had that experience in our back pocket and it was Éanna's first time there. But it's great because Templeogue and Éanna, they border each other.

“The kids in the clubs, they know each other, they go to school with each other. I don't think the narrative gets any better than building a rivalry with someone that's five miles down the road from you” he said.

“The match itself was Éanna’s first big cup game and their first time they were in reach of a trophy, while we were kind of the veteran team having, six years ago, been the newbies in the league” added James.

“I don't think you can overestimate experience. It does so much for the team and I think it hurt them a bit not having the experience we had.

“We were up in the fourth quarter and then they went on a run, but we didn't panic. We had a time out and just had to regroup and reset ourselves and we managed to get a little run ourselves for the last couple of minutes.”

For Keenan, it has been an amazing journey so far with Templeogue, although one that has had its share of disappointment too.

“If you told me 'ok Mark over the next six years you're going to win three National Cups, the League and a Champions Trophy' I would have said 'oh yeah, we'll definitely take that.'

“But, having said that, there were one or two that got away as well. So there definitely is a bit of hunger again this year” he insisted.

Killeen certainly believes that the club structure that Templeogue enjoys is conducive to a continuation of their success saying “Part of the reason why I came to Templeogue is the structure they have in the background

“The volunteers and the committee and just all the parents and the kids, just the whole culture there. Everyone wants to succeed, everyone wants to do things the right way and when you do that, you're building solid foundations.”

“Last season was the first year of our partnership with Griffith College. There were a few teething problems, but I think that partnership is going to be awesome going forward.

“We have in some really good recruits this year and the support of the college has been awesome.”

Keenan echoed those sentiments, adding “A big shout out has to go to the club and the committees over the years.

“It was a big investment for the club in moving up to Super League and trying to stay there and be successful.

“Between myself, John Walsh and Puff Summers who’s also assistant coach, we put the heads together and there's a good dynamic there alright.”

“I'm very happy with the way the team has changed. Guys have come in and guys have retired, but all of those guys are still all in one big group together where they communicate still. They've all stayed friends.

“That’s because the team dynamic and the spirit was right and for me, that's a huge success when I look at it as well. It's not just the winning of the titles. It's about how everybody enjoyed being involved.”

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