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'There'd be games where I'd be telling her to eff off... it's not anything malicious, it's just our passion'

Gráinne Dywer has linked up with her assistant coach-player sister Niamh as Fr Mathews chase Cup history.

BY NOW, A National Cup semi-final is nothing new for Gráinne Dwyer.

dwyer Fr Mathews star Gráinne Dwyer. Source: Basketball Ireland.

She’s done it all in terms of Irish basketball, both on the national and international stage. There’s been silverware, and plenty of it, good days and bad days, highs and lows, both on home soil and overseas.

In fact, facing Singleton SuperValu Brunell in a National Cup semi-final is nothing new.

In both 2017 and 2018, they were the opposition, with Dwyer’s side coming out on top on both occasions. That was when she played for Glanmire though. It’s different this year. She’s with Fr Mathews.

“It’s very familiar to be playing in a Cup semi but yeah, a new set-up and a new line-up,” she tells The42 ahead of tonight’s showdown, “that’s what’s exciting about it. It’s all so new and so new to a lot of the girls.

“Don’t get me wrong, they played in the National League Cup semis last year and previous to that… but Super League’s a different ball game. There’s a great buzz around the club and among the girls.

“What I do like about it as well is… I wouldn’t say it’s naivety but it doesn’t seem as hyped as it would be. The girls aren’t as used to it so it’s played down. It’s a nice plain setting, you know.

“The hype’s brilliant but it’s also nice to be coming in with this kind of outlook on it. It’s not just any game though, it’s a Cup semi and we have a Cork derby. Everyone is really excited, and there’s a nice atmosphere around it.”

Newly-promoted, it’s Fr Mathews’ first year in the Super League, while Dwyer has been plying her trade in the top flight for as long as many remember. She’s synonymous with Glanmire, having been a central part of one of the most successful sides in Irish women’s basketball for many years. 

But prior to this season, Dwyer made the big move across town to the neighbouring Cork club and there, was reunited with her sister, Niamh.

Before fully launching into the interview, there was some small talk about life off the court: work, living in Cork for over 10 years but being proud of her Tipperary roots and what not, so she refers back to a fitting anecdote when she’s reminded that she said she wasn’t enjoying her basketball anymore towards the end of her Glanmire days.

Grainne Dwyer dejected Dejected after losing out in the Cup final last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Ten years is a long time,” she explains. “You know, I was saying I’ve been 12 years working with AIB, it’s my job. I have to go in and do it. Do I love it? I don’t love it but I don’t dislike it. I enjoy it. But basketball is something I love.

“In certain circumstances, winning hides a multitude… don’t get me wrong, I had great team-mates and really good friends in Glanmire. It was a really tough decision for me but I needed a new challenge for myself and I needed a change.

“The opportunity came about. Obviously my sister was with Fr Mathews playing National League for two years and when they decided to go Super League, it was a golden opportunity for me to go over. It was a hard decision but it was one I think I had to make for myself.”

There was a sense that she did what she could for Glanmire, she’d achieved everything she could and lifted the silverware she had been eyeing.

“To a certain extent,” Dwyer agrees. “I have to say we were a really good team and it also gives other girls at Glanmire a chance to come into their own and take on that leadership role. They’re flying it.

“For me, I just needed something new. It’s tough sometimes because as I said, they’re a great bunch of girls. I was lucky enough that Amanda O’Regan who I played with before in Glanmire and another girl, Hannah McCarthy, moved also this year to Fr Mathews.

“Look, a really tough decision but one I can’t say I regret.”

Interestingly, her first game of the 2018/19 season wasn’t just a baptism of fire because she was with a new club, she was also facing her old one.

Glanmire came out on top that day and Dwyer was far from happy afterwards. Next weekend though, they go again and Mathews have the home fixture. A chance to get one back, she smiles, but that’s to the back of her mind for now.

“There was a little bit of overthinking going on there,” she grins, looking back to that first day. “It’s gas because there’s six players on our Fr Mathews team who had previously played for Glanmire.

“I won’t say there was a rivalry but there was a lot of tension, a bit of niggle and what not. It was nice to get that game over and done with early on so we could move on.”

Grainne Dwyer on her way to scoring Scoring against Liffey Celtics in January 2017. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Another one of those six players is, of course, Niamh. The sisters and dynamic duo of Irish basketball have been reunited as team-mates on the court after Niamh left for Mathews three years ago.

“In her last year playing for Glanmire, she got injured,” the younger sister explains. “She did her cruciate and her meniscus and had the whole operation, got the whole knee reconstructed. She did a right job on it.

“Coming back, she felt she needed a change as well and thought it would be easier coming back into National League.”

“Just as well,” Gráinne jokes. “She’s fucking auld as… she’s 36 as well. It wasn’t an easy job. I’m not too much younger than her, but at the same time when you’re in your mid-thirties, it is big coming back. Coming back from any injury at any stage at any age is big.”

When Niamh first came back she was limited to less and less game time so she got involved more with the coaching side of things. After winning the National League and Cup last year, she’s back to her brilliant best now and still acts as assistant coach.

She’s a starter, playing 30 minutes a game and flying it, Gráinne beams.

That said, she doesn’t shy away from the fact that they could kill each other at times on the court. They’re known to fight like cat and dog from time to time mid-game, but that’s the way it always has been.

“100%, as you probably know with any sibling,” the 34-year-old continues. “It’s not even a rivalry, it’s just a… I think when you play with family you’re closer to them and it’s easy for you to say something to them that you’d never say to somebody else. It just comes out. You kind of say it, thinking, instead of thinking before you say it. That’s how I go. 

“I think it’s just in our DNA. It’s what we think is best for the team, we may not be right all the time. It’s not anything malicious, I think it’s our passion really.”

It’s wanting to be successful, wanting to be the best.

Grainne and Niamh Dwyer Grainne and Niamh Dwyer. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“And winning as well,” she adds, “it’s more of a habit. That’s just what kind of comes with it sometimes.”

And that coaching role. The fact that Niamh has that authority over her now, there is that sense that she can talk down on her and dish out orders. 

“Yeah, that had to happen too. There’d be games before where I’d be telling her to eff off if I didn’t agree with her and what not… but this is the thing, I knew coming to Mathews, and people had said to me, ‘How are you going to play under Niamh?’

“I was like, ‘I’ve played with her before…’ She’s a very good coach, she’s meticulous, she’s structured. Everyone who’s a player wants to be coached. I’m not saying I always agree with her but at the same time, she is my coach so I have to respect what she says.

“Sometimes in my head [I disagree], and sometimes I just laugh at what she says but at the same time, I have to go with it.

“It’s been fine. We’ve had no major bust-ups or blow-ups yet… hopefully this weekend will go smoothly as well! We’ll get over Friday night and leave that for another game,” she jokes.

“The one thing I can say about both of us is what happens on the court stays on the court. Once it’s off the court and after we had a disagreement, say I have to ring her to talk to her about something, it’s done and everything’s back to normal so it’s brilliant.”

For a player of her experience and caliber, it has been very new for Dwyer to be playing with a bulk of girls who have never played Super League before this year. Herself and Chantell Alford are the only two that played in the division in 2017/18.

There’s a handful that played a few years back but most of the team are underage kids. 

“For me, it’s great,” she says. “It’s a new challenge. Every game is a big game for us, we take nothing for granted. We have to do our homework every week and take each game as a Cup final, we have to go out and perform to win. Nothing’s taken for granted.

“I wouldn’t say it’s challenging but it is a challenge for me. I have experience along with some of the other girls and we have to intertwine that experience and pass it on to the younger girls.

Grainne Dwyer celebrates with Chantell Alford after the game Dwyer and Alford. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“To be fair, the younger girls are really stepping up and doing a good job. The team is gelling together and we’re buying into what our coaches are trying to do. Everyone’s eager to learn and everything goes from there.”

It’ll be all go tonight in Neptune Stadium, that’s for sure. Inches separated the sides last time out, with Dwyer’s Mathews pipping it by just two points. But this is Cup, this is different.

The fact that it’s a Cork derby gives it an added edge and Fr Mathews will likely still come in as underdogs considering Brunell have been there against Glanmire the past two years.

“It’s sometimes nice wearing that hat,” she concedes, enjoying the underdog card, “it’s played down a little bit but I don’t think that’s how we’re looking at any of it. Our focus at the moment is what we have to do as a team to get through on Friday night. 

“It’s really big for Fr Mathews. It’s their first year in Super League, fortunate enough to be in a Cup semi-final. Brunell know what’s at stake here though.”

She’s absolutely certain that the bleachers in Parochial Hall will be full with Brunell support and is hoping that the Mathew’s crowd can match that tonight at 8.30pm and be their “sixth man”.

As the end of our conversation nears, the memories of last year heighten and that gut-wrenching Cup final loss to DCU Mercy in the National Basketball Arena, Tallaght.

DCU came out on top by the narrowest of margins after a pulsating decider, edging Dwyer’s five in-a-row chasing Glanmire. Heartbreak at the death as late misses right up to the buzzer proved costly.

The details are blurry, the action in the dying seconds difficult to remember, but the feeling is as vivid as the day itself.

“It was a tough loss, I’m not going to lie. I don’t think we even played to our full potential that day, as chiché as it sounds. We were all in and out of the game, some people sparked at certain points but we didn’t play as a team enough.

Grainne Dwyer With the Ireland 3x3s at the Baku 2015 European Games. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“As a whole when you look at it, it was really good for the sport. They stopped us for five in-a-row which was disappointing but for basketball in general, it was good. 

“I went up to my uncle after the game walking out and he just said, ‘Best basketball game I’ve ever been to’. Himself and my Aunty live in Dublin and come to all my games and he just said it was the best game. I was like, ‘Really?’ and he just said, ‘I know you lost but what a game.’

“I’m just taking the positives, but for basketball in general it was great. It was a good win for DCU, unfortunately someone has to lose.”

And while DCU are on the other side of the draw, facing Courtyard Liffey Celtics on Saturday, there’s a chance that Dwyer will get a shot at redemption.

But someone has to lose tonight first.

And Dwyer will be hoping Fr Mathews can do enough to ensure that someone isn’t them.

Originally published at 09.10

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Emma Duffy

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