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Dublin: 9°C Thursday 22 October 2020

'I really struggled with the change of pace and not being on the go the whole time'

Irish basketball sensation Sorcha Tiernan on an important partnership with Jigsaw, her experience through the Covid-19 crisis and her colourful career so far.

A MEDIA INTERVIEW breaks up Sorcha Tiernan’s day of online college. It’s her first week back to the books, adjusting once again to education in this crazy and unprecedented year.

sorcha-tiernan Sorcha Tiernan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The third year of her Management Science and Information Systems Studies [MSISS] course in Trinity College has started on a strange note, but that’s par for the course for 2020. “It’s definitely very different from previous years,” the Irish basketball sensation says.

“The whole social side of college is kind of cut out, which is a pity but obviously, there’s worse things going on in the world at the moment. It’s good to be back but it’s definitely an adjustment.”

Just like the entire Covid-19 crisis has been, especially through the strict period of lockdown.

21-year-old Tiernan, as much anyone across the length and breadth of the country and further afield, can vouch for that much.

“I went from going into college everyday, coming home and going to training and you know, maybe seeing my friends once at the weekend, to all of a sudden, having nothing planned in my day,” she explains. “I still had exams and stuff online.

I really struggled with the change of pace and not being on the go the whole time. I don’t cope very well with that.

“I actually went and got a job in SuperValu and that kind of kept me sane over the few months. It was somewhere to go a couple of days a week, but definitely it was a big adjustment for me, because I just had never experienced that whole thing of, you know, not having anything to do. I definitely struggled at the start of it.”

There’s no denying it: countless young people on these shores have struggled, many to a much more detrimental extent than Tiernan did.

And that’s why she was so pleased to be on hand as Basketball Ireland recently announced a charity partnership with Jigsaw, the youth mental health organisation providing a wealth of support to 12-25 year olds in Ireland.

Their services are of vital importance in this day and age, especially in the current climate. 

“I was really honoured to be asked to be a partner for such an important collaboration with Jigsaw and Basketball Ireland,” Tiernan smiles.

“Jigsaw is obviously a really, really good charity, and they really help a lot of vulnerable people, a lot of very vulnerable young people.

Obviously, there’s a big stigma around mental health and there always has been but I think that’s starting to change now. It’s great to see two organisations, Jigsaw and Basketball Ireland, partner up and try help break that stigma and help the people that need it.”

While services like those that Jigsaw offer are hugely important when serious mental health struggles arise, staying on top of your mood on a day-to-day basis cannot be underestimated when life is good.

Exercise is one of many outlets or tools Tiernan and many others use. Never mind an intense training session or match, never mind sport at all, a gentle stroll or a shoot-around or kick-about in the garden could change the complexion of your entire day.

“I know when I’m feeling a little bit down, I like to go outside to the front to the basket and have a shoot-around,” she notes. “It helps clear my head personally.

“You always feel great after a training session, with the endorphins it releases. It doesn’t have to be a tough training session. For someone, it could just be a walk but I think it is really important for people to exercise and not only focus on the physical benefits, the mental benefits are probably even more important.” 

tiernan Source: Basketball Ireland.

So one can easily gauge just how happy Tiernan was when she returned to her beloved Leixlip Amenities Liffey Celtics side after not only missing basketball, but the social side of the game and her team-mates and friends, or family at this rate.

The Kildare lockdown delayed their restart, but pre-season training had been back in full flow for the last month or so with the Super League season due to start on 17 October before Level 3 restrictions were implemented.

“It’s very different,” she said last week. “We have our hand sanitizers at mid-court and we try go over as soon as a drill is over just to be extra cautious. High fives are now kind of a thing of the past, we started doing elbow bumps instead, I think that’s recommended as the new high five.

Even in huddles and stuff you’re not really doing your hands in, you’re trying to stay distant as well. It is very different but again, it’s great to be back in any way.

“We’re enjoying it, and we’re lucky that at the elite level, we don’t have to train in pods of six which is very difficult. I coach the U13s in my club and you’re trying to run a session with three or four different groups at once and that’s really hard.”

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Unfortunately, that’s all changed now. This interview occurred before the Level 3 development, but Tiernan is surely just relieved her side can continue some collective training, albeit non-contact and in pods on 15 outdoors. As the weather worsens though, the individual option on court may have to be availed of.

After all, any basketball is better than none, considering it’s been a constant her whole life.

Shortly after she followed her older sister — three years her senior — to basketball academy at the age of seven, she found her favourite sport. She decided she didn’t like it first off, however, and turned her back on it for football academy for six months, but she soon came back with her tail between her legs.

“I went back and after that I kind of fell in love with it,” she grins.

I’ve been playing the whole time since. Mam and Dad are both involved in the club now but they wouldn’t have a major basketball background. We’re all basketball heads now, we’ve all been transformed so it’s great really.”

She’s enjoyed a meteoric rise and has already established herself as one of the mainstays of Irish women’s basketball for the next decade or so after her stunning international underage exploits, her smooth transition to senior level and her excellent club form.

Tiernan was a central pillar of the successful Irish underage team that climbed the ranks together, landing silver at the European U18 Championships in 2017, and then bronze at U20 level — making history and steering that age group to Division A level last summer.

While those are undoubtedly big moments that carry fond memories, they’re not what come to mind when she’s asked for her career highlights.

The main highlight from it is just friends and stuff that I’ve made over the years through the team. It’s great to get all the medals and they’re just amazing memories to have but I also made friends for life and that’s something I definitely don’t take for granted.

“We’re really lucky that we had such a close-knit group of girls. I still keep in contact with most of them weekly, almost every day some of them, and that is definitely one of the biggest highlights for me, because that’s probably the best thing about sport: the ability to make friends and meet people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

While Tiernan and Claire Melia are the prodigious names that have made the transition to senior international level, the former concedes it is a massive step up — even at club level.

“You’re trying to go from being the star of your club team to, you could be number nine, 10 or 11 on a Super League panel, I think that’s a really difficult adjustment for a 17 or 18-year-old to make,” she notes.

image-21 Tiernan and the Ireland U20s last summer.

“Being on the senior team so young and getting exposure to some of the really good players in the game was really, really good for me. I got on well with all of them and it was just great to see their work ethic, what they put in and it gives you that motivation to keep doing it.”

Now, here’s hoping for more success at Liffey Celtics with more and more young talent breaking through, and of course on the international scene where this team with so much potential and promise can get Irish basketball right back on the world’s biggest stages.

That’s a huge ambition, Tiernan agrees, with serious momentum behind the sport after their brilliant breakthrough.

“As a group – my own age group, we’re very competitive, I know the girls above us are competitive and the girls under us are competitive too.

That’s something that we’d really like to kind of push to kind of get us back to being as competitive as we can because I think we do have a really good group, we’ve great coaches in the country and a good management team in place at the moment.

“It would be great to be able to get back to the top of the game and show everyone what we can do.”

And hopefully the couch experts who binge-watched Netflix’s The Last Dance documentary through lockdown can witness the success this brilliant team are hoping to bring first-hand, with basketball on these shores riding the crest of a wave at the moment.

“That’d be great,” Tiernan concludes. “Obviously the MJ documentary was really good. It was a really interesting watch, and probably even more interesting for a lot of people that would have known the players and that involved.

“It definitely helped everyone over lockdown so it would be great to get kind of a bit of momentum from that and make a big push this summer; all Europeans, underage right up to senior.”

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Emma Duffy

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