** Edel Thornton in the new Gotham Drywall sponsored Irish team kit.Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
From exasperation to optimism in a few short days, Meteors’ Edel Thornton says the new sponsorship deal for the Irish women’s basketball team could not have come at a better time.
New York construction company Gotham Drywall have signed up to support the team through to the 2021 FIBA Women’s European Championship for Small Countries, which take place in Cyprus in June.
The news filtered through barely a week after the new Super League season was suspended less than 48 hours before it was just due to throw in for the first time.
Thornton, Ireland’s co-captain, admitted to the Dublin Gazette that she felt it was always a possibility but, as the games got closer, to have the opportunity to play again taken away so swiftly due to Level 5 restrictions was keenly felt.
“I was sceptical whether we would get to the stage where we could play,” she said, feeling more and more reassured with each sessions. “We trained the entire time and were able to have our friendlies – we had one the night before – and were in the full swing of things.
“Having not played for ages, being back was so fun. We do class ourselves as elite athletes but not being able to play over the summer was really difficult.”
Top level club basketball had originally been given the go-ahead under Level 3 and it was anticipated – like hockey, tennis and golf – that it would be able to continue in the same manner as the GAA intercounty seasons and the League of Ireland.
“I went to training on Thursday night there and then when we were supposed to be playing on the Saturday. It came out of nowhere for me. I was under the impression that we would still remain elite [and subject to an exemption] so it blindsided me that it would just end there and then.
“To get the whole way and then to have it cut was heartbreaking. The way everything was conducted and the professionalism around it. I never thought we would get to a stage where hand-sanitising was so ‘normal’ but I didn’t feel uncomfortable or in danger.
“Going training, you are temperature-checked going in. Before training, we have to send in our temperature and sign forms before even going to a session.”
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For youth basketball, the restrictions had been even tighter. Thornton helps out with coaching the Meteor’s Under-15s but she felt some of the impositions were certain to have a detrimental effect to the sport in the long-run.
Among them, players could not pass the ball while all sessions had to be conducted outdoors.
“I found if the kids continuously went like that, being outside as well, we might lose kids to the sport. A lot of them are there with their friends; you can’t pass the ball to them – you are in your own square for the entire session with your own ball. A lot of it is stationary; it defeats the purpose of basketball.
“I do understand where they came from in allowing elite sport to go ahead for longer. But, at the same time, there won’t be a league at this level in years to come if we can’t progress the kids.
“It’s nobody’s fault and we are doing what we can for the public health but I wonder if this was taken into consideration and how can we keep encourage and develop them.”
In that context, the new sponsorship deal has provided a welcome respite. Covid-dependent, the international squad is likely to meet up in December again for a camp but the real preparations ramp up in earnest in April.
And while the financial side of things need to be ironed out, Thornton says it means her side can potentially plan for more comprehensive preparations having previously had to make significant financial contributions to play for their country.
“The big thing is it will allow us to go over the week before the Europeans for a training camp. It’s what a lot of other countries do which is hugely beneficial. Hopefully we can head to Portugal and then fly to Cyprus for the championships.
“It something I have never had while playing for Ireland, getting a company like this on board. It was in the back of my mind that not having a sponsor was really damaging for the sport. It is really expensive to be fundraising when you are playing at such a high level. No one else does it in other countries or sports. It instills a confidence in the team that we are going in the right direction.”