Conor Meany admits his UCD Marian side will be underdogs when they take on Belfast Star in the semi-finals of basketball’s National Cup in Cork this weekend.
The south Dublin side were beaten finalists last year and bounced back to seal the league title in May, but this season hasn’t quite gone according to plan.
UCD sit just inside the top half of the table in sixth position having won just six of their 11 games so far and sit nine points adrift of leaders Templeogue with a game in hand.
Their preparation for Sunday’s game hasn’t quite gone according to plan either after they fell to a 76-71 defeat to DCU Saints last week saw their Dublin rivals leapfrog them in the table.
After losing just five games in the league in all of last season, Marian have already lost five this year, and that inconsistency has dogged them all season.
Part of that has been down to injuries, but Meany also feels they may have temporarily lost the drive that got them to both major finals in 2018.
“It’s been a combination of a number of different things,” point guard Meany tells the Dublin Gazette.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries. We haven’t had our whole team together for many games this year and been missing key players at different stages.
“I think after the season we had last year in the league, it’s been difficult to replicate that sort of drive we had to finally get over the hump.
“That’s the thing that was maybe missing at the start of the year but we definitely have the hunger now to right those wrongs in the second half of the season, and the cup is the first opportunity to do that.”
Motivation isn’t something that was lacking going into the final months of the 2017-18 season after they were edged out by Templeogue in the National Cup final.
They used the disappointment – and possibly a sense of injustice after coach Ioannis Liapakis was called for a harsh technical foul late on – to spur them onto a first league title in 40 years.
“We parked the cup pretty quickly last year because we were still chasing the league at that stage. I think we felt we redeemed ourselves when we won the league.
“We haven’t won the cup since 2011 and we’ve lost two finals since then, so we’re keen to get back there and try to win it again.”
Meany was one of four players in the current squad (Cathal Finn, Matthew Kelly and Neil Baynes) who were around when Marian stunned Killester in the final eight years ago.
And they’ll need every ounce of experience against a side featuring American standout Mike Davis, Slovenian Mark Berlic and Spanish Sergio Vidal.
“They’re an incredibly talented team. This year they’ve got four professional players.
“We know it’s going to be very difficult and we’re up against it, but hopefully we’ll be able to give them a good game.”