WITH ‘normal’ finally back on the horizon again, Maria Kealy wants to pick up where she left off.
The Letterkenny basketball ace has spent much of the lockdown months undergoing sessions via zoom.
Picture: Irish international Maria Kealy at the announcement of LYIT as a Basketball Ireland Centre of Excellence. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
A member of the Ireland under-17 squad, Kealy’s international career went on a pandemic pause.
However, basketball chiefs are hopeful of a European Challenge this year and Kealy aims to be a part of the Irish set-up gong forward.
“I’m so lucky to be included in it,” she said.
“it’s class to get the opportunity and hopefully I can carry on into next year.
“There is a European Challenge so hopefully we will get some international games. We’ve been getting programmes for strength and conditioning, running, so I’ve been very lucky in keeping busy.”
Sport is a central theme in the Kealy house.
Although a real talent in soccer, Gaelic football and camogie, the young Maria was hooked on basketball and it’s on the court where she gets her greatest thrill.
“From a very young age, we were hooked into every sport. Basketball was always the one I enjoyed the most so I’ve stuck with it. I love it right now and just want to keep going
“The big goal now is to play for Ireland. I just can’t wait to get back training in the squad again and seeing the girls again.”
Baskteball Ireland coaches have the squads on Zoom twice a week, once a live basketball session and the other a strength and conditioning workout.
Dad Joe, mum Theresa and older siblings Laura and Kevin ensure Maria’s practice have plenty of intensity.
“It has been difficult, but I’m lucky to have a basketball crazy house to play 2v2 or 3v3. Mum and dad jump in too. It’s usually very competitive.”
Living in what she describes as ‘a basketball crazy house’, Kealy is a big fan of the Denver Nuggets, whose starts Nikola Jokić and Shaquille Harrison are among the players she looks out for.
“I watch every single game. I love watching them. I even watch the college basketball. That’s a dream, to get to America and play college basketball.”
Point guard Kealy is a transition year at Loreto Secondary School in Letterkenny, where teacher Kate Kenny has been a strong promoter of the sport in the school. Kealy captained Loreto to glory in the All-Ireland School League Junior A final in 2019. In a thriller, Loreto overcame Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal from Blarney 49-42.
“We have been so lucky with the coaches all pushing basketball.
“We’ve had good teams in school. We won the schools ‘A’ League, we lost the third year cadet semi-finals and in first year we went to the quarter-finals. It’s been good experience to play against players at ‘A’ standard.”
Kealy is hoping for the National League to get underway in the coming months.
The Letterkenny Blaze prospect will line out for LYIT Donegal’s new ladies team. The sport in Donegal is on a real high with LYIT having been announced recently as a new Basketball Ireland Centre of Excellence.
The Centres of Excellence will be used for national training camps for international sides, along with Basketball Ireland academies. There will also be the ability to host international fixtures, national senior competitions, inter-varsity competitions, as well as local schools cups and blitzes.
“To play against players of such a big standard will be a great opportunity. I can’t wait to get back into games again.
“There are more clubs coming on in Donegal and then Mulroy and Letterkenny Blaze are getting bigger. Loads more people are playing. Hopefully the centre of excellence will really develop basketball in Donegal.”
Last year, Kealy was one of the Irish representatives for the FIBA U17 Women’s Skills Challenge
Ireland finessed joint top of Group A in European Qualifying with three wins from four matches, only to be eliminated on a count-back. Kealy was joined by Shannon Cunningham on that Irish group.
“I was on the under-16 team last year and it got cut off with Covid unfortunately. We’ve only played those friendlies for the under-17s. Hopefully we’ll get a competitive game soon. I’ll have another year at under-17s next year.
“I’m just excited to get back at it properly again.”Tags: