Mystics U14s faced Irish challenge in friendlies

  Monday, February 3, 2020

When Cork popped over (!) to play us twice in two days, I had the opportunity to select as many as 13 players over the two games with two varying objectives in mind. The aim on Friday was to give all 10 Mystics a reasonable amount of court time to gain experience of playing in a tough contest, regardless of the outcome. Saturday's meeting, on the other hand, was about doing all we could to try to beat Ireland's finest in a highly prestigious fixture with reputations at stake.

Both objectives were achieved. On Friday, my pick n' mix approach didn't begin as 'sweetly' as I'd hoped. We trailed 8-25 after 10 minutes. We did, however, respond as if we were in Monte Carlo. We rallied! We clawed our way back as both sides ran their bench in the third quarter. I continued to do so in the fourth, but Cork didn't. Understandably, a win was uppermost in their minds. Even so, we got to within striking distance at 40-47 with five minutes remaining. If I had been equally intent on going for victory, I would certainly have stayed with all five of the players who were on court and playing so well.

I wasn't and in keeping with my stated intention, replaced all five, fully aware that this could prove costly in terms of the result. We lost this portion of the match 2-10 and with it, the game, 42-57. Some people agreed with my approach, others didn't.  MVP: Alejandra.

Saturday's game reminded me very much of our hard-fought fixture with Sheffield. Whilst it is relatively easy to give every player (even when there are as many as 12) worthwhile minutes in encounters against less experienced sides, and I always do, when the outcome is as clouded in uncertainty as most beer was in the 1970s, it is common practice among coaches at this level and above to rely almost exclusively on their five 'senior' players. This should come as no surprise as these players are considered by the coach (but not necessarily by others), due to their combined talent and experience, to provide their team with the best chance of success in challenging situations. Physicality and matchups also come into it.

Specifically, it would be sheer folly to include three small guards together against big, powerful outfits such as Cork or Sheffield. All that would achieve would be three stiff necks. (Looking up.) In the event, the game turned out to be as tense as an over-strung violin. Our current first five (which is by no means set in stone) made a magnificent start to give us an 11-2 lead after seven minutes. Would Cork lose their bottle? No. As soon as I changed the line-up, our Irish guests hit us as hard as an angry Mike Tyson could to cut it to 15-11.

The second quarter put me in mind of any episode of Big Brother in that nothing much happened. The 10 minutes were as even as any number divisible by two and our half-time lead was as now slender as wafer-thin ham at 22-20.

Having already used all 10 Mystics to some degree (Four Cork players had yet to appear and that remained the case throughout the second half as well), I reverted to our first five to start the all-important third period. Our defence was even tighter than my penny-pinching uncle so much so that with all their considerable skill and their height advantage, the visitors were only able to muster one basket in fully six minutes. This was an incredible achievement by our girls and ensured the margin had crept up to seven at 29-22, a fairly sizeable advantage in such a low-scoring affair.

Deja vu. I now 'rested' key players (Chubb, Yale and Alum) and in less time than it takes our team to polish off a packet of doughnuts, Cork wrestled the initiative away from us as if it was the tv remote control in a female-dominated household when the Kardashians comes on in the middle of match of the Day. Their 0-7 run was as crucial as putting salt on chips is.

At 29-31 and bragging rights at stake, the fourth quarter was all about trying to sneak a win. We almost did. Defences remained as impenetrable as a miser's wallet and baskets were as hard to find as Lord Lucan or Shergar. Going into the final minute, the two sides were as close as conjoined twins at 37-37. Only seven team fouls apiece had been called in the entire opening 39 minutes. All of a sudden, within the next 50 seconds, we were found guilty (without a fair trial) of committing four more! This could well soon appear in the Guinness Book of Records.

This was as disastrous as my sister's first driving test when she crashed into the steps of the driving school! In keeping with traditional Irish generosity, two Corkers missed the first six resulting free throws but a third had failed to read the script and sunk the seventh and eighth. 37-39.

We had a time-out and 17 seconds to set up a play designed to take us into over-time. We nearly did. The shot hit the ring but bounced the wrong side of it. MVP: Daisy. Our relative lack of height (which has a double meaning), proved too big a hurdle to overcome, as did Cork's packed key defence. Other than lock the girls in a greenhouse with their feet in grow bags, we can do nothing about the first problem but will do all we can to correct the second in anticipation of further obstacles that await us.

Many thanks to James and Louise for their unfailing assistance, to Dave the taxi for ferrying our guests and to the newly-established all-girl super-group, the CLAGS (Caroline, Louise, Ana and Geraldine) for all they did to help the occasion run so smoothly. Thanks,also, to all our loyal supporters.

Please note that tomorrow is a well-deserved night off for us all. Training as usual on Thursday with our next game set for Sunday 9 February at home with a 3.30 tip. I will select the team after training, but this will inevitably cause disappointment as only 12 of the 16 can be chosen.



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