Ireland: Fitpatrick Wants Reinforcements

09.09.2004

By Rory Squires, PA International

Squad depth is an issue for every national side that tries to mix it with the heavyweights and that is certainly the case for Ireland's basketball team.

Gerry Fitzpatrick dreams of coaching in a European Championships one day but he's going to need plenty of firepower just to get to the tournament.

Ireland play at Malta on Saturday in Division B of European Championship qualifying and Fitzpatrick told PA International: "In the overall framework we need to find more players of a decent standard. That is a concern to us.

"I think the challenge is, in the long term, to make a strong league in Ireland, but the whole federation is undergoing a huge change, and has changed massively in the last two years or so.

"It is a slow process and it takes time just getting the pieces in place."

Fitzpatrick's players want to be among the two teams that win enough games to climb into Division A.

Once in Division A, they will have a chance to book a place in a European Championships.

Ireland were among the whipping boys in international basketball but have become a much stronger group on the court in recent years.

The likes of Real Madrid centre Pat Burke and Varese power forward Dan Callahan give Fitzpatrick a couple of excellent players but he knows Ireland need more.

Argentina and Italy, for example, the two sides that reached the final at the Olympics, had to use every player on their bench to make it to the gold medal game.

"The junior team has had some decent results and beat Croatia recently and we do have flashes when we win two or three games in a row, whereas eight or 10 years ago we were delighted with a single win," Fitzpatrick said.

"There are more players emerging in Ireland with skills and qualities that we are looking for.

"We have had young players who have gone to America and graduated there but in reality, it is very sporadic.

"We have to step-up the whole junior set-up and try to get them into teams in the European leagues. It is certainly a benefit that these leagues have improved so much."

What would really help Ireland is to get some wins, and make it into Division A.

"Hopefully, if we perform well in these qualifying games, we can at least show some potential and bring some more money our way," Fitzpatrick said.

"We have an excellent chief executive (Debbie Massey) who has made a lot of really good changes and things are coming on well.

"We need to work on the youth levels, but we have some good young players in our squad at the moment, and I think we are moving in the right direction."


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