KILLARNEY basketball legend Paudie O’Connor was a player ahead of his time who stood out from all others involved in the game in his heyday, the newly appointed coach of Ireland’s senior men’s team has reflected.
American Pete Strickland has taken up the top post following a very successful career coaching at college level in the States but his connection with Ireland started way back in 1980 when he played against the likes of O’Connor and his team-mates in Killarney’s star-studded St Vincent’s club.
Strickland played with Neptune of Cork in the national league, spending two action-packed seasons in Ireland and he has fond memories of playing in Killarney during that golden era of Irish basketball.
Back in town for a one-off coaching clinic this week, he reflected on the days when the great Gleneagle Hotel sponsored side was the top team in the country – by a long shot.
“I remember playing games in the St Brendan’s College gym where the huge crowd was squeezed in right next to the action on the court. It was an amazing atmosphere and Gleneagle had such a really good team then,” he said.
“Paudie O’Connor stood out as a player ahead of his time. He had all the attributes of a great player and with two outstanding Americans in Tony Andre and Arnold Veasley, alongside a good squad of local players, Killarney were a step ahead in the league back then,” Strickland said.
6’4” point guard O’Connor, from O’Sullivan’s Place, was a former Chairman of Killarney Town Council and he once contested a general election for Fine Gael in the old Kerry South constituency.
He won several domestic titles and became the only Irish player ever to make the first five of a European All-Star team.
Based in Los Vegas since 1987, he is credited with revolutionising the game of basketball in Ireland by bringing in skillful American players in the late 1970s.
Strickland, a Maryland native, hosted a coaching clinic in Killarney Sport Centre and he was assisted by American college coach Chris Harney and Killarney’s own James Weldon who is Basketball Ireland’s Green Shoots Initiative Coordinator.
The event was attended by several coaches from the St Paul’s club in Killarney and representatives of other Kerry basketball clubs.
Strickland returned to Ireland several times over the years, coaching at various basketball camps, and he recalled at one particular camp in Castleisland, in June 1988, he met a young John Teahan for the first time and inspired his interest in the game.
It was Teahan’s first time playing basketball and it was the start of an amazing journey which saw him going on to win national leagues and cups as well as playing for the Irish senior team. Now in his mid 40s, John Teahan is still playing competitive basketball in the Kerry county league.
Coaching camp pictures: Eamonn Keogh. Click on individual images for details
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