Unique Hard Court History | 100 Years Of Team Ireland

Two things resulted in Ireland’s only Olympic participation to date: the proximity of the London Olympics in 1948 and the founding of the Irish Amateur Basketball Asociation (ABAI) in 1945. The foreign game of basketball was primarily played by the army within Ireland up to the 1940s and the ABAI reasoned that Olympic participation would help popularise the game but to enter a team for 1948 they had to get permission from the Irish government and Irish defence forces. They encountered a lot of opposition but eventually, in June 1948, a squad of 22 army players got special dispensation to move to the barracks in Portobello (which had an indoor court) and a squad of 12 army players was chosen; six from the Western Command (based in Athlone), four from the Eastern Command and two from the Curragh.


Bill Jackson from Athlone was the best-known because he had won two All-Ireland football medals with Roscommon and he and the Sherriff brothers were all brothers-in-low. Frank O’Connor had represented Kerry in Gaelic football. Tom Malone, originally from New Ross, later played League of Ireland football and two civilians made the panel after a trial – Harry Boland (UCD BC) and George McLoughlin (Hibernians BC) – but the latter did not travel.


Boland was introduced to the game at UCD by fellow hurler Fr Joseph Horan, a legend of Irish basketball who went on to spread the hard-court gospel at the Oblate Hall in Inchicore. Neither the ABAI or Irish Olympic Council had the finances for kit so the team wore green singlets and khaki shorts temporarily provided by the Irish Army. It was only the second time basketball was part of the Olympic programme since its introduction in 1936 and 21 nations took part. The Irish team were out of their depth, not least because they had played, nationally, with a non-international ball and different rules. They had only one player over six foot and didn’t chose a coach from the Western Command, who were the country’s best exponents.


At that time only five substitutes were allowed during a game also which added to their difficulties as complete rookies at this level. They lost all of their group games at the Harringay Arena and their debut, a 71-9 loss to Mexico (who were beaten by USA in the semi-finals), was not helped by their bus driver getting lost and arriving 20 minutes late with no warm-up afforded to them. They lost 49-22 to Iran, were heavily beaten by Cuba and ended with a 73-14 loss to finalists France, finishing last of the 23 teams. Harry Boland, who went on to be president of the Irish Basketball Association, was the last survivor of the team. He died in 2013, a year after he was one of the 11 surviving 1948 Olympians honoured by the Olympic Council of Ireland at a special commemoration in Farmleigh House Ireland Basketball Team at 1948 Olympic Games (county of origin): Harry Boland (Dublin), Paddy Crehan (Clare), Donal O’Donovan (Cork), Jim Flynn (Cork), Bill Jackson (Roscommon), Tommy Keenan (Kildare), Tom Malone (Wexford), Frank O’Connor (Kerry), Jim McGee (Roscommon), Danny Reddin (Dublin), Dermot and Paddy Sherriff (Westmeath), Christy Walsh (Kerry).

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