Coach O'Neill delighted as Belfast Star start with a win
It's been a few years since Belfast Star won their opening game of an All Ireland campaign, but that's what transpired on Saturday with a nailbiting 68-67 victory at home to UL Eagles in MCB.
New coach Darren O'Neill laughed off the suggestion that he was bringing an impact to Star akin to that of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
"I've got the same hairline but that's about it," said O'Neill, who nevertheless was delighted with the manner of the win.
Having led 36-33 at half-time, Star were 57-47 ahead going into the final quarter, but a surge from the Eagles had the Belfast side's fans twitching and with 14 seconds remaining they could barely watch as the Limerick men took the lead.
O'Neill, an All Ireland title winning coach with Star in the 1990s, called a time-out and although his play didn't go exactly to plan he was nevertheless delighted with the composure of Conor Johnston who with four seconds on the clock drained a three-pointer to clinch victory.
"The Eagles defended our play very well, but Eric Benedict did very well in getting the ball out to Conor and he did exactly what I expect him to do, stayed calm and hit the basket," said O'Neill, who had made it clear to his side throughout pre-season that he was demanding more steel and tenacity from his players.
"The guys did everything I asked of them.
"They brought the mentality I wanted to see and defensively they were aggressive and the scoreline reflects that. Offensively, we know there is work to be done so in the meantime we have to get the defence right and we did that.
"We are on a big learning curve, we have some guys who have just been introduced to Superleague which is a big jump, but we have the win and it's a very good start."
Of those who have come in to represent Star at this level, Conor McIlroy, Ruadhri Milligan, Sean Quinn and Adam Ryan all played their part, though it was the experience of Johnston, Paddy Mullan and Paddy McGaharan that was to prove so crucial.
If there was a downside it was the paltry return of just 12 points from American Greg Womack.
Star now travel Tralee Tigers. "That's going to a tougher test but we go there with confidence," added O'Neill.