Star of the Sea’s reputation for basketball success is long cemented but even by their standards this season has been rather special for their junior lads.
Basketball Northern Ireland league title glory has gone to Star’s under-14, under-16 and under-18 boys — a clean sweep of trophies that has them standing tall as the flagbearer club for the sport in Ulster.
Chairman Bill McCotter has been with the club since its formation in 1964 under the late Dr Liam Conlon who started the Star of the Sea Youth Club.
“It’s an amazing achievement for the club and everyone deserves credit — first and foremost the coaches and the players but we have a lot of people behind the scenes who do a great job like our secretary Joanne O’Neill who has everything running very smoothly,” said McCotter.
“For me it is very encouraging to see that the club is in very good hands at every level and in every area. For all of us this is a very special club and I feel that we are doing justice to the foundations laid down by Dr Conlon with how the club is being developed.”
While McCotter believes the club has an “outstanding” group of junior coaches, he is quick to point to the impact of former Irish international captain and Star of the Sea All Ireland Superleague winner Adrian Fulton — the head of their junior development — as the major catalyst for the recent success.
“For me Adrian sets the bar, the level that we all want to get to. He has a certain way with him, of taking the kids in their training sessions and getting the best out of them,” added McCotter.
“We all make our own contribution but Adrian has that little something extra and it’s great to have him overseeing our junior programme. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Star’s senior side have had a lean spell of late in the All Ireland Superleague but the wide spectrum of success suggests there will be a conveyor belt of talent feeding through to the top level in the years ahead — including Adrian’s son CJ who’s an Irish under-15 international.
The under-18 side set the gold standard for the rest of the young guns when they remained unbeaten in the league before going on to win the cup as well.
The under-16s, coached by Fulton and Matthew Jackson, backed that up with an unbeaten run to the league and cup double, holding their nerve in the final to defeat the Tigers by six points.
The under-14s — coached by McCotter’s son Paul and Marty Sherlock — made it a league and cup double, while their B team won the development league to cap an incredible season for Star.
For international point guard Fulton, who has grown up in the club, it was naturally a year to remember but he still believes there is more can be done as they look to strengthen even further in the seasons ahead.
“I’m obviously very proud of the success that we’ve had, it means a lot to me to see the kids that we are bringing through and to be so dominant in Ulster is nice but I’m already thinking about how we can get better and start winning All Ireland titles and also see more go through to become top senior players,” said Fulton.
“I think as a club we’re very fortunate and the kids are very fortunate to have so many coaches who have played at the top level and have a wealth of experience — guys like John Hurson, Ger Ryan, Brian McCreanor, my dad and this year Gary Connolly has come on board so there’s not too many other clubs who have that.
“It’s nice to see the hard work paying off but we want to kick on and I really want to see basketball developing so as a sport we are punching above our weight. I think the best junior teams across the island need to be facing each other on a more regular basis so they have a realistic chance of competing when they go to play in the European championships.”
Fulton’s passion is typical of the vibe around Star and its legion of volunteers, driving the club forward as the vanguard for basketball in Northern Ireland. They have set the standard for others.
“We have got really good foundations for the future — it’s about giving kids opportunities that they would otherwise not have without basketball and that’s the same with every sport,” added Fulton.