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Three generations of Fulton family help secure 'extra special' title victory with Belfast Star

 

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Champions: Belfast Star (back, from left) Bill McCotter (club president), Danny Fulton and Javan Dupree (assistant coaches), CJ Fulton, Conor Quinn, Liam Pettigrew, Keelan Cairns, Dominic Lynn, Aidan Quinn, Adrian Fulton (head coach), Joanne O’Neill (club secretary), (front) Jack Summersgill, Adam Ryan, David Jallow, Conor Johnston (captain), Delaney Blaylock, Sean Quinn, Conor McDonnell

Champions: Belfast Star (back, from left) Bill McCotter (club president), Danny Fulton and Javan Dupree (assistant coaches), CJ Fulton, Conor Quinn, Liam Pettigrew, Keelan Cairns, Dominic Lynn, Aidan Quinn, Adrian Fulton (head coach), Joanne O’Neill (club secretary), (front) Jack Summersgill, Adam Ryan, David Jallow, Conor Johnston (captain), Delaney Blaylock, Sean Quinn, Conor McDonnell

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Champions: Belfast Star (back, from left) Bill McCotter (club president), Danny Fulton and Javan Dupree (assistant coaches), CJ Fulton, Conor Quinn, Liam Pettigrew, Keelan Cairns, Dominic Lynn, Aidan Quinn, Adrian Fulton (head coach), Joanne O’Neill (club secretary), (front) Jack Summersgill, Adam Ryan, David Jallow, Conor Johnston (captain), Delaney Blaylock, Sean Quinn, Conor McDonnell

It will go down as one of the most dramatic seasons in the history of Irish basketball and for Belfast Star the moment when they returned to the summit.

For the first time in a couple of decades, Star have landed the All-Ireland Superleague crown - thanks to a miracle halfway line against Neptune, shot from Conor Quinn, in the final second of what proved to be the last game of the 2019-20 campaign due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the fact Tralee played an unregistered American and were docked six points, and, crucially, the Midas touch of head coach Adrian Fulton.

In just two years since taking over, Fulton has taken Star from a mid-table side to champions, ably assisted by former team-mate Javan Dupree and his dad Danny, who when Adrian was the point guard maestro led the club to their first All-Ireland league success in 1998.

They retained that title under coach Darren O'Neill and 21 years later Danny's 17-year-old grandson CJ is the fulcrum of a swashbuckling team that are the new kings of the sport on this island.

A tearful coach Fulton celebrated when news came through that Basketball Ireland had declared his side the Superleague champions.

"This group of players have been phenomenal, every one of them has played a key part and had big moments when we needed it and of course to be able to share this with my son and my dad makes it extra special," said Fulton.

For 29-year-old captain Conor Johnston, it was a particularly joyous triumph as the Star man revealed he almost didn't play in his 10th season for the senior side.

"Last year we got to the final of the play-offs and lost on the day our baby Grace was due," he said. "She came a couple of weeks later and I was just thinking that I couldn't give the commitment required so I almost ended up missing the best year of my career.

"Being captain of the club I love which has just won the All-Ireland Superleague just feels surreal. I'm so proud of everyone.

"I've been chatting with friends who are now retired and that could have been me. We've been through a few rough years when we were nowhere near challenging for the title and to now be the champions… it really hasn't sunk in.

"The chemistry within this team, I think, has been the key. It was midway through pre-season when I realised that I had to be part of this group of players because I could sense that something big could be achieved and from the start we had this mentality that anything less than the league title would be a failure. We never had that mentality before."

While the majority in his family are celebrating, one man who will be suffering is brother-in-law Paul Dick, who plays for runners-up Tralee Warriors from whom Star took the title.

"I haven't heard a peep from Paul. The next family meal should be interesting!" quipped Johnson, who is married to Paul's sister Susie.

Ultimately, Star's third Superleague title success came down to that last-gasp winner against Neptune that will forever be remembered as the miracle of De La Salle College.

With three seconds remaining, the Cork men had possession. American Delaney Blaylock stole the ball and then slipped it to Irish international Quinn, who created a volcanic eruption of hysteria as his monster attempt dropped into the basket to nick a 79-77 victory.

Indeed, chairman Bill McCotter looked as if he needed heart surgery such was the tension-filled ending.

Coach Fulton added: "Last year, Conor played with one arm and then needed surgery which kept him out until the end of January.

"His brother Aidan, who had been great all year, then got injured in the warm-up before the Neptune game and then he comes up with the finish straight out of a Hollywood movie."

Belfast Telegraph