One has to go back to 1959 to unearth the true beginnings of Blue Demons Basketball Club of Sundays Well Cork founded in 1966. Rev. Fr. Charles Sinnott a Vincentian, a Dublin man stationed at St.Vincents Church Sundays Well saw the need to provide a meaningful activity centre for the young men of the area and its environs. He formed a youth club De Paul Boys Club, which operated from September through to April each year. The activities were mainly indoors, and basketball was a good fit. Mr. Sean O’Connor who had some knowledge of the game taught the basics initially, but it was Mick Lynch who instilled the fast breaking style that served De Paul so well, he called it ‘Fire House’. De Paul Boys Club, which operated in the Crypt of St.Vincent’s Church, was where many a future Blue Demons star first hopped a ball and shot some hoops. At the end of the club year Summer Leagues were organised on a tennis court at a private house “Lisin” Strawberry Hill, and it was there that the total aggressive style was honed. One must also mention another Vincentian Father O’Farrell who organised a basketball team among the altar servers at St.Vincents; this team in fact ended up being a nursery for the boys’ club teams as the age restriction to become a club member was from 14 to 18 years. During those formative years of De Paul Boys Club a very special person, who was individual because of his unique style emerged, Mr. John Coughlan who was instrumental in many things that were good where DePaul and later Blue Demons were concerned. His contribution to both has been enormous. The growing success of the club meant it required a new home and it decided to develop its own court, a major undertaking at the time. So the boys of the De Paul built their own full size court at the Rope Walk on Wyse’s Hill, known as the One Miler or more affectionately in Cork slang as “the One’na”. This was to remain the main training court for Blue Demons until the late seventies when all training relocated primarily to the indoor facilities at the Parochial Hall. De Paul trained under the church in the crypt in the winter where a basket was erected and this was the area where all club members gathered on one particular night, in what was to become one of the defining moments in the clubs history, the arrival shoulder high of Noel McCarthy who had been selected to play with the Irish Under 15 team. His achievement spurred on so many of his fellow clubmates to reach for international honours thereby raising the overall standard of basketball within the club.
The wheel was truly in motion and has been turning ever since. We can now fast forward to 1963 the year the original under 14’s had to leave the club, the graduates decided to form a senior basketball team but after two seasons it was apparent that this initial foray into senior basketball ranks required further work, with a much more solid base. In 1966 Jim Dineen decided that the time was right to re-enter the senior ranks of Cork Basketball. This time the ingredients were near perfect the main one being players who had a continuity of success at juvenile level with DePaul, a good administration led initially by Jim Dineen and then by Noel McCarthy. A good treasurer was required and Michael O’Sullivan, who was and still is the best treasurer the club ever had, filled this position. For the record that 1966-67 team consisted of Noel McCarthy, Aidan Horgan, Barry Joyce, Sean O’Sullivan, Teddy O’Leary, Donal Buckley, Andrew Houlihan, Teddy Murphy, Dermot Twomey, Jack Desmond, and a very youthful Peter Coughlan was upgraded from the juvenile ranks early in 1967. The name of Blue Demons was the preferred choice of name as it was the nick-name of DePaul University of Chicago college basketball team, who were very generous in their support of the fledgling De Paul Boys Club.
Those early years were exciting for all those participating in establishing Blue Demons as a basketball force first in Cork and then nationally. The year 1968 was a significant year for Blue Demons with participation in the first National Club Competition and Sean Murphy was to join Blue Demons. The National Club competition was the forerunner of the National League that commenced in the 1971/72 season again we were one of the founder clubs of the National League which is known today as the Superleague. Blue Demons also became the front runners in major sponsorship and international Basketball in Cork by hosting the Major Extra Size Basketball Tournaments at The Parochial Hall.
“Nothing succeeds like success” and this was what was emphasised in the formative years of Demons. Peter Coughlan who graduated through the playing ranks of De Paul and then Blue Demons was entrusted with the coaching duties of the National League team in 1972 pushed this concept and remained at the helm at this level for the next ten years.
Through all this excitement on court the administrators of the club were very capable. People of the calibre of Mr. John Coughlan, Barry Deasy, Sean O Sullivan, Dan Byrne, Jim Dineen, Michael O Sullivan and Aidan Horgan had served the club in various capacities with great distinction over the years. While at the Boys club people like Michael Murphy, John Buckley, Con Desmond and the late Liam Olden and Tadgh Smith nurtured the next generations of Demons players. The Chairman’s position has had many distinguished office holders, including John Coughlan who served for seven successive terms in the formative years 1967 to 1973 and Dan Byrne who with his own distinctive flamboyant style was at the helm during 1977/8/9 a period of transition at National League level which saw the introduction of American players into the league.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’ in Irish Basketball commenced in earnest during 1980’s with the advent of the American Players competing in the National League. Paudie O’Connor of Killarney was the pioneer in this regard in 1979. This was always going to happen as it was prevalent in Europe and Real Madrid were the forerunners there in the early 70’s and reached the UK in the mid 70’s after Vaughan Thomas, a frequent visitor to Cork during the Lota Tournament days, brought the English game to a more professional level with a team called Bruno Roughcutters the first wholly professional and sponsored squad in England that included an Irish player Dave Fitzsimons an ex St. Vincents Dublin star of the early 70’s in their lineup.
Blue Demons had to make the decision either to match Killarney or concede the national competitions to teams who had the highly skilled American players on their rosters. Well, history was created with the recruitment of Wayne Williams and Dave Beckom from Pittsburgh by Dan Byrne, who had just retired as Club chairman due to business commitments. It was the same business commitments that brought him to Pittsburgh, and opened the door to Blue Demons eventful journey through many and varied U.S. College players. These chance beginnings proved very advantageous in fact it secured Blue Demons its second National League Title with many of the first victorious national league team still to the fore, Sean Murphy, Andrew Houlihan, Joe Coughlan, John Cooney, with Peter Coughlan still holding the coaching responsibilities. It was during this campaign that Gerry Wheeler and Timmy McCarthy came to the fore and were to be great Demons players right through the 80s.
When one reflects on Americans during our early forays into the recruitment of Americans Barry Deasy the then Chairman took up the challenge and was responsible for attracting an array of talented players from US colleges, Lennie McMillan being the first. He is still in the league playing with Hoops in Dublin and for that matter Dave Beckon has been resident in Cork since the early 80’s.
Then Barry recruited a player from Western Michigan University, a native of Chicago who was to leave a massive impression on the Demons fans, Jasper McIlroy, even through many will tell us he was not the most talented of players ever recruited by Demons, he always came to play and conducted himself professionally. Mike Hancock (Georgetown University), York Cross (University San Francisco), come to mind, and Anthony Jenkins (Clemson University) who had a long and successfull career in Ireland and Mike Kennedy who partnered Jasper in that first National Cup win in 1986 were capable of playing in higher leagues in Europe, Kennedy went to play in turkey to fulfill his promise. Bob Stephens (Drexel University) came in as a replacement in 1982 and was a tremendous inside player with a rebounding technique yet to be bettered.
During that period while the team were very committed with players like Gerry Wheeler, Tim McCarthy and John Cooney some great characters also emerged on the rosters William (Mono) McCarthy, an enigma and a joker but a player of the highest caliber, Greg (Rocky) Creagh his foil, who came good in that cup semi final of 1986 and won’t let us forget it, and Tomy Foley the first of that family who are synonymous with Blue Demons since the days of the outdoor court at Wyse’s Hill.
Demons succeeded in becoming the sole Irish winners of the BIBF Cup, a feat yet to be equaled by any Irish Club, and it is considered a high point in the achievement terms.
Having not won a major National Trophy since 1989 National League win, the 1989-90, 90-91 and 91-92 seasons were disappointing campaigns. The appointment of Tim McCarthy as Head Coach and the return of Anthony Jenkins as the American player saw the club enter the 1992-1993 season with great hope but without a main team sponsor. Success at the Roy Curtis International tournament in Dublin the 1st in the Club’s history lifted the shadow of the previous 3 seasons but the campaign ended with disappointment, and behind the scenes the club was struggling with a difficult financial position. At the 1993 AGM Chairman Barry Deasy spelled out the difficult decisions that had to be made. Continuing our participation at senior national level would jeopardize the future of the club and make it impossible to maintain our juvenile and junior structure – sacrifices would have to be made. To safeguard the club it was decided to withdraw from senior National Competition for the first time, as we had been founder member of the league in 1968. The committee expressed its desire to continue in office following a difficult year, but served notice that a new approach with fresh faces would be required in the near future.
Jim Dineen and John Kenneally were by now key driving forces at juvenile level and they had high hopes of a successful era at juvenile level. In 1994 Michael O’Leary was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee and his Division 1 team was to become the flag barrier for the club. Now outside senior national basketball, they would go on to dominate at local and national intermediate levels. 1994 saw 2 first’s for the club, National Intermediate (Regional League) Champions and the first Billy Kelly Tournament title, at U17 level this tournament is seen as a juvenile national bench mark, we had success also in the Cork U19 Championship, the first in 11 years for the club. Just like the phoenix depicted on the club crest, Demons were rising from what some thought would be their ashes following the withdrawal from National League. The club grew stronger and closer then ever before and was moving forward in a united front. Dan Byrne, Aidan Hoga, Sean O’Sullivan with Peter Coughlan were rallied to reduce the club debt with the introduction of an Annual Golf Classic, people were beginning to think outside the traditional box. Michael O’Sullivan as treasurer worked hard in maintaining the club spends to a manageable amount using traditional fundraising to run the club plus servicing the high debt.
By 1995 there were marked improvements in the club both on and off the court, success in retaining the national Intermediate and Billy Kelly Tournaments with key players Kieran (Beag) O’Leary, Finbarr Burns, Brian Foley, John Kenneally and Dee Looney at intermediate and U17 led by Shane Coughlan, Mark Kennedy and Noel Brown plus unprecedented day when all Cork County Board Championships, Minor, Division 3, 2 and 1 honours were won in the space of 4 hours on the New Year Day at the Parochial Hall.
Capturing the Under 19 National Cup in 1996 was another big breakthrough during this era. Tim McCarthy led this young team against the much fancied Killester to a memorable victory and we were clearly back on the national stage. The juvenile pipe line was also filling up with the likes of David Murphy, Nial Murphy, Carleton Cuffe, Daniel O’Mahony, Cathal O‘Flaherty and Anthony ‘Scoops’ O’Callaghan progressing through the younger juvenile levels. With s successive intermediate and minor titles and dominating most grades at Cork juvenile level the club was once again looking to compete against the best. The previously mentioned intermediate players, now supplemented by successfull U19 players like Denis O’Callaghan, Malcolm Thompson and Mark Cambridge and the younger ’96 U19 Cup winners Shane Coughlan and Shane McCarthy had many believing that our success was due to the fact that we were playing below our true level and that senior competition was the only way forward to test ourselves and raise the bar of expectation for future generations of successful juvenile players.
As an intermediate squad the club entered Senior national Cup for the 1996-1997 season to test our true strength and standards if we were to compete in the future in the National Senior League, and to gauge the reaction of members and public alike to our return to this level. The club recruited two Americans, Lavelle McGlivery and John Owen (nephew of former Demons legend Jasper McElroy) on a game by game basis. Victory against Senior League opposition in the form of Limerick was followed by another home victory against St. Gall’s of Belfast. This saw the team exceed our expectations and progress to the finals of the Cup against Cup Holders and then unbeaten league leaders Denny Notre Dame now led by former Demons, Anthony Jenkins. Following an excellent start, level at the half and 5 down with 7 minutes to go the vastly more experienced Denny strolled our comfortable winners of the game and the ’97 cup. By this stage the club was back in a healthy financial position and the trophy cabinets full, the combined efforts of the previous five years had borne much fruit and this was recognized by Basketball Ireland when they awarded us Irish Club of the Year (non National League Clubs). Little did anyone know that this would be our last time in this category.
The appetite had been wetted the club veterans who had experienced the glory days of the 80’s and the dark days of the early 90’s warned us to proceed with caution, but the next generation wanted more. A group was set up to look at all aspects of the club, public reaction, financial stability in a new and costly environment, current player pool and future players pool, coaching staff and administration with a view to re-entering the then Division 2 National League with one American. During these talks the old National League Division 1 and Division 2 folded with the creation of a new Superleague. Blue Demons were invited to participate. Again the club veterans preached caution but it was too late – the club was invited to the top table and the opportunity was not going to be passed up. The Cork Evening Echo said “Demons were back”, while the club’s view was that “we have never gone away”.
The decision to return to the Superleague now presented the club with the need to make major decisions and an increased work load. The first being, who would Coach the team. This had been an area that had presented previous Committee’s with great difficulties in the past and a position that had not seen stability since Peter Coughlan’s reign in the 70’s and early 80’s. In fact no fewer than 9 people held the title of Senior Coach of Demons during the 80’s some with great success, some not so successful. Chairman Michael O’Leary was now Coach of the club’s senior team and called for an American Coach to be appointed, as the club were facing fresh challenges and should approach them with fresh ideas. The search in America led Blue Demons back to De Paul University and their then Head Coach Pat Kennedy who was also a good friend of Blue Demons in Ireland. Through Pat Kennedy and his brother Bob, the name Pat Price came to the forefront and following a number of telephone conversations the first piece of the puzzle was in place. The appointment of veteran Coach Peter Coughlan as his assistant was vital in guiding the young Coach in the early days but Pat Price soon found his feet and established himself very quickly with a good blend of youth, Shane Coughlan, Shane McCarthy and Mark Kennedy and experienced players in Kieran O’Leary and former North Mon players Dave Lehane and Stephen Hannigan. Duval Simmons and Dion Wingfield were the American players and following a poor start to the league the acquisition of Bosman player Paco de Benito in time for the much awaited 1st Demons v Neptune derby in 5 years in the National Cup at Neptune was to be the catalyst that was to change the season.
Victory against Neptune was to give new self belief and Pat Price went on to lead this new generation of Demons players and fans to their 1st Cup final in over a decade. The exuberance of the first season took it’s toll financially and the decision to return to the league was now in question and while everyone was convinced that the decisions of that first year were correct the future of the position of professional Head Coach was in question, Pat Price accepted a position in the US and left after a very successful first season.
The club replaced Pat Price with former National League star Briain Burke who was assisted by club stalwart player Kieran (Beag) O’Leary. In his first and only season in charge, Briain Burke lead the team to a very creditable second place in the Superleague with Americans John Estick and Joe McKinney and a new Demons legend in the making former Kanturk juvenile star Brian Clernon. Demons were once again firmly big guns on the national stage. The Summer of 2000 had the Committee still concerned about the overall spending and a decision was made not to continue with the concept of a third professional in the form of a “Bosman”. Without a Bosman the Committee was searching for a way for continued improvement. The availability of former Demons assistant coach and the most successful Ladies Coach in Cork Basketball Dommie Mullins, who had just enjoyed a very successful 1st season in Men’s Senior Basketball as Head Coach of Killarney, prompted the Demons not to extend Briain Burke’s contract, instead opting for the more experienced Mullins in a bid to continue the progress in the absence of a “Bosman”. Dommie Mullins term as Head Coach was difficult and flawed from the beginning, no bosman and a heavy reliance on Centre player Hugo Ilterrudle whose work commitments hampered his availability and who finished early in December due to a health scare. With an American point guard without a true big man life was very difficult and made for a hard season for all concerned, in many respect Toby Carberry the guard in question was probably the only reason that the Demons faithful kept attending as Toby was arguably one of the most exciting and talented players ever to play at Demons and who would have excelled in any of the Demons teams of more recent years when the team had some genuine big men around. In the end John Estick was to return to bolster the team but even his stay was cut short as the season was suspended due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
After three full seasons and three coaches it was time to take stock and decide the future direction of the club. The merry go round and annual question of who would Coach had to be addressed or a repeat of the 80’s was likely and a decision on whether we were going to continue to hit or miss each year or develop a programme of sustained progress, stability and ultimately success had to be made. The decision was made and the Committee devised structures that would make the Head Coach of Blue Demons the first and at the time only full time Head Coaching position in Irish club Basketball. It was back to America and more importantly back to Pat Price.
After the disappointment of 2000/01 season the new season started brightly for the club with the club winning the National Intermediate League final postponed from the previous season, this unit that had kept the flag flying during the non Superleague years were back on top, recording their 4th National Intermediate title in 8 years but more importantly for the club, for the first time also servicing a Superleague team.
Pat Price returned with more experience and with his eyes wide open to the new challenge. His older players had moved on and his younger players from his first visit had three years experience in the league. Without a “Bosman” Demons adapted a difficult to beat and score against mentality and in two tough American in John Estick and Mike Beckles they became just that. Games won with less the 60 points, it wasn’t pretty but it was effective. Injuries took there toll on limited resources and overall a good season was recorded but without silverware. What would it take to make this team a championship team was the question and what did the silverware holders have that we did not? The answer a “Bosman”.
With the club now operating for 4 years at Superleague level the budget was made available for the elusive “Bosman” in an attempt to bridge the trophy gap that now reached back to the 1989 League title.
The Superleague Player of The Year James Singleton and Dwayne Wesley were major signings and now all that was needed was the “Bosman” enter the veteran, journeyman Cory McGee an American with a British Passport. Wesley’s similar style to Singleton presented problems to both him and the team as he was asked to play out of position. When he finally asked to be released it paved the way for a true centre player in Bill Romano. The jig-saw puzzle was complete and on a January day in 2003 the wait was over for Demons who under Pat Price had once again reached the summit of Irish Basketball. MVP performance by Shane Coughlan in the final and super displays by McGee and Niall O’Reilly had the tears flowing following one of the most dramatic finals ever. Young kids saw for the first time what it meant to the older members who had no embarrassment in showing their emotions as Demons Captain Brian Clernon lifted the Senior National Cup for the club for the first time since Jasper McIlory in ‘86. Within 24 hours James Singleton was back in the US because of family commitments, but in his short 5 month career at Demons he had done enough to establish himself as one of all time greats of Blue Demons. The season ended in disappointment but to everyone associated with the club it was a job well done and a season’s objective achieved.
The 2003/04 season began and a nucleus of the team was forming as it had in the 80’s. The team now centred around Niall O’Reilly, Shane Coughlan, Tim O’Halloran and Brian Clernon. The strong point of previous seasons was questioned for the first time, the recruitment of imports and a number of early changes unsettled the league form. But by the time the trophies were to be given out the team that included Tory Butler, Marc Michels and DJ Harrison had retained the National Cup and the unique double of Under 19 and Senior National Cup Champions was achieved. The overtime victory against Neptune surpassed the previous year for drama where few thought it possible. Solid recruiting for the 2004/05 season was spoiled when David Holmes got home sick and wanted to leave. With Michael Plichta now at the club and big men in the form of Glen Worley and Damien Matacz, Coach Price opted for an American point guard in Patrick Pope. Pope was to be a key signing and within weeks his class became apparent. Demons now also had developed a keen rivalry for silverware with Tralee Tigers who were league Champions in 2004. Defeat to Tralee in the National Cup semi-finals meant the 3 in a row dream was over. The team rallied and set there sights on wrestling the much coveted Superleague title from Tralee. As host club to the Superleague Finals the stage was set for the much anticipated return match between the counties top two, Demons and Tralee. Patrick Pope led the Demons to their first League title in 16 years when he converted 11 from 12 free throws in the final 2 minutes. A partisan crowd erupted with joy when in his final act as a Demons player Captain Brian Clernon lifted the Superleague trophy.