Kingdom lessons key as Irish seek progress against Estonia
Irish women’s basketball coach James Weldon will capitalize on his time with Kerry footballers as his proteges take on Estonia in two friendlies this weekend.
The Killarney man hopes today’s game (National Basketball Arena, 5.0) and tomorrow’s game (Oblate Hall, Inchicore 4.0) will prepare his side for the upcoming Euro qualifier against the Netherlands in November.
Her stint “in the trenches of Kerry football” in Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s backroom in 2018 has already proved valuable experience in advancing her Irish women’s team.
Weldon, who took over as coach in 2019, guided the team to the final of the Small Countries European Championships last year – a remarkable achievement as most of his players missed the previous season basketball court due to Covid restrictions.
This led to the next level of European competition in the EuroBasket qualifiers, where Weldon came to enjoy his time with Fitzmaurice management.
“A coach of the caliber of Éamonn? An all-Ireland winning coach? You can only learn from him,” he says. “What impressed me the most was her openness to trying different things and ideas.
“He was also very good at managing people and people. When he retired after his last game against Kildare, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the dressing room.
His time with the footballers caught him to the attention of Kerryman John Fitzgerald, whose American construction company Gotham Drywall financed the matches this weekend.
Weldon’s proteges will also face Portugal in friendlies next weekend, filling a 12-month international gap between European qualifying windows.
Belarus were kicked out of Ireland’s qualifying group following that country’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although the withdrawal of the world No. 11 ranked team should make life easier, Weldon would prefer another test for his team.
“Of course, look, it’s horrible what is happening in Ukraine. But from a selfish point of view, taking on the challenge of a team like Belarus would have been beneficial,” Weldon said.
“It’s a bit of lost ground but there are things in life that are bigger than basketball.”
Moving from the lower tier of European competition to the current level remains a giant leap for a developing team. They are still waiting for a win at this level after defeats against the Dutch and the Czech Republic in their group.
As Weldon describes the leap from last summer’s small countries tournament to the EuroBasket opener last November: “It was probably like going from youth football to inter-county in the space of 10 weeks. “
Weldon hopes a victory this weekend, with new captain Edel Thornton at the helm, can change all that.