Star go back to back in Superleague
Belfast's Star of the Sea made sure of back to back ESB SuperLeague crowns, securing the title with a 72-83 success at Ulster rivals Dungannon.
The defending all-Ireland champions entered the game without Gareth Maguire (back), Javan Dupree (knee) and Kevin Craig (stomach virus) but even without three of their premier players, they still proved too strong for their struggling hosts.
Ex-Star guard Trevor Smullen, who has been Dungannon's best player this season, missed the start of the contest and his poor luck was carried on by this team. In an impressive first quarter showing, Star took a 8-22 lead and were never troubled thereafter.
Star's American duo John Leahy and Ryan Howse were in terrific form and with Canadian Drew Moir adding some steely defense, Frankie O'Loane's team had little reply, their American Jamal Chretien the principal stopper in keeping the eventual margin down.
Winning coach Darren O'Neill thus follows his predecessor Danny Fulton in keeping the SuperLeague title in Northern Ireland and will now hope to do the same when the play off finals roll round later this month.
"We have been playing exceptionally well and I felt the league was ours two weeks ago. All year we have won from different sources all the time. Last year, Star won on the back of fantastic form from Gareth Maguire and John Leahy. This year Gareth has been short of that standard and John has been erratic at times so different sources have come up to win the games.
"It was the same last night where Drew Moir stepped up for an excellent game and Scott Summersgill did a great job. There's a lot of talent in this team and when anybody drops out, someone comes up.
Despite their pre-season tag of favourites, O'Neill admits that the burden of expectation has not always rested easy.
"There is pressure when people expect you to win, but it's also a challenge. I know Neptune have done it but it doesn't happen very often that teams win back to back titles, so that in itself was a challenge coming in here."
Howse led the victors on 25, Chretien topping all scorers on 26.
Star will celebrate their success in front of their home crowd at Maysfield next Sunday when they host Dublin Bay Vikings.
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