Shaking Hands, Kissing Babies and Rocking Gold Chains
After a tough loss to the Ulster Elks in Jordanstown, we got back to Londonderry very late Tuesday night. Our last stop in the walled city would be at City Hall. Once there, we had the amazing opportunity to sit down and speak to Lord Mayor Gerard Diver.
Armed with immaculate hair (the lone female on the trip, Andrea Mauger, agreed with me on this point so I know that it’s accurate) and a soft but confident tone, Diver was an amiable public councilman. But I guess that’s why he got elected.
Lord Mayor and one his party members and council colleagues, Pol Callaghan, took a half hour out of their day to answer some of our questions, give us an inside look into some of the political aspects of “The Troubles” and enlighten us on some current issues.
Overall, the team and its trip companions were great ambassadors for Haverford. Well, intellectually at least. Aesthetically, the team was dressed more for Sunday brunch at the DC than for a meeting with a high-ranking politician. Apparently, Dean Watter, Coach Mucci and Tom Foley were the only ones that read the itinerary for the day, seeing that they were the only stately dressed members of our party.
To add insult to injury, not only was Lord Mayor Diver dressed in what was surely a $1,000 suit, he also had one of the thickest gold chains any of us have ever seen outside of a Big Tymers music video dangling around his neck. The necklace was made in 1906 and has been worn by each Lord Mayor since then.
We felt bad but the mayor didn’t seem insulted. Quite the contrary, he seemed quite honored to have a group of Americans with which to speak. As he said, the United States has always played an important role in the peace process of Northern Ireland and he is incredibly thankful for the support that our nation has continually shown to his.
Following our meeting with the Lord Mayor, the team made its trek to Ballina, its first stop in the Republic of Ireland. The small city on the banks of a picturesque river has been a hotbed of basketball talent in Ireland for quite some time.
With our three 5-man line-ups shuffled up for the third straight game, we came out in completely different form. The shots that would not fall in Jordanstown were all dropping in Ballina. After a 51 point first half, we would ride out our 8-point halftime lead to a much needed rebound victory, 81-73.
It is hard to single out any one player for this game, as virtually every one of us found ourselves making key plays and in the scoring column. Various team members caught fire at different points of the game. Our offense got us tons of open looks. Minimizing our turnovers and limiting our dribbles got us lay-ups, open 3’s and everything in between.
While the team agrees that our defense could have no doubt been better, the Ballina team was a clever offensive team. Running much of their offense through a high post entry pass, their unusual style of making backdoor cuts gave us fits at certain points during the game.
Ultimately, however, ball pressure and fresh legs would once again prevail in this contest. Tomorrow night, we will take on our toughest challenger of the trip, Killester of Dublin.
Following the game against Ballina, the home team treated us Yanks to a lovely spread at a local pub. The event had two objectives: (1) to welcome us to Ballina and (2) to officially mark a new era of the Ballina Basketball Club. While I like to believe the former was the primary objective, I think the team and I realized that we were second fiddle for this affair.
As if one mayor was not good enough for the team, we were once again treated to a mayor of an Irish city at the party. Michelle Mulherin,was a tall, pretty and down-to-earth woman. As is the custom, she too had a gorgeous platinum chain draped around her neck. She was there to show her support for the Ballina basketball team and to thank the new sponsor for putting money into a worthy cause in a time of economic difficulties.
A few members of the team spoke to the Lord Mayor at length. Michelle Mulherin is quite witty. No one, however, had the in depth conversation that Joel Michel did. We are hoping that Joel sticks around for the entire season, since it would surprise no one if we found out he returned to the Irish city to pursue his dream girl. Go get her Joel!
Chaz Thomas and I had the honor of getting a picture with the Lord Mayor for the local newspaper. The mayor inquisitively looked from side to side as Chaz and I straddled her on either side for the photo. She then exclaimed, “I always imagined American basketball players would be much taller. If I would have known you weren’t that tall, I would have worn my heels to make you guys look really bad.” I couldn’t tell if she was kidding so I laughed anyway. No worries. I could still take her in the post and Chaz could still dunk on her.