Limerick Celtic's Tony Hehir
IT is not often you meet someone who has won so much, but yet, can tell you so little about their achievements.
The opening question of this interview was: "How many All Ireland's have you won?" - The answer from one of Ireland's most decorated basketball coaches - “I don't know actually, I have never counted”.
Tony Hehir played basketball in Limerick with the Marathon club. In fact, Hehir is part of a basketball dynasty in Limerick.
Brothers Martin and Tommy both set up the Marathon club, before both went on to coach at national level having won multiple All Ireland titles also.
“I joined the club to just play some ball and when one team needed a help out with coaching, I fell into it there. I wanted to put something back into the game, but I never thought it would grow legs ” Hehir admits.
“It was never something I intended to be part of, but it has grown now to be, outside of my family, the biggest part of my time.”
Like all good coaches, Hehir went from underage through the ranks, before reaching elite level in this country with both UL and Waterford Wildcats in the Women's Super League.
Tony, who is married to former Irish international star Michelle Aspell, started to ‘help out’ once more when Michelle played for the UL national league side who went on to win multiple national titles.
“I was blessed with that side. The talent was there, I didn't have to coach much. It was more about getting the chemistry right for the group as opposed to coaching the fundamentals. I have a thirst for knowledge. I will always be looking to learn and take pieces from other team and the systems they use” Hehir confessed.
Hehir, who was obviously not busy enough with coaching his own teams, decided to set up his own basketball club, the Limerick Celtics.
Tony and his wife Michelle, both coaches, started off with 10 players on a Sunday morning in 2007, one of which was their own son Jordan.
From 10 kids, the club now boasts 13 teams between girls and boys and next season, almost full circle, the club will enter a men's team into the national league.
“It started off small and much like the coaching, it grew and grew. There is no better buzz than watching raw talent. None. That is why I coach. It is to see the player develop over time. We would very much be a fundamentals led club. I would have thought it was all about plays and plans, but it is more about the philosophy of the team now. The chemistry needs to be there with the basic skills,” added Hehir.
Limerick has had a rich history of basketball with clubs such as Marathon, Burger King Limerick, UL Eagles and UL Huskies to the fore of national competitions in recent years. Hehir believes that work at schools level, coupled with good club structures, would allow for National Division One titles to return once more to Limerick.
“Like all sports. Kids need to feel like they are part of something. If we can gets kids playing basketball at school and for a club, you will see a vast improvement. It is double the time with the ball. There has been some exceptional talent in the Mid West in years gone by and I believe there is more to come,” an excited Hehir continued.
The future is bright for Celtics with the aforementioned National League team, who will play out of LIT, being the top tier of a 14 team club from next season. Hehir still believes that there is even more room in the city for basketball teams.
“It is indoor, it is five a side, it is great to play and coach. Why can't we have multiple teams in this sports mad city?”