‘I've said from the start it was feasible we could win it’
When the Cavan Eagles were putting together their roster for their first season in the National League, they cast the net far and wide.
Texan Alarie Mayze, Spaniard Eli Lopez Sagrera and Kentucky native Carnethia Brown were all snapped up – and then came an unexpected bonus. Ballyjamesduff native Casey Mulvey, a former Irish underage international, decided to take time out from her athletics scholarship in the States and contacted her old club to see could she get on board. Suddenly, the jigsaw was nearly complete.
“I had actually gone back over, I was going for my sophomore year in college and then I decided I wanted to come back home. Only about two weeks before that, I found out the girls were going into the National League,” Mulvey told the Anglo-Celt last week.
“My Dad said it to Graham (Tolan, chairman), I wasn’t sure at the time but he registered me for the team and once I had about two training sessions, I was hooked on it again.”
Mulvey, an Irish shot putt record holder, was studying at DePaul University, a Division 1 programme in Chicago, where she enjoyed the life of an elite athlete.
“An average week was, I’d wake up around 8am, go to classes for the first few hours, then I’d have training for about three hours and I’d lift for another two hours. Then I’d come home and do homework and then during the season, you’re travelling the whole weekend.
“I absolutely loved it, I loved most aspects of it. It was just very different to home and I wasn’t sure if I was best suited for the NCAA system. “
While there, she played some pick-up basketball games for fun in the gym and was asked to play competitively but opted to focus on the shot putt. While she also excelled in ladies football, basketball is her preferred sport and she wasted no time getting back on the hardwood on her return to Cavan,
“It would be between basketball and athletics but I’m definitely a sucker for team sports. I get energy off that, so I’d have to say basketball.
“I had ended basketball on a high note, we had just won the NICC National Cup and then obviously Covid hit. Coming into this team has been just amazing, they have kept it going and it’s insane how East Cavan Eagles has grown over the last few years. Seeing the amount of supporters at our games these days is incredible.
“Carol Verschoyle got me into basketball, she asked my Dad if I could play because I was tall basically! It was U12s and we rarely had many at our games. In the community, it slowly began to get bigger and bigger and more younger people started coming in.”
It took a while to shake off the rust when she came back, she freely admits.
“I hadn’t played in two years. My fitness wasn’t great because I was doing a very different type of training, I was heavy lifting, I wasn’t doing as much cardio. Obviously coming back into a high level of basketball, it was quite difficult. I’m not going to lie, it took me about two to three months to properly get back into it.
“Now I’m just enjoying it, I am more relaxed and can play around with it a little bit more instead of being so scared I am going to make a mistake.”
Having played with most of the squad before – and against Jane Larkin, who lined out for Dunsaughlin – she fitted in quickly and she feels the bond among the group has grown tighter in recent months.
“We’ve all gotten a lot closer. I think having Carol there beside Dave (Baker, head coach) is also a comforting thing because we’ve known her for so long as well. We can really see the difference between us being compatible on the court.
“We’ve had games where we will put pressure on other teams and they crumble and when we have had pressure on us, we don’t crumble. I think that shows a lot about the connection we have.”
Mayze and Brown in particular are the star attractions. The former played NCAA Division 1 college basketball with Southern Miss Golden Eagles before coming to Ireland in 2021 to play Super League basketball with DCU Mercy and being selected for the National League All-Star Team last year.
Brown, meanwhile, had her arrival delayed due to VISA issues but has been phenomenal. She previously played with Kentucky State University in the NCAA and with the Atlanta Angels, who compete in the professional Women's American Basketball Association championship.
With the 6ft 2in Lopez brilliant on rebounds and a major scoring threat, the Eagles really pack a punch. The arrival of that trio has added some razzmatazz and helped attract crowds, giving the local players, several of whom are internationals in their own right, a fitting stage.
“It’s absolutely amazing. Even training with them, it just brings the level of training up. They’re always so motivated and you feel an obligation to train at a higher level with them.
“They bring a different type of energy to the game which is always good and they bring more supporters, too.”
Currently top of the table, the Eagles are on course for the play-offs but the ultimate goal is to win the competition outright. Mulvey believes it’s an achievable goal.
“First off I would say what we’ve learned throughout the last few games we’ve had is just to always keep our eye on just the next game, not to get ahead of ourselves, not to under-estimate any team because no team is unbeatable.
“I think we need to stay level, not humble but not under-estimating any team going forward and train as hard as we can. That’s all we can do.
“Both me and Alarie said from the start that it was very feasible we could win it. Even though it’s our first year, we have a lot of talent across the team. It’s evident that some teams we have played have two or three players scoring most of their points whereas on our team, at any given point, someone can step up and score 20 points.
“The Americans are always consistently up there but you can’t just lock down three players on our team, our team is very consistent across the board which is a really good thing.”