To help establish lasting friendships, over the past two years players have held reunions during the Christmas season. These have taken place at "neutral" locations such as the University of Ulster, which has both Catholic and Protestant students. "There's got to be some continuity over the long term," Ingram says. "And we're trying to find a way."
The racket inside the gymnasium at the Dublin City University sports complex is deafening. But on the far left court, where Mullaney is conducting a practice session with nine women basketball players, no one seems to mind the noise.
Mullaney, who will be returning to Belfast the next day, has a lot to contend with on this particular afternoon: Rock music blares as 50 people take part in an aerobics class on the adjacent center court and 35 or so Gaelic footballers work out on the third court. Because of the din, Mullaney must raise his voice to be heard, first by the Dublin City women's team and later by the men's squad as he tries to teach the matchup defense that he devised more than three decades ago and that is still used by many college basketball teams in the U.S.
Would Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor have tolerated such distractions at a Laker practice? Would Lenny Wilkens, Jimmy Walker and John Thompson have put up with such a din when they played at Providence College? Not likely. But Mullaney's current players don't seem fazed. Mullaney himself, who coached all of the above-mentioned U.S. stars, makes do without a whimper.
"Because of all the yelling I have to do to be heard, I find myself hoarse after a practice," says Mullaney, who is fit, trim and able to run back-to-back two-hour practices. Neither of his Dublin City teams is about to crash the top 20, not even in Ireland, where even Budweiser League basketball is overshadowed by soccer, Gaelic football, hurling and rugby. But Dublin City is determined to improve its club basketball program (all college sports in Ireland are played on the club level, as they are in most of Europe), and thus the presence of Coach Mullaney.
In him the Irish players have a master. But after coaching at the top levels in both college and the pros in the U.S., Mullaney finds himself frustrated at times as he tries to teach basketball fundamentals—not to mention the matchup defense—to young people who in many cases would rather be playing other sports. "I remember how I was about to give a clinic in Belfast, and the kids were playing soccer in the gym," says the coach, who led Providence to nine consecutive seasons of more than 20 victories (1958-67) and who spent a total of 18 seasons coaching the Friars during two stints at the school. "And they kept right on playing until I blew my whistle to start the clinic. They paid attention and were enthusiastic about learning the game, but until I got their attention, their minds were on soccer, not basketball."
Particularly vexing to Mullaney are the frequent absences of players from his practice sessions, "if there's a conflict, my two best players will practice with the Budweiser League team they play with. But I can understand, because university basketball is a club sport and the games don't mean a thing."
That's true even when six-year-old Dublin City University plays its crosstown rival, 402-year-old Trinity College, as it did during the 23-team university basketball championships held March 2-5. But Mullaney still does not like to lose. "In January the men's team lost a game to Green Mountain College from Vermont, which was on a tour of Ireland," says John Kerrane, the sport and recreation director at Dublin City. "When it was over, Joe had fire in his eyes because the team hadn't executed some plays properly."
During his recent five-month stay in Ireland, his second trip to the country, Mullaney, who was accompanied by his wife, Jane, was given an apartment and reimbursed for expenses but received no salary. That was his arrangement with Dublin City University, the Institute for International Sport and Belfast Unlimited. Noel Keating, head of the Irish Basketball Association, says Mullaney is having an impact in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, as well as among Catholics and Protestants on the Belfast United basketball teams.
"Joe's done a wonderful job," says John Sugden, a professor of sports and leisure studies at the University of Ulster and a coordinator of the Belfast United program. "We've had 500 years of strife, and the impact of Belfast United may be only a drop in the bucket. But quite often I'll meet one of the kids who played on the team, and he'll say, 'You know, that was the best thing I ever did.' "