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Hard work the key behind Ironmonger’s strong Wolves’ return
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Hard work the key behind Ironmonger’s strong Wolves’ return

IT is rare that a player might return better after a serious injury but that could very well be the case with Joondalup City Wolves guard Ben Ironmonger and he credits having to spend time in the gym as a big reason for that.

Ironmonger’s 2016 season ended prematurely due to a knee injury that required a reconstruction meaning he missed the grand final last year on the back of being a key contributor to the championship success in 2015.

That meant that he shaped as a virtual new recruit for the Wolfpack but the impact he was going to have was dependent on the efforts he had put in during his rehabilitation.

He was able to get back in time to play the Mandurah Magic on April 29 and after finding his feet, from the next week onwards he has been in outstanding form and it could even be just about career-best form.

That’s saying something because he was already an important player for the Wolves prior to his knee injury, but he has come back looking stronger, more composed and a better shooter and playmaker.

He had 18 points in that second game back against the Stirling Senators and has continued to be a major reason why the Wolves were able to finish the regular season in second position to set up their tilt to try and make a third straight grand final, and fifth in the last seven years.

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Then last Saturday night with the Wolfpack’s season on the line in Game 3 of the quarter finals against the Cockburn Cougars, Ironmonger made a massive contribution with 21 points and six rebounds on the back of shooting 7-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-7 from deep.

Despite having lost Game 2 at Cockburn by 21 points on Friday night and being without captain Seb Salinas for the decider, Ironmonger couldn’t have been happier with the way the Wolves responded to advance to the semi finals.

“Getting stitched up down there on Friday was a bit of a rough one especially with Seb leaving that night so we knew we would have to come out and give a team performance in Game 3. The way that we did come out and perform on the home court was exactly that,” Ironmonger said.

“We have depth that comes through our whole group from our starters to the bench and we have faith in every single guy. And in a three-game series, that really pays dividends because we have so many guys who can play 20 minutes and have an impact on the court. That works out well for us.”

Awaiting in the semi finals is the Geraldton Buccaneers with Game 1 to be played at Active West Stadium on Saturday night.

Last time the Wolves went to Geraldton they lost by 25 points but from that point on they didn’t lose again in the regular season on the way to securing second position.

So while that wasn’t a fun night, it did spark something within the Wolfpack and Ironmonger is looking forward to the upcoming series with a spot in the grand final at stake.

“I remember I got off the plane on Friday and jumped on the bus on Saturday so it was an interesting preparation. At that stage we had parts coming in and out and obviously I came back, Ryan was only a couple of weeks and we had other guys moving in and out,” he said.

“But after that game we had a bit of a think as a group and came back and got back to what we had been doing the last two years which brought us great success. I think ever since then we have been putting that together and playing good basketball.

“It should be a good series. This is three years in-a-row that we’ve made it to this point and we’ll be looking to jump forward again and make that grand final. The group has stayed pretty much the same and hopefully we can keep that momentum and use our experience to get through. It will be a challenge but it’s one we are looking forward to.”

Ironmonger is also looking forward to locking horns with Jackson Hussey for significant periods throughout the series against the Buccaneers.

“I always like coming up against more experienced and elite point guards in the game because I love a challenge,” Ironmonger said.

“I love playing against the better guys who are well established and testing myself against them. It should be good to come up against a bigger-bodied point guard as well. I always like a nice, physical contest so it should be good.”

While the trip to Geraldton isn’t going to be easy, Ironmonger is excited at the prospect that next weekend they have the chance to farewell Joondalup Basketball Stadium by winning either in Game 2 or 3 to advance to the grand final.

“It is a big thing for a lot of us who have grown up and spent our whole lives playing basketball there. We want to send it off the way it deserves and winning there to get into the grand final would be the perfect way to do that if we’re able to,” he said.

“We are confident at home and we play well there so if we are able to get this Game 1 in Geraldton, we’ll be feeling good coming home next week.

“Knowing we have the potential of two home games next weekend if we need them is something that gives us confidence heading up there this weekend to give it our best to try and get the win to set us up nicely.”

As for the knee injury that saw his 2016 season end early, Ironmonger admits there were some tough times dealing with it initially, but then he looked at the positives that could come from it.

By focusing so hard on his rehab, doing everything right and then spending more time in the gym on his body more than he ever had before all helped him be able to return in the top shape and in great form like he did earlier this season.

While it’s not something he wished he had to go through, Ironmonger made the best of a tough situation and has used it to help ensure he is now at the peak of his powers having returned successfully.

“It was tough and I had never had an injury longer than three days before so to do my ACL was pretty rough. It took me a while to come to terms with the whole nine months off because it’s a lot longer than you’d think,” he said.

“But I took it as best that I could and worked hard for that whole time. I took a bit of time off at the end of the year even though I was still following my rehab and working on it. I think I finally have it back working as it should now and it’s going well.

“It’s been great getting back out there and to be able to help the team on the floor again. I think a lot of that comes back to the work I put in off the court.

“I had never really gone to the gym or done much out of basketball before, but being forced to do that with my rehab put my body in a better state to now go back and play some better basketball.”

Another thing that made the 2017 a challenge for both Ironmonger and the Lady Wolfpack was the absence of Amy Kidner. She had her career-best season last year helping the Wolves to the grand final but more importantly as his girlfriend, her time in England has been felt too.

Ironmonger is looking forward to her returning for 2018 just as much as Lady Wolfpack coach Craig Friday is.

“I think they missed her and she’s a great player obviously. I think it will be great to have her back next year because I do miss her,” Ironmonger said.

“That looks like it will be the plan at this stage for her to make her way back at the end of the year and we’ll both suit up next year in the new stadium.”

Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)

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