Now the end is near. But Andrew Thomson insists Mersey Tigers’ players have one more goal to accomplish before they bring down the final curtain on this season – and their spell together in Liverpool.

Saturday’s BBL play-off final, says the English international, will inevitably mark the last stop for a group which has been through so much in a tumultuous nine-month spell. With a league title and the Trophy collected en route, there have been unforgettable highs shared between the band of brothers.

Lows too. The uncertainty behind the scenes has been impossible to ignore. Wages remain unpaid. The hardship has brought them together, the Tigers against the world. By Monday, win or lose, they will head their separate ways. The fond farewell beckons.

“I was talking to Nate (Reinking) about this the other day,” Thomson reveals. “It’s such a shame about what’s gone on off the court. We’ve not got paid. But we’ve still been going out and playing. And still winning trophies. It’s been a unique year.

“It’s a shame. This is the time of year when teams try to re-sign you for next year. At this point, no-one can commit to anything. It’s a shame this team will get broken up this summer. People are all going to go elsewhere. We’re going to band together and go for this one last thing.”

Individually or in tandem, there has been no review of January’s Cup final disaster which saw Sheffield rip away the Tigers infallible aura. “I can’t see any reason I would ever watch that video,” Mersey’s coach Tony Garbelotto confirms.

“I don’t think anyone’s watched it,” Thomson (right) adds. “It’s like it never happened.” Once more, in tough times, they transformed the pain into a stimulant.

Pushed to the limit, their resilience has been tested over and over again. Mersey’s collective has emerged with credit even in times of strife. No more so than in the past month when, with Perry Lawson and Drew Sullivan injured, the Tigers kept their heads and fought past Leicester in the play-off quarter-finals before destroying a Cheshire team which fancied its chances of an upset.

The unsung became heroes. Jamal Williams seized his moment. As they had done before, David Aliu and James Jones stepped forward and asked to be counted. Few have been so quietly effective during this campaign, however, as Thomson. Voted as the league’s best British player, he can no longer pass under the radar after a consistently impressive campaign.

Garbelotto has hinted at the new self-belief shown by the Manchester-born forward. Thomson merely sees a natural evolution. “I had a role on the team last year which I was fine with,” he reasons. “I’ve got a different one this year and I’m happy with it. Last year I made some big shots in games. I’m more confident because it’s my second year in the league. But I’ve been given a job to do and I’m comfortable with it in every game.“

It took two years of grounding in Spain to get him ready to convert promise into performance. Once a junior at Manchester Magic, he took the trans-Atlantic path to Catawba University in North Carolina. The system did not mesh with his strengths. Rather than returning home despondent, he opted to prove himself in Spain, initially in the country’s fourth tier, LEB Bronze, with Almeria before moving up a level at Gijon.

“In Spain, everything fell into place, the style, what the coach wanted, the way of life, everything about it I enjoyed,” Thomson admits. Stronger and wiser, he now wants a return. It is a must, he confirms, if he is to keep progressing.

“I want to go back into Europe. I’d love to go back to Spain and try it there again. The opportunity wasn’t there last summer and that’s why I came back to Merseyside. But I feel that, after the season I’ve had, I can go back to a bigger league. Spain’s where I always wanted to be. I learnt a lot in the lower leagues there but it’s so tough to get a spot. Hopefully this year, I’ll get a shot.”

First there is one more game, one more test, one more mission for the Mersey unit. Strengthened by their bonds, toughened by adversity, emboldened by what they have accomplished, they will soon share only the memories. Better that the last one is a happy recollection.

“Being this all-British team, as Tony keeps telling us, is something special,” Thomson outlines. “We’ve a great set of lads. We’ve got a great camaraderie toether. We’ve been through a lot since the beginning of the season.

“That’s brought us together. And I think we’ll go out on a high.”

The BBL play-off final is live on Sky Sports 3 from 3.30. Regular updates and full reports on MVP. 

Photos: Ville @ Basketviews

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