In the land of saints and scholars, things rarely go to plan. Seventeen Open teams from all corners of the island descended upon on Cork City last weekend for the 2013 All-Ireland Ultimate Championship. The event was previously held in the southern capital two years ago, where local heroes Rebel Ultimate demolished their way to glory, seeing off a lackluster Broc Ultimate team thirteen points to two in the final. A lot has changed since then. 2012 saw the birth of Dublin mega club Ranelagh. The team’s passion for success and high level training ethos quickly enticed most of Dublin’s elite players into the club, which is now worthy of competing with the top dogs in Europe. At nationals in 2012, Ranelagh lived up to the hype and knocked Rebel off their pedestal, taking home the gold in a dogfight final. 2013 would be a different story entirely.
The first upset came on day one when the youthfully obscure Pelt Ultimate from Limerick, boasting an average age of 21, defeated the number two seed Rebel 14-7 in the group stages. For the young upstart squad, international experience was the catalyst: the team was stacked with eight players who competed for the Ireland U23 Open team in Toronto during the summer, along with one junior and a peach from the Irish National Mixed Beach team.
Rebel found themselves in a tough quarterfinal Sunday morning against Jabba The Huck. Jabba are the only team in Dublin who haven’t suffered from the talent sponge that is Ranelagh FC. Most of the members love the club more than winning – and possibly life itself. In order to field a second team, Jabba choose to roster a first team composed of only ten players. Rebel struggled against a passive arrowhead zone defence while Jabba were clinical on offense. Rebel dug deep but couldn’t come up with the answers. They crashed out of the quarterfinals, losing again in front of a home crowd. The semi final match-ups would now be Pelt vs Ranelagh 2 and Jabba vs Ranelagh 1. What happened next confused many.
While it’s very common in Ireland for clubs to field a second team, it’s very uncommon for them to be any good. For Dublin’s Ranelagh, though, it’s a different story. Unlike most Irish clubs and many A and B teams around the world, the margin in talent between the two Ranelagh squads is quite low. So when it comes to picking a first team, recent form and training attendance is weighted heavily. Looking from the outside in, weaknesses in the Ranelagh second team are still apparent, the main one being reliability. Many players on the second team are known for dropping the occasional pancake or hammering into oblivion. The first team has safer hands and more experience. So they should logically be the better squad, right? Apparently not.
In the first semifinal, Ranelagh 1 found themselves down against a confident Jabba team whose tails were still wagging from the quarters. The number one seeds retained possession for long spells but failed on several occasions to dismantle the well drilled defence. Jabbas offence was flawless for most of the game as they took the victory 13 – 11. The other semifinal between Pelt and Ranelagh 2 was a nail biter. The teams traded all the way to a tense double game point with Ranelagh 2 starting on offence. As many could have predicted, an unforced error crept its way into the game from the Ranelagh team when the heat was on. On this occasion, Dave Ferguson got a case of butterfingers outside his own endzone. Pelt had possession on the goal line and the script had been all but written for a Jabba vs. Pelt final, but Ranelagh 2 never read the script. An upline pass was about to nestle in the breadbasket of the Pelt captain, when suddenly a high flying Dave Ferguson grabbed onto the rim of redemption. The supposed second team worked the disc up the pitch before sending a colossal cross field hammer for the win. Ranelagh 2 could be summarised from this point alone. Sure, they made mistakes and went for some risky options, but when they turned it over they were good enough to get it back and punch it in.
And so the final, inexplicably, came down to Jabba vs Ranelagh 2. Jabba had finally shaken their club tradition of losing semi finals, and coming off a victory over Ranelagh 1, were tipped to take the trophy home. However, a belief had started to run through the veins of the almost Ranelagh 1 team. As they took to the line, the crowd could see the fire burning in their bellies. One man stood out amongst the rest. Emerging from the mist was a soggy Irishman by the name of Brian David Henderson who would grab the game below the belt and never let go. Unleashing his arsenal of throws with the utmost confidence, he shredded the Jabba the Huck zone. This day belonged to Brian. Jabba looked tired and uncharacteristic errors stammered their offence. Ranelagh got it to game point and Brian found himself on the sideline with the disc. Everyone in the crowd knew where this disc was going. He ripped it the length of the pitch to Cillian Flynn who showed no mercy taking the disc down over Keith Mernagh. Ranelagh 2 won 13 – 11. The unpredictable had happened. On this day, tenacity was more important that consistency.
What does this mean for the Irish ultimate community? Firstly, it is certain that Rebel Ultimate will be back with a bang next year. Those Cork lads don’t like to lose. Jabba and Pelt prove that they are able to compete for titles and that the WUCC 2014 qualification spot is anyones for the taking. What very nearly ended in disappointment for Ranelagh can now only be taken as triumph. The only result that could asseverate Ranelagh’s dominance more than their first team winning was their second team winning. It left a bitter taste in the mouths of the other title contenders and the ‘lagh lads have never been more smitten. Although it was originally intended that the All-Ireland Ultimate Championships would be the qualifier for the WUCC but, due to some miscommunication, a separate qualification event is going to be held instead. If this weekends results are anything to go on, predicting a winner for that is going to be a head-scratcher.
1. Ranelagh 2
2. Jabba 1
3. Ranelagh 1
4. Pelt 1
5. Rebel 1
8. Rebel 2
14. Pelt 2
15. Jabba 2
16. Ranelagh Juniors