Number of active players: ~600
Notable beach tournaments: Beaches Be Crazy
Past participation in beach championships: WCBU 2004, WCBU 2007, ECBU 2008, WCBU 2011
Division participation at ECBU 2013: Open, Mixed
When one thinks about ultimate in Ireland, the last place that comes to mind is the beach. Generally speaking, Ireland is a wet and windy country where the most popular sports are rugby, football (sorry, soccer), and Gaelic football/hurling. Ultimate in Ireland has existed since 1995, when a player called Simon Cocking arrived in Dublin and started organizing pick up in a south Dublin park as well as playing in Trinity College. The community has expanded rapidly since then with most of the big universities having teams, as well as club teams in the four biggest cities – Dublin, Cork, Belfast and Galway.
Beach Ultimate is what Irish players do in sunny countries for fun. Tournaments like Burla, Yes But Nau, Bar do Peixe and so on are fun, boozy, continental holidays for teams before or after a grueling season. The traditional approach towards beach ultimate is a far cry from the approach taken with grass ultimate. Teams don’t train 2 or 3 times a week, there is no league or national championships and there is only one annual beach tournament in Ireland – Beaches Be Crazy, which it’s fair to say is more of a party with some Ultimate as opposed to the other way around! That said, when the chance to represent Ireland arises there is always interest, and inevitably the tryouts are well attended.
The Irish Flying Disc Association (IFDA) facilitates the selection of national teams through selection committees called NSBs – National Selection Boards – made up of a small panel of experienced coaches and players from around the country. Anyone interested in captaining and/or coaching any national team must send an application to the respective NSB – in this case the 2013 Beach NSB – with a detailed plan of the trial process, the season plan, the fitness plan and so on. The best bid wins and then the NSB hands over the reins to those players/coaches who are given full control. They are expected to run the whole process themselves from there on in – training, timetabling, registration, warm up events and so on. It is a time-consuming and thankless task, but the NSB system has worked well for Ireland over the past few seasons, seeing an increased sense of professionalism in the way the national teams operate.
This year Ireland has entered two teams into the ECBU, one in the Open Division and one in the Mixed Division, much like in 2011 for the World Championships in Lignano. Unfortunately there is no Women’s division team, perhaps due to the multitude of events this summer – Worlds U-23s in Toronto – but also because the player base in Ireland is male-dominated with many of the top women players involved in the Mixed team. The IFDA are constantly looking for ways to encourage more women to play ultimate, but it is proving difficult.
Both the Open and Mixed rosters have been set for some time now and both teams have completed their warm up events. Let’s look at each one in more detail below:
The Irish Open team is a group of players from different teams across Ireland who play together quite rarely. They are relatively inexperienced in terms of high level international competition and despite retaining a number of the players involved in the 2011 Open team, will struggle to have a strong impact on the division. That said, they will be a fit, well trained and hard working group.
Ireland has had a team in the Open Division of 3 beach majors – WCBU in Portugal, ECBU in France and in 2011’s WCBU in Italy. Success at each has been mixed with each team failing to make inroads into the business end of the competition. The 2004 team were the strongest but approached the tournament with a party first, play second attitude. The 2008 team was a young inexperienced team who finished last in a small Open division but won the Spirit Award. The latest attempt in 2011 ended with Ireland in 16th place having beaten India but lost all other matches.
The team’s captain is David Perry of Dublin team Ranelagh, a strong cutter with rounded disc skills who can handle when needed to. He has a lot of beach experience and will bring a positive attitude as well as very solid rules knowledge to the field. His vice-captain, Martin ‘Juno’ Kelly of Rebel Ultimate, is a fast, tall and aggressive player who will likely be seen going deep. Elsewhere there is the wily left-handed handler Gearoid O’Ferghail (call him Ger) and cutter Kevin Timoney, an explosive runner with big ups.
The team has played one warm up tournament this year which was in the Elite Open Division of Yes But Nau in north-western France, where the last ECBU took place. Their results didn’t go exactly as planned but the team learned a lot and was happy with what will prove to be a great learning step. In terms of final positioning, the team will quietly look to pick off a few scalps but will need to cause some big upsets to make the quarter-finals.
Traditionally Mixed Ultimate is not as popular in Ireland as Open and Women’s, however, when it comes to Beach Ultimate, the opposite is the case. Ireland has consistently fielded experienced and strong teams in the Mixed Division of Beach Ultimate majors and has done so once more this summer.
Ireland’s last outing as a Mixed beach team was in 2011 when a team that looked strong on paper, but had played very little together, went to Lignano for WBCU. Despite some tight games with teams that medaled, including a 1 point loss to Australia, the team failed to reach the quarterfinals and left the tournament frustrated. Previously, Ireland Mixed had narrowly missed out on a medal in Brazil in 2008 when scheduling and some close losses left them empty handed.
This year Ireland Mixed has approached the season intent on success. Lead by Barcelona-based Rory Kavanagh, LMS Ultimate co-founder Laura McGrath and London-based Seamus Murray, the team has a lot of experience amongst its ranks. In fact, over half the team has been playing for Ireland (on grass) for more than 6 years. With strong handlers Yvonne Halpin and Sam Mehigan, explosive cutters Liam Grant and Darragh Kelleher and clever defenders Rob Kiely and Finola Shannon, the team is well balanced and very well drilled. The three captains have worked hard on tactics and the team has gelled well.
Ireland Mixed has had an excellent build up to ECBU. Finishing 4th in Paganello and winning Calafell Arena and Monte Gordo, the team is on a high going into the week. They are focused and know that the warm ups are now over. The talk from the camp is quietly confident, if a little self-deprecating, but in reality, this team has an excellent chance to win a medal. They will be disappointed with anything less.
Article by Mark Earley