I was sitting in a borrowed chair behind a fold-up table, surrounded by people I’d worked with for the last 12 months, and I couldn’t help but smile. In front of us were six fields full of ultimate players; a blur of color, competition and the fruit of many long hours of labor. We’d managed to pull through the late venue change, the team drop-outs, and the other usual tournament headaches to put on an event that people were enjoying in our hometown. The Golden Keg had landed and we were delighted. My name is Mark Earley and I’m an ultimate player based in Dublin, Ireland. This is the story about the growth of Irish Mixed ultimate and what it takes to build a Mixed tournament that showcases the talent on display in our nation.
The Golden Keg and Irish Ultimate
For many years, I’ve wanted to run a tournament in Dublin – one that would allow our community to showcase the top talent in Irish ultimate as well as return the years of hospitality we’ve received across Europe and beyond. Last July, with the help of lots of people, I saw that ambition turn into a reality.
The Golden Keg was a brand new Mixed tournament in Dublin, Ireland that took place last July. It saw 20 teams from far and wide compete over two days. Teams traveled from all across Europe – Poland, Denmark, Spain, France, England and Italy. We also welcomed some Australians, the recent USAU Nationals silver medalists Ghetto Birds from Seattle, and a team made up of few BENT/PoNy players. It was everything we had hoped for and more.
When I began playing in Ireland, there were no club teams, let alone a Mixed tournament like the one we built last year. We met once a week in a public park in south Dublin and learned to play the game at pick-up, taught by the steady flow of ex-pats from America, the UK and Australia. The sport slowly grew in universities, and from humble beginnings Irish teams began to travel abroad. It began with trips to wild university beginner tournaments, and was often followed by alcohol-fueled adventures to club events like the Brit Open and the UK Tour. Domestic tournaments were slow to take off but they too followed suit with DUB Tourney and the Cork Open leading the charge.
Irish national teams got their first taste of elite competition when they traveled to WUGC Heilbronn in 2000. Soon the lure of hotter climates and new challenges set in and a love affair with European party tournaments began. The Irish teams headed across Europe – to Bruges for Tom’s Tourney, Nantes for Yes But Nau, Geneva for Talampaya and even as far as Tenerife for Dr. Sand Mr. Grass. Along the way, players honed their skills and became the backbone of the ultimate scene in Ireland by sharing knowledge, building teams and helping young players improve. The sport grew across the country and is continuing to do so at pace. A burgeoning juniors’ scene, a nascent schools’ division and an ever-improving national governing body have lead to the quick development of Irish ultimate, so we figured that we better strike when the iron is hot.
Raising the Mixed Profile
Mixed ultimate has traditionally been a neglected division on these shores. One club in particular has always focused primarily on Mixed: Dublin’s Jabba the Huck. Rebel Ultimate in Cork also have a very strong mixed side, managing to blend their best male and female players with a consistency other open and women’s clubs lack. In 2011, the Irish mixed team surpassed expectations by finishing in the top eight at EUC in Slovenia. Last season, the Irish beach team brought a silver home from the European Championships and the Irish U-23 Mixed team placed highest of all European teams in Toronto. Perhaps the tide has turned. It will be interesting to see what happens next, with Irish participation in both EUC 2015 in Denmark and WCBU 2015 in Dubai.
We think that a quality Mixed tournament would help raise the division’s profile, which will allow more players access to the sport here in Ireland. We can finally begin to return the great hospitality we’ve received from Belgium to Italy. That’s the first important part of this ongoing tournament-building process. We want visiting players to feel welcome upon arrival, happy when they’re here and keen to come back. Ireland’s renowned for it’s céad míle fáilte nature, known for being somewhere to come and enjoy yourself. As for the tournament, we hope that we managed to marry that attitude off the field with a high level of competition on the field. Players left Dublin last year having participated in a tough tournament, with seven games of 80 minutes each across two days. They also experienced Irish hospitality – a trad session, a ceili with Irish dancing and lots of tasty Guinness along the way. We were featured in local press and on local TV. The community where the event was held loved it and we hope to work with them again.
For this year’s tournament, there was one worry. Did the name Golden Keg just yell out “party tournament”? Even worse, did it seem to someone removed from ultimate circles that we encourage alcohol in sports? We didn’t think so but we didn’t want to lose out either. The Dublin City Council didn’t like it nor did a few potential sponsors. We discussed it over and over again and eventually we had a vote. The name Golden Keg lost said vote and we were back in the name game. We eventually decided on something simple and easily remembered. We now have the new name: Dublin’s Golden Cup.
We didn’t like the connotation of alcohol that the word Keg carried. While the tournament is most definitely about welcoming people to Dublin – a city where people are fond of a drink or two – it isn’t only about that. We want to be able to market our event at young players and people outside of ultimate circles without worrying about what they might infer from the name. Don’t fret party-goers, there will still be many opportunities to let your hair down after a long day of play.
Looking Towards 2015
This year’s tournament will continue to offer a high standard of ultimate and multiple opportunities to party with some Irish dancing lessons. We wanted to have some local youth players involved, so we have launched a National Team Camp the day before the tournament for the teams going to EUC & U-23 Worlds.
We are a year wiser now and have all the lessons we learned from Golden Keg tucked away in our back pocket. We are still a fun, innovative and passionate group of ultimate players looking to run an internationally admired event. We want you to be a part of it with us so register your team here if you think it’s for you. Come to the Dublin’s Golden Cup ultimate tournament in July – it’ll be grand.