Interview, Interviews, Ultimate Frisbee

BOKA, Barry O’Kane interviewed, GB legend from Limavady

By Simon Cocking, great interview with long time playing Ultimate legend Barry O’Kane. We first played with and against him around 1993/94, as fellow students, for Leed’s Uni’s Catch22 against Edinburgh’s Ultimate Team. He was always a great, intense, but easy going kinda guy. He then helped Irish Ultimate in the early days twice over. Initially by playing in the first ever Irish Ultimate frisbee tournament in March 1996 -> the first Dublin Open. He then also came through on his commitment to play for an Irish International team as and when we finally got a team together. This happened in 2000 when Barry played for the inaugural Irish Mixed team in the Heilbronn World Championships. After that Barry then went on to continue to have a fantastic playing career for GB and at club level. Here’s our interview with him.

What did you play before ultimate? 

Rugby was my main sport at School.  Though I also played a bit of Gaelic when I was very young and also enjoyed orienteering over the years.  After discovering Ultimate though I slowly became just an infrequent social participant in other sports.

Limavady! There were a few of you from there that played – did that help? What happened to them? How long did they play for? 

Yeah, there was a couple of good friends from Limavady who got really into Ultimate too. Stu & I played a lot in the Uni teams and later Vicky, Russel and Martin got really hooked. My (now) brother in law Declan also played for several years.  I think that had more to do with us all being in Edinburgh than any thing else though.

As far as I know Martin still plays in Singapore from time to time, but I think he’s the only one with that level of stamina😉

If I remember right, your sister was at TCD, and briefly played with us for the initial TCD team ? 


What did you make of the early Dublin scene? (I remember you and I having trouble getting any/ many of them to show up for the 2nd day of the Dublin tournament. 

Yeah, I remember the party shenanigans being a bigger deal than the on pitch activities.  Though, to be honest I was never disappointed in that!  A lot of the guys I met back then went on to become major players (both on and off the pitch) – so I guess it was the ideal way to start a club.

Scotland! What inspired you to start playing at Edinburgh, and then keep playing? 

I was too small for high level Uni rugby, and I stumbled on Ultimate when a friend dragged me along. It wasn’t until my second year that I really started getting into it though. Then I was lucky enough to join Sneeekys at Worlds in Street in ’95.  That really opened my eyes to what was possible for this sport, took me 15 years to miss another Worlds, I think.

Sneeekys! Great team, did you enjoy playing for them? There was an early worlds / clubs when you played for a team that came last did that help you in your subsequent summer worlds tournaments? 

Totally, though I think we came 2nd last, maybe.

You then played for Catch 22 a little? Was it good to play for better teams / to get better / as they got better too? 

Yeah, that’s when I started to play at a higher level and contribute usefully. Great bunch of guys, shame they had only 5 gags between them…

Ireland 2000 mixed team, you were part of the key hub of the team with Dec Moore – what was it like with Mikey’s more relaxed captaincy style? 

I have fond memories of that team and that tournament. A truly wonderful group of players.  I was still young enough to party really hard and run in the morning.  Declan was an inspiration and it was especially fun to play with him.  Though I do remember him getting pretty angry after some silly throwing decision I made – but then forgiving me when he realised I was still drunk from the night before.

And then what was good about that first Irish mixed team, and what, if anything was frustrating? 

It was a very inexperienced team and that could have been frustrating, but they were such a great bunch and everyone really improved over the season – so I found the experience thoroughly enjoyable.

Then over 2000’s you played for successful GB mixed teams, what were you doing right? 

Personally I suspect I was doing very little right, other than staying in shape and not throwing away too much!  I was lucky enough to lead some truly outstanding teams and play with so many great players.  The dedication, passion and talent that they brought is what made it so much fun, and gave us some success.

GB has got better and better over the last 20 years? Why do you think this has been? 

There is not one single reason.  Unless you count all the people who have given their spare time and energy to the sport over the years as one reason.  Those people have worked tirelessly to improve the organisation structure, competitive & club set up; along side the training, coaching and on pitch leadership to where we are now.  There is still a long way to go, but it is inspirational to see the numbers of talented, young athletes now playing and the strength of the leadership across the board today.

Irish Ultimate has also really impressed me over the years.  The transformation since those early days when only a handful of folk really knew how to play, and there was no organisation, is outstanding!

Club ultimate what has been your highlights? 

Too many to list, or even remember! Sneeekys at Edinburgh Uni with captain Irish Stu, Catch 22 in Vancouver and Rimini, Dough Boy when I was in London, LeedsLeedsLeeds in Hawaii and Australia, various Aussie teams when I was there, I could go on for ever… but the glory years of Fusion is probably my favourite, because training and winning with a Scottish team was just cool.

You’ve also been heavily involved in the admin side of BUF (whatever it’s called now) , what things did you do that worked / what didn’t / anything to do differently?

BUF, BFDF, UKU and UKUA covers some of the acronyms I have been involved with over the years. There was lots of things that we did that helped the sport grow and mature in the UK. Each small change is a step on the journey to building a larger, stronger organisation that can both grow and protect our unique sport. That process never ends, of course, and the current staff and Board continue to lead the way.

If I was to pick one thing that contributed most I was say when we were lucky enough to employ a full time CEO (Si Hill).  The lucky part was that we thought it would be many more years before the organisation could afford someone of his caliber as CEO and he was fooled into taking the administrator position.  From that point he has been the key stone on which a real sporting organisation has been built.

Favourite players you watched / played with and why? 

Anyone who had fun and worked hard!

GB now ranked #3 in the world for ultimate, fantastic – can it go any higher? If so, how / why? 

Yes, but first GB/UK has to walk the tightrope of growing the base of Ultimate while not taking focus away from improving the top.

I’ll be there shouting, waving my zimmer at anyone who slacks off and trying not to spill too much beer.