You wait ages for one, and then two come along in quick succession! Here it is, in her own words!
Dates played, from when to when?
I started maybe two weeks before Edinburgh in 2003, so October I think. Had signed up to frisbee but had never actually gone. They had made Edinburgh mixed that year, so I think Rob Kiely pretty much talked me and my friend onto the boat as they really needed the players. I remember it was just after Whacking Day and Rob had to apologise for John Staunton acting the dick: A good sign of the times! Edinburgh had me hooked as it was a great way to get to know everyone as you were living in each other’s pockets from Friday morning till Monday morning. Played pretty much solidly then till June this year when I ‘retired’, although I then played Golden Keg in July, and plan to play the odd tournament now and then, so I guess still playing but not really.
What did you play before ultimate?
In school I played hockey, which was pretty much 4/5 days training a week until 6th year when I decided to give it up to ‘study ‘ (matches on Saturday mornings were cramping my social life) and then took up soccer, which was maybe one training a week after school. I was not very good at soccer, but still played a few matches and would get 10 mins of play where I could run in a straight line with the ball and that was about it. I also played tennis and cricket along the way, like all good protestants.
Why did you start playing ultimate, what appealed?
Embarrassingly, I was talked into signing up by my friend who told me the guys were ‘hot’. Although to be fair she had seen it being played in Alex a few times after school and she said it looked pretty fun. But mainly because the guys were hot. I remember being really surprised at the meeting before Edinburgh when everyone was discussing all the drinking we were going to do on the way, weren’t we going to play a sport? But I guess it was fun stuff like that which made me hang on a little longer when it took me a year to learn how to throw a forehand. I actually remember we had to attend a pick-up game in Alex before intervarsities in Cork in 2003 (it was in September for some reason? This seems insane now) to get an idea of outdoor ultimate. It was something that happened every week and was open, but literally the week after that session they made a rule that you had to have been playing a year to attend. Stuff like that knocks your confidence, you know? (I kid, I remember not having a clue what I was doing and being really upset at how long games were and how big the pitch was, no wonder you didn’t want beginners there).
I guess originally the fun stuff appealed, I was making good friends and meeting new people not just from UCD (which obviously included BOYS which was very important), but I did actually get into the playing as well and started to really enjoying playing sport again. I didn’t realise I had missed it. They put me on the first team for UCD beginners that January, and then I made the first team from Dub Tourney as well (although that was mixed so it improved my chances). I could tell I was improving, I was encouraged, and I had lots of free time with college so could attend training and tournaments pretty easily.
UCD, a few of you came thru at the same time, SJ, Fiona, what was that like, good atmosphere?
I guess it depends how you define ‘a few’. I was the only girl who stayed from my year of intake (and maybe the year after as well?). That said, the people who I was training and playing with in those years are probably my closest friends from college. Obviously Niall is there, but also Fiona, SJ, Dara, Rob. And of course Al, Marko, Oisin, JD, Luan, Enda, Mick, Darkhorse, Aifric, Alison, Padraig, and Lorcan all old UCD heads that were just really great fun to hang out with and play with. We always had really great fun at tournaments and there was definitely a party atmosphere about the club.
I think though it was quite tough to be a women in UCD frisbee, and I think that’s probably reflected in the amount of women that did come up through that time. There’s not really a whole lot of them. I think things got a little bit better once the older crowd, who had a certain shall we say ‘attitude’ , towards women which wasn’t great, left. Of course, I say this all with hindsight, cos at the time I obviously went with it and put up with it without complaints, but I can see how it wasn’t a very welcoming atmosphere for women once all the initial scoring had happened. Although when I was ladies captain there I made a big effort to be welcoming and get people in, and we still didn’t do a great job. I may also have scared people away with my intensity without realising, I have issues with that.
On the plus side, I really had the opportunity at this time to play with great players and to get to the highest level of university ultimate. And on the flip side to not having many women, I was constantly matching up against open players, playing O and D, and that was really pushing my athleticism. I used to be pretty fast back in my cutting days, believe it or not. And I started to take up committee positions and get into the role of leadership that would become useful later as I progressed with my playing. There wasn’t much women’s stuff going on in university or outside university at that time, so it was great to be able to train so much.
You gradually improved, college highlights?
In second year (2004-05) we were really lucky in UCD as we got the new 3G field and other clubs didn’t really know about it. We got the field on Tues, Thurs and the occasional Friday as well. I improved so much in that year, playing twice a week outdoors, then coaching beginners on Monday and Wednesday indoors. You’d actually have to be pretty terrible not to improve training 4 times a week (with usually a tournament on weekends as well, I went to pretty much every one going). Highlights are: making the first team for the winning open intervarsities team in 2005 (and actually scoring a load of points, I used to be a cutter), going away with the UCD girls (and some others) to UWIN in 2005 (we weren’t very good but it was hilarious and great bonding) and also going to Mixed Uni Indoors that year. I think we made quarters (?) and got really really drunk. There was also a Cork Open where we had a good few girls and but only 3 or 4 boys, where we maybe got to the semis? And Oisin summed up the weekend as ‘girl power’. Never forget.
(As an aside, I have great college memories from DCU as well, most notably winning UWIN in 2008, it was a BIG DEAL. I also, I think, was the first person to ever play the final of Open intervarsities for two different colleges.)
What happened after that? Was there a team inbetween LMS?
I can’t believe you don’t remember Maith an Cailin! MaC (which I named, I was pretty proud of that, maybe everyone hated it though) started at the end of the 2005 outdoor season. Brona and Yiv got some trinity and DCU girls together and went over to Tour.
It was the first time a women’s team from Ireland had gone, and they got their first ever outdoor win. From that we went to Cork Open, did a cheerleader dance before every match and lost all our games, but played ok, and then went to Indoor women’s clubs in the UK, a few Tours, a tournament in Basel (which was 40 degrees), and Windmill where we came last. We started to play well, and we had tons of fun along the way. I think we all really viewed it as the stepping stone to getting and Ireland team together for 2007 and possibly 2008. Marko and Brian McD coached us a couple of times, we had a karaoke and slave auction fundraiser (who bought Finola dressed as a swan?), and held our first dinner and awards, a tradition carried on to LMS.
I just found the minutes from our AGM in April 2006, and it’s hilarious how we thought it was grand to go to tournaments with just over 7 players. Including Windmill! Although I now remember we forfeited because of injuries, unsurprisingly. Yiv was captain for 2006, and I was secretary. I think we voted in vice-captains for various tournaments as well. I remember making lots of rice krispie cakes to eat at tournaments. And wearing inappropriately short skirts and small jerseys. And going CRAZY when we scored a point against Bliss. These were very different times. I think we did relatively ok at Tour, maybe mid-table, but not so good at the European tournaments. I also had to go to hospital for stitches at one of the tours, fun times.
How was it setting up LMS, why? (it was a good idea, but just good to hear why you wanted to do it)
I think everyone was keen to get a club team together. In 2009 we had tried to just have open women sessions and get people along to play, but without a proper direction it’s hard to get people to commit, even with tournaments and sessions being run. You’re not really able to get people properly motivated to improve, do fitness, or even turn up to training. As an idea it pretty much failed, despite the efforts of a lot of people to try and make it work (I think Ciara Fitzpatrick and maybe Fiona Mernagh were women’s co-ordinators around this time and were pushing it forward as best they could, Deadly Buzz was the operating ‘team’ as such). I think the idea was to try and move away from the ‘clique’ that we had in women’s, but I think it ultimately failed.
A good few of us who had been playing together with MaC and Ireland had been floating the idea around, but Laura McGrath decided to take it on and actually do something with it, and researched when to train, where to train and set out a plan to get the club off the ground. She’s the reason it happened. Now maybe starting with an hour of fitness in horizontal rain and sleet in the middle of nowhere in Jobstown was probably not the best start for getting people to regularly come to training and join a club, but it was a start and certainly there appeared to be enough people at the first session to really get somewhere as a club.
Ireland 03, first womens team I think, pretty cool, but you also got beaten a lot, how was that
Well, I hadn’t started playing, so I can’t comment. I didn’t play 04 either. It may not interest you Simon as you weren’t there, but I did play in 07, and actually captained Ireland that year. Just in case you have any questions about that.
My bad. This is currently being remedied, and her answers will be added in once I get them. Done, see below …
Over time you evolved and got better and better, and began to become a strong force, beating more teams, and sometimes finishing higher than the men’s team.
What happened? Was it just that you all grew, matured, got better due to playing together for longer.
I think we really had a lot of talent and athletic players, but the main thing that was always holding us back was tactics and decision making. Not knowing when to huck it, not knowing how to play effective D, not knowing how to use the space well. Once we started getting people in to coach us, we really began to see some difference. I think one of the best things to happen for us was Lucy Barnes moving to Ireland. Having someone from a high level women’s team coaching a women’s team, even if only for a few sessions, makes a big difference. She brought in ideas about space, cutting, and communication that we weren’t really going to get from coaches in Ireland who had only played Open. Not to say that we weren’t learning from those male coaches, but fresh eyes make a big difference. I also think we put more of an emphasis on throwing, catching and fitness which did really improve how we matched up against other teams. We had always been fast, but getting the extra lift on our jumps, and not dropping the disc all the time really helped.
I do think that the playing and growing together was a big part to it as well. There are some of us who know almost telepathically what someone wants to throw, or where they want you to be, and it just speeds up things a little. That said, the younger people coming through were also much better coached than we oldies had ever been, and that made a big difference in how quickly you could get people up to speed and into a serious competition. Also, there was lots more of them! But definitely lots of improvement happened with 2007 and 2008, probably best recognised with us beating France in 2007, and our second trip to Amsterdam in 2008 finishing with us in the final, after coming last in 2006.
You beat GB! Awesome, though in that Europeans they actually finished above you in the end. Was this a case of being over motivated against GB, or rather the consequences of playing a long week long tournament with some inexperienced players?
This is definitely up there with the highlights of my playing career. What a bloody game! We were down by loads, then went on a streak they couldn’t catch up with. Let me revel in it a little before moving on…
But yes, it is a pain to beat the eventual silver medallists, and come away with only 9th place. And this after finishing 3rd in Windmill with a lot of the same teams competing. We had inexperienced players sure, and we were unlucky with injuries, but I don’t think we can really look to that as the reason why we couldn’t win the games we should have. I think back to those games and they are incredibly frustrating, like we were operating at a level below what we were capable of, and we just couldn’t reach it. I don’t know if it’s nerves, or a mental block, or what it was, but it seemed difficult for us to play the long games and stay in them. Maybe heat played a part? Obviously there was some great competition, but I think everyone on that team looks back and wonders about what happened. That was a disappointing tournament because we all felt we deserved better. Interestingly the schedule itself wasn’t great as we were effectively out of the tournament on the second day. I dunno if that dampened our enthusiasm for the rest of the week. It’s a pity because it was a great team of players, and when we ended up in the bottom bracket it was pretty obvious that we were much better than the other teams there. I think a lot of the Open team can probably relate to this too.
On being over-motivated against GB? I’m not sure really, I think it helps that we know a lot of the players, and how they operate, and had been playing against them from the time they weren’t very good either, so we weren’t intimidated. That was my impression anyway.
Which players did you enjoy playing with / against?
So many players I love playing with. Especially handlers. Obviously Yiv and I had a special handler connection which was fun, and Fiona and Heather were also two players I’ve really connected with. But I also loved playing with Amy Moffat so much, getting to train for a year with her was brilliant (as was bringing her to Tenerife last year). Cutter wise you can’t really beat Laura or Sinead for getting open, or pushing you to throw long. If I name any more people it kind of looks stupid, but really I have enjoyed playing women’s so much with so many people over the years, and I feel differently after every tournament. I mean, SJ, Claire Pugh and Olly are also brilliant D players, and Helen Hobson in 2011 was incredible. And when I get Dee O’Breasail on the team I’m delighted. And Linda ‘The machine’ Barry. Or Jen Kwan. Or Finola. Basically anyone who’s fast, competent and aggressive, I’m a big fan! Which is a surprisingly high number of players here. I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get to play with a lot of the Jabba or Rebel girls over the years, as there is so much talent around.
Against? Hmm, I guess I have certain players or teams over the year who I really want to play and beat. GB obviously. Love beating the French. Really liked playing Hot Beaches/Czech women in 2011 – good spirit, nice people, tight match-ups, different result each time. Love having a crack at the top teams as well, like when we played USA, or whenever you meet a top team at Tour. It’s cool to see how you match up against a team, but also how you match up against amazing individuals. Can be eye-opening. There were certainly a few women over the years on different UK club teams who I really wanted to beat a lot. I actually barely even know their names, so it’s not even personal. I guess players on good teams who I knew I was better than, you kind of want to prove that even if your team isn’t going to win the game. Wow, you’re really getting into my inner competitiveness here!
Who were the best players you played with
So many players that have been great. I guess I’ve covered women’s, but I really enjoyed playing with Softie in UCD, Brian MacDevitt and Dman with Shapes, Rory and Blonde in DCU, Seamus and Dave Misstear on beach. I guess those are all pretty much handler types, but also male players who respected what I was able to do and encouraged me to do it.
Mixed – Throwing Shapes – discuss, got beaten at Rostock, but then came good and were top Irish team for 2 years after
I wouldn’t necessarily say we ‘came good’. I think the Mixed scene in Ireland at the time made it pretty easy to be top. No one really trained, and we were a team made up of pretty experienced players who knew what they were doing. We probably had a lot of tactical nous over others, and we could all be thrown together and play well. Similarly, I think we were all still training and playing at quite a high level with various clubs and national teams, so were probably going to be better players too.
TS, won All Ireland’s for 1st 2 years in a row, and then declined to defend it, and never played as a team again?
What was it like playing for them? What were the good bits? (It didn’t seem like there were too many low lights? – in the end there were no rows, they just stopped playing together – superseded by LMS perhaps)
Strange or the natural culmination of a project that had passed it’s sale by date?
Playing for Shapes was always great at the time, but then in retrospect I never felt too great about it. Looking at 2005, it was pretty much a disaster. We hardly ever trained, people would turn up late, our warm up tournaments lacked a lot of team members (I was also injured for them), one of captains seemed to not really be engaging with the team at all. I mean, we went to Germany without a captain, and we didn’t know about it till we got there! I don’t think there were any out and out rows, but I certainly had a few choice words for Fuzzy after that happened. I guess there was an acceptance of letting things go, but that didn’t really sit well with me and going to an important tournament, even though I was definitely one of the most inexperienced players there!
There were certainly loads of fun things that happened that week (certainly I became much closer with Sparky, Yiv and Brona there) and beating Veg in the years after was always very satisfying, but I did feel sometimes that I cared more about trying to get the team somewhere than most of the team, and it shouldn’t really have been up to me to be doing that. Maybe it was? I just decided to give up on it eventually, and I think that maybe started an avalanche. People weren’t especially tied to the team or felt too strongly about it, so I think it was inevitable. Plus we had issues with emigration and retirement, and we didn’t have anything to offer new players. I wouldn’t say LMS took over, because it wasn’t like Shapes had trainings or attended things other than All Irelands! I think you probably think about it a bit more than others as it was your ticket to another trophy every year.
Ha ha! Probably the only reason I ever won anything really.
LMS – what did you win? What was it like to put together a strong team, and winning early all Irelands.
I think every time I played LMS in Ireland we won the tournament. Huck of the Irish, Siege of Limerick, All Ireland Indoors and Outdoors. I missed a couple of indoor competitions which LMS won, but I also missed a few that they lost as well. I think Munster Munch a few times, and then Outdoors this year. We played in the finals of Bologna and Cologne, finished 4th at Tour, came 3rd at Brugge…there’s a lot of stuff there that is really impressive in my opinion.
Having a strong women’s team in Ireland was great, but maybe ultimately unsustainable? I think I can definitely look back and say it wasn’t the greatest decision to run trials and not just take on everyone, but I think after playing with bad players for YEARS you just get a bit sick of it and it becomes more about what you want to do now, and how much fun you’re going to have now. Probably selfish, but I had my fun and that’s all that matters! I was chatting to Linda recently about this, and how we’re trying to move focus from National teams to clubs in Ireland. Obviously this is a good move, and it works for Open (and maybe Mixed to a certain extent), but I think some women players will really struggle with getting a good game/training session if they don’t have the national team to push them. If you need to be constantly bringing in new players and playing with beginners, it really stunts the development of your top players. This kind of contributed to why I stopped playing.
Back to LMS: winning those All Ireland tournaments was great, although despite maybe indoors 2012, it did seem to me once we got to the competitions we were going to win the finals. If only because of the size of the things, you’ve got a good idea of how you’ll do head to head once people start playing. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t always nervous and worried about it before we got there. Being at the top means everyone’s coming to get you!
Ireland Beach Mixed, Brazil, Portugal?, talk about the earlier years – you narrowly missed out on a medal in Brazil didn’t you?
So we played Brazil, Portugal was just Open. Brazil was great, but also so, so annoying. We had notified the organisers prior to the tournament that only having one semi-final was not really a proper schedule, but it fell on deaf ears. Sure enough, we lose one key game, miss out on the semi. And we lost that game because Linda dislocated her knee in the warm up, and we started it all over the place. Beach games are quick, and if you start slow you’re in trouble. Austria went through to essentially the 2-3 play off with Germany, lose heavily, get a bronze medal. They don’t need to fight for it at all. We had a pretty close game with Germany as far as I remember, and we also had a very close game with USA who were eventual winners.
As you can tell, I’m still bitter about it. To be fair though, we finished below Spain who were a better team, but they were Tyro so couldn’t progress to the semi. They actually finished above us in standings (FUN FACT: I threw a Callaghan for the last point of this game. I cried.) I guess you can argue it either way, but I want my World medal dammit! It was a unique situation where each team was much weaker that they would usually be in a World championship. I can’t imagine there will be another opportunity like it for an Irish team the way things are structured now, but you never know! And we had a nice 4 week holiday in Brazil before Christmas, can’t beat that (this was pre-recession kids, great times).
People kind of forget that we went to Italy for Worlds in 2011. I think a lot of us like to forget as well! We did a little preparation, but really everyone’s focus had been EUC. We got to Italy and the heat was unbearable (no aircon, I had a cold shower before bed every night so I could be cool enough to sleep.And we probably played our best when hungover on the last day as it was overcast). We had a good few games that we probably should have won, but didn’t. And there were certainly issues at the end of the week about placing blame, and a division between the girls and boys. There were definitely leadership issues (I think 7 of us had captained Ireland at some stage, with 3 more going on to captain). Not ideal. That said, it was a fun week: over-sized shampoo, drinking beer in the dark in our underwear, the island, Friday night final under the lights. And ‘The Oracle’.
Ireland Mixed 2013 – what a season! Some great seasoned players, but also some great new young talent too, tell us about that.
What a season indeed! Everyone was key to making it work. I guess a big difference between 2011 and 2013 is that we prepared better, so it meant that we actually won those games. I missed our first warm-up because of work (not worth it, a terrible conference), which we won. Next up Paganello. It was actually a bit difficult to get used to the O and D lines for me there, because my role was really reduced from usual. Female D-line handler, meant I was only on every second D point. Things got better though over that weekend as the side-line role was emphasised, and I began to see where ‘the team’ as such was headed. I think there was a lot of ego left behind in the wake of the team. We made it to the semi-finals, and I think only lost by 2 points. We had also SMASHED Germany to 2 points in the pool games maybe? And then we lost on sudden death in the 3-4 play-off, which was disappointing, but on reflection now was amazing. At the time it seemed like that was probably the closest we’d get to a big medal.
Our last warm-up was at the beach in Callafel, and gave us a good re-match of our 3-4 game against Corocotta. And this time we came out winners. That tournament was a good lesson in how to get wins, and on a personal level I got more game time as people were missing! But yeah, I think we got a better idea of how to deal with sudden death and pressure, and it was another level of preparation.
The actual tournament itself was quite a blur. It was only a few days long and it the same place as our previous tournament, so mad to think it was so much more important. We bottled our first game, and that was a massive kick in the hole. From there on we woke up and we were able to go on to win the rest of our matches, most importantly against GB to take top group spot (I think). This led to a situation which had been pointed out previously, but not really understood, where we played GB again in the quarters. Luckily this meant somewhat tougher teams met each other on the other side of the pool, while we smashed GB in the quarters (I think they scored maybe 4 points, a great D line performance), and then beat Portugal in the semis (tight game, I think we got a few breaks but didn’t convert, O-line won us this game by being super consistent). Having the games streamed and social media also made people at home closer, and we really felt like people were getting behind us and were excited.
The final itself against Sweden was actually really surreal, and I guess as a D-Line player I was really not that involved unfortunately. They obviously knew how we liked to play, and they were a really strong opponent, maybe more than other teams we’d already played. But also we weren’t really operating at our best. Our warm-up wasn’t ideal, there were nerves, and like I said, beach games are short. If you don’t start well it’s hard to come back. It was really really gutting, and I can see how bronze medallists are always happier than silver medallists. It was a tough defeat, and it was very hard for a long time to be happy about it. This seems weird, but I was definitely pretending to be happier about the medal than I was for a long time. Now it’s obviously great to have, and it’s amazing to have that achievement to look back on after so many years of trying very hard with Ireland and not getting anywhere.
Womens versus mixed. Pros cons, what’s your thoughts?
I think they’re both great games, and both very different games. I pretty much always enjoy women’s as I find my role easily and know what I contribute, but with Mixed my enjoyment levels really depend on how the team is with women. Sometimes it’s great and you feel you are an important player, other times you might as well just jog up the sideline as the male players dominate. It can be really frustrating, but luckily on most occasions I’ve found myself with a pretty good role where I feel I’m contributing and not just there to make up the numbers. Obviously there’s more fun to be had a mixed tournament because they are usually a bit more relaxed, and there’s usually a bit of scoring happening (although not so much now that we’re all ancient) but I’ve also had loads of fun with women’s teams as well, just different fun. I would have said mixed was better in 2005 because we didn’t really have a good women’s team, but from 2007 onwards I’ve been a bigger women’s fan.
I guess maybe for national teams it’s easy to see why Mixed is appealing: We may not have 20 great male players and 20 great female players, but we definitely have 10 of each who could really give other bigger countries a run for their money. Especially when those other countries have their best players on their women and open teams. Other small nations have done that with pretty great success over the years: Czechs in 2007, Belgium in 2011, and of course us last year. I think the team this year have a great chance of medalling. I am though really glad that women’s is still happening this year, although they might not be at the same standard as 2011. I think if I was still playing it would have been a hard choice, and how the trials were ran and how the personnel ended up on each team would have really affected the decision. (If they would have picked me that is, ha! Slow old handler isn’t a great proposition).
Is Liz Schaf’ done playing now? Why
It’s been a culmination of things.
Firstly: injury. I have been pretty unlucky during the years with freak accidents (lots of stitches) but I also find it difficult to finish tournaments on grass now because of my hamstrings, and also I’ve started to have a few back issues. I’ve gotten a bit sick of rehab, and paying €55+ to the physio every time I need to go (which was a lot most seasons).
Secondly: cash money. I just don’t feel as enthusiastic about spending my money going abroad, and I also am at that age where I have a ridiculous amount of weddings and hen parties, and much less spare cash. Not having proper employment also obviously plays a role here.
Thirdly: Commitment. I don’t think it’s fair to the team to be half-in to something, when others are all in. This is something that really annoyed me when running or playing on other teams, and I just don’t want to be that flaky person who might turn up, or might not. And if you say you’re in, that means attending trainings, doing fitness, playing tournaments. Lastly: lack of progression, getting old, the end is nigh. I guess this ties with everything else, but I pretty much realised that I’m never really going to beat 2nd at Euros at this stage, and I’m probably not going to be improving too much any more. I think that there isn’t really an option to play elite women’s regularly to the standard I want, without it costing me a lot of money, and without me having to do rehab all the time and work very hard off my own bat. There just isn’t the motivation for me to take on and play with teenagers at the early stages. Again, selfish, but I’ve been coaching in some capacity since 2004, and it’s never been something I’ve really loved, more a necessity. I couldn’t really see anything on the horizon that I would really want to be giving up time and money for, so it made sense to me to stop.
Will you still have an involvement in the sport? What next?
I think I really just retired from the serious side of things. And if (cheap) beach experiences are available, I’ll always be interested. I’m going to Tenerfie in 2015, so I’m not fully out yet. Maybe I need to start a drive to get pick-up back on the menu for old timers like ourselves who want to play every now and again, but can’t be dealing with training. Now that I can drive I can maybe encourage more people out to the Dublin beaches? I am enjoying my free time though, and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had long fingernails! I can definitely see myself picking up a disc in the future, but just not with the intensity I used to. That said, I’ll probably be the one going mad at everyone on my team at the hat tournament for not caring enough.