Ian was always one of the biggest supporters of Irish Ultimate in the early days. Coming over from the UK, bringing various teams to play in the ’96 – 2000 Dublin Open tournaments. He was a member of the first Irish Open Ultimate team, and even survived that experience to ultimately go on to be a member of the Gold medal World Beach winning team of 20111. But far better to hear it in his words…
Background, what did you play before ultimate? (In Kilkenny?)
Like most kids in Kilkenny, I played any and every sport that came along. Sadly I was never going to win any All Ireland hurling medals, so that and rugby (where I was just way too small) fell by the wayside. Most of my friends played a lot of soccer and at school I played in the basketball team.
Why did you start, and what made you keep playing?
I’d heard of Ultimate, as I’d seen the Channel 4 show about the 1994 Worlds in Colchester, so I knew it existed. I was at University in Manchester and playing in a basketball street league, when one of my flatmates mentioned that he was going to meet a family friend at frisbee practice. I was getting disillusioned with the basketball league, where cheating, aggression and posturing were taking over and detracting from the sport itself, so I was eager to try something new.
I went to an indoor practice, and while I couldn’t throw so well, the movement on the field seemed similar to other sports I’d played so I really enjoyed it. I really was hooked from that first session. What kept me playing though, was really the people.
The wild geese, you went over to the UK, and have been there 20 years? a while now, do you think you will come back, pro’s and cons of living in England?
Yes, I left Ireland to go to the University of Manchester in 1995. I was always an aviation geek, so to study aero engineering at that time, I had to go to the UK.
I never say never, but I don’t see myself coming back to Ireland. My family and career are here and I’m fortunate to have many great friend here too. I live a pretty charmed life in London.
Dublin Tournament, 96 – 2000, you were one of the most ever present players, and yet also looking in from the out side. What was your impression of the event, and Irish ultimate over those years?
Dublin 96 was my first ever outdoor tournament! I’d been to one indoor tournament (in Bradford, I think) and you were over, recruiting teams to go to Dublin. It was during the Easter holidays so I was home in Ireland and had convinced my Manchester team (the amazing “Fingers 6”), to come over.
I never made it to the Sunday of the tournament however, due to some slight over-indulgence on the Saturday night. I kept coming back as I loved the tournament and was keen to see ultimate developing in Ireland. The tournament grew each year, attracting more teams and more Irish players too. As I recall, there weren’t many Irish players in those early days, but something had started, that was clear to see.
Home nations Ultimate tournament, you took part in this, impressions? Don’t you think we should run one again?
I loved this idea. It seemed to run well as part of the Dublin tournament, with clubs playing on the Saturday, then players divided into their “nations” on the sunday. I’m not sure but this may have been before there was even an official Ireland team playing internationally. As for running it again, I be in favour, but its a pretty full calendar for international players, so I don’t know how they would feel.
Irish National Team, 2000. How would you describe the campaign, and again what was your impression of the state of Irish ultimate.
This is still a real highlight for me. I was living in London and couldn’t attend any pre-tournament practices (were there any?)
I honestly had no idea of what to expect, but was very excited to be playing for Ireland. My brother, Brendan and I drove from London to Heilbronn, and it was lucky we did. Midway through the week-long tournament, Brendan had to be hospitalised and have his appendix removed. I was able to drive to the hospital between games, to keep him company as he had to endure a very boring few days in his hospital ward.
Ireland had a Open and a Mixed team entered, and we in the Open team were the pick-ups, ex-pats, waifs and strays. I recall we had a few Brits (of Irish extraction) and even a German playing for us. Everyone was friendly though, and the atmosphere was good.
Our first game was against Japan, and as we lined up one of my teammates commented on how “these outdoor pitches are much bigger than indoor ones”. I quickly determined that this, the opening game of the World Championships was his first game on grass. I told him that the stall was to 10, and not to 8 as it was in indoors and pulled the disc.
Personally, I had hoped to win a couple of games, and we did get a win over South Africa. We should have beaten the Russians too, but it was not to be. I think we finished 16th out of 18? So Ireland was off the mark, and not coming last.
Looking back now, I don’t think I realised how big a deal it was to be there. But Irish Ultimate was still very much in its infancy, and some of the players at that tournament went on to play a big part in the growth of the sport in Ireland.
2000 – 2015, what were your ultimate playing highlights in the UK? Did you play for GB masters too?
In 1999 I started flying for a living, which meant missing practices and working odd hours. So Ultimate had to become recreational, rather than something I was actively training hard for and pushing for the top. Around this time I joined a great team called Fever, and we still competed as well as we could, consistently in the top 12 in the UK. I moved to London in 2000, and played in the summer leagues and tagging along to training with Hammerage in Regents Park. The social scene here was pretty epic, and some of the parties were outrageous. I have to admit, I loved every second of that side of our sport.
The guys from Fever introduced me to playing more tournaments in continental Europe. They had been going to Toms Tourney in Brugges, and that had shown them the quality of tournaments on the continent. The rise of cheap flights from EasyJet and Ryanair made a trip to a tournament in Frankfurt not much more expensive than a trip to Leeds for one.
Tournaments on the continent seemed to give you a bit more for your Euro than in the UK, and everyone was extremely welcoming of teams that had taken the effort to travel. This was also about the time I discovered my favourite way to play ultimate, on the beach.
Copa Pescadisco, Porron Open, Yes-but-Nau, Paganello, and of course the legendary BDP all had me hooked. Some of my best New Years Eve’s were at the Indoor beach tournament in Berlin. More and more Irish players started coming to these tournaments too, and I played in a lot of unofficial Ireland vs Denmark matches in Mallorca.
In 2011 I tried out for GB Mixed Masters for the World Beach championships. I was fairly unknown to the selectors, but had a couple of good trials and fluked my way on to the team. I was very fortunate and was playing on the most talented and most well run team I’d ever been on. I trained harder than I’d ever done and was in great shape. I lined up for our opening game against Austria and was given the disc to pull. It was a beauty, hanging above their endzone as we ran forward. Off to a great start. In the next point, I broke a bone in my foot and that was it.
No more playing for me. I spent the rest of the week limping around on my comically taped-up foot, trying to help out the team off the field in any way I could. My team went all the way and beat the USA in the final to win gold. So I have a World Championship gold medal, for about 4 minutes of ultimate. Can’t beat that for efficiency 😉
Kilkenny Ultimate tournament – a great idea. What was your impression of it?
(What was going on with your uncle, being mayor and that big sword he was swinging about?)
Brendan and I had wanted to run a tournament in Kilkenny for a while, and in 2001 we saw our chance. Our old school, Kilkenny College gave me the field space for free, as long as we had our own insurance. This kept the costs down and meant we could charge only about thirty Euros per team to enter. To be honest, we just wanted loads of our friend from the UK to come over to Kilkenny and a tournament was a great way to make it happen.
A teacher from Loretto Navan heard about the event and wanted to bring along a girls team to watch. I said they couldn’t just spectate, they had to play. So we had about 6 or 7 teams in total, which made it manageable as we’d never run a tournament before. It was all very improvised and amateurish compared to what you see at tournament today, but I think most people enjoyed it. Loretto Navan won spirit and many of the players kept on playing at uni and beyond.
My uncle Paul, a long standing local councillor had been appointed mayor of Kilkenny City that year, so he arranged a reception for players at the Tholsel in Kilkenny. He also generously provided some liquid refreshments which we all enjoyed and at one point he had to threaten us (perhaps only half-jokingly) with an 8-foot ceremonial sword to behave ourselves in the city chambers.
It was really fun to play ultimate in our home town for the first time and show our friends and family, that this was a real sport. However, we both lived in the UK so running it was difficult and that’s probably the reason we didn’t repeat it.
UK + Irish Ultimate 1995 – 2015, your 20 year overview / perspective, what worked, what didn’t? What should happen moving forwards?
I’ve watched UK and Irish Ultimate grow and grow, and I love seeing our players competing at the highest levels.
In my 20 years the sport of Ultimate has changed and it has stayed the same. The levels of fitness and athleticism are just leagues ahead of where things were in the 90’s. Yet it is still a simple game at its core. Throw, catch, run.
I’m not sure how I feel about referees/observers. One of the reasons I came to Ultimate, was because I was tiring of “playing to the referee” in other sports. I can understand that others might feel differently, and there have been some prominent abuses of Sprit of the Game in recent years. However, the Sprit system has worked well for me, and I hope it continues to do so for a long time.
Some people are making substantial sums of money from running events, but I’m happy with that. I’m fortunate enough to make a living doing something I love, so I don’t see why people shouldn’t be rewarded for their time and efforts in the sport they love.
What is the the job that you do now that makes you happy? You’re not a pilot now are you?
I was a pilot for British Airways for 7 years, but in 2007 I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Immediately my medical certification was revoked and I was grounded. I was fortunate, in that I had no medical complications or issues, so it seemed somewhat unjust to lose my career this way. Together with some other pilots in the same position, we organised ourselves to fight this issue with the regulators. In the meantime I worked as an instructor and examiner in the simulator.
It took a few years, but we succeeded and many of us (including myself) are back flying again. I now work for a private jet operator and its great to be back.
Ultimate the overview, continued…
With regards to other elements of our sport, I think the answer is pretty simple. The things that worked, did so because of a lot of hard work from the people involved and occasionally a bit of luck too.
I have to be honest here and say that, unlike you, I’m not one of the people who’s put in the hard hours organising teams, associations, events. I’m like the 90% of players who just turn up and expect everything to run smoothly. I try to remember that some individuals have put in a lot of time and effort (often at their own expense) into making our sport work. I owe a great deal of my happiest memories and many of my best friends to the people who have run teams and tournaments. I even met my amazing wife at BDP, so my family wouldn’t be what it is without this sport.
So, dear reader, (if you haven’t given up by now), next time you see a captain, tournament director, administrator etc, working really hard to make sure that you get to enjoy your sport, buy them a drink. Thank them.