Declan Moore, Interview, Ultimate Frisbee

You want Moore? Declan Moore, an Australian/Irish Ultimate legend

By @SimonCocking

In the growth of all sports there are different periods. Not many people will remember playing with Dec’ Moore, but as a key member in the growth of Australian Ultimate the 90’s, we were delighted when he finally came back to live in Ireland for a brief period. Having already successfully captained Australia at Worlds it was just what Irish ultimate needed to help make the transition from a debutante to a team that wanted and later on expected to win games. It’s great to finally bring this interview out, it was about six months in the making, and we probably caught him just in time, before all memories evaporate from the recesses of his age addled mind. IMG_0185   

You started playing in oz,? Were you one of the founders? Talk about when you began.

Yes. I started playing in 1988 when I moved to Brisbane on a working holiday visa.  I moved into a house (actually a room with a floor) with a close friend of mine from Thurles, Aidan Power. Two grown men sharing a floor in a small room – not the ideal circumstances for hetrosexual romance but fair play to Aidan, he didn’ let that stop him.  It’s amazing what you can sleep through.

The guy with the lease was an Irish guy, Mark Ryan, who played ultimate. He’s in NZ now, but he’s a member of a well know Irish family the Scarteen Ryans from down around Knocklong.

In 1988 Queensland ultimate was being run by two Kiwis, principally Doug Bryers and also Brendan (Dr) Love.  They played with a 175g disc manufactured in NZ and were representatives of that company in Australia. It was not alas, enough to secure their futures, and I presume that company has fallen by the wayside as the 185g* Ultrastar now rules the world.

(* I thought these were just Declan’s senile ramblings so I left it in, but apparently in NZ they did make a 185 gram disc. Dec (and his lawyers) want to make it known though, that he is more than aware of the correct weight of a regulation tournament disc.)

I played my first Nationals in Wynard, Tasmania in January 1989 for Queensland (QLD), with a motley crew including Doug and Brendan.  It was the first time Queensland and (I think) Victoria had fielded a team. I’m pretty sure we beat Victoria and WA. WA had won a number of consecutive nationals but an American called Jim Garvey had moved to Sydney and he took the game to a place not previously seen in Australia.  NSW won the tournament comfortably. I think they beat a Gary Jarvis led NZ in the final, but I may well stand corrected.  I have very fond memories of that QLD team and also the Victorians led by the Normand brothers, who the Queenslanders gelled with immediately and have remained friends with since then. We did later form a joint team GruVics for a Sydney tournament but apart from Simon Normand’s misguided insistence that Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing compares to you’ would be a great motivational song, I remember little of that tournament.

I played 11 consecutive Nationals until 1999 when I returned to Ireland, with my only victory (and I think Queensland’s only victory to date) in 1991 in Perth with Barrier Reefers. I had done my ACL the previous year’s nationals, so I was pretty happy just to be playing.  After the tournament the knee blew up and I thought I was a goner, but it must have just been a reaction to too much running (or beer). That party was the first time I remember Andy Normand just standing naked in the pub watching the world go by in what turned to be a recurring theme throughout my career. To be fair I think Madison 1993 was the only time he was arrested, but I could stand corrected.

It was 2002 before I would win another nationals, having returned from Ireland but by then playing with what might have been considered the enemy – Feral.

What sport did you play at home in Ireland, before going to oz?

I’m from Thurles, so I played hurling (for the non-Irish and Dubs, Thurles/ Tipperary is the founding place of the Gaelic Athletic Association (the GAA). I played hurling for my primary school, but not at secondary. This was almost certainly to keep me away from a brother that I can see online described accurately as the Jimmy Savile of Thurles CBS. That is another story for another day.  Like pretty much every Irish and UK kid I played soccer all the time, but I did not play club soccer (I do now).


Why did ultimate appeal?

I had moved to Brisbane as a 21 year old, and as anybody who has been in that position (such as yourself) knows, when you move to a new country and you’re young and single, you  do pretty much whatever is going on.  It’s only when you have choices that you start to discriminate. This was of course, pre internet, so face to face interaction was more difficult to avoid. Once I started playing I guess I was hooked, both for the sport (at which I sucked), but wanted to improve, and the people (a fantastic bunch).

Australia won spirit at Worlds in 08 & 09 (maybe more too) You played hard but fair, or because you were sponsored by a beer company?

Australian ultimate owes an enormous amount to Jim Garvey, and also Stu Marcoon, who had previously played at a top level for a top US club team called Looney Tunes.  When he came to Australia, he was in a different league as a player and it was many years before he was no longer the best player and probably a few more years before he was not the most influential player. Despite that, Jim’s leadership style was not for everybody (i.e. not for me), and by 2006 / 07 I was keen to put to together a team that was Australian run, rather than a team (rightly or wrongly) seen as one run by Yanks.  I realise the irony, as I am Irish, but it made sense at the time, and to all practical purposes I was an Australian grown player.


The ever Machiavellian Jim Garvey,

In any event, thus commenced an Australian club team called King Brown.  I put together the team in 1997 using something called a Fax machine, when the rest of the world had moved on to email. I think the organisers thought it was quaint. King Brown had players from most of the Aussie states and played worlds in 97, 99 and 2001, winning Spirit at all three. I think that’s a pretty incredible feat.  It’s hard to argue that the free beer in 1997 did us any harm in the voting stakes, but for the repeat years we had to rely more on threats, bribery and corruption. Mentioning names is a dangerous game, but the aforementioned Andy ‘the moose’ Normand deserves mention in so many ways for his contribution to that team, I’ll bend the rules a little. There were of course many others.  I’m pretty sure KB also played some Kaimana Klassics but at some stage morphed into Doughboy (there was significant overlap).

I may have forgotten to mention that I have a terrible memory for anything that’s happened since about 1990.


Nationals 1988, Queensland, Victoria

Dec, back row, second from left, (unknown bitch in front)

Tell us about aussie approach to spirit?

I have nothing controversial to say here. I suspect Australian ultimate has about the same proportion of dickheads as most countries and vice versa. Okay maybe a few more, though it’s not the worst.

Ireland! You stayed in UK for a while before returning to Ireland, playing for Shotgun, how was that?

Jesus wept! No, I played for Dough / DoughBoy. Great bunch until the American influence set in.  I would have preferred it to have remained Kiwi / Aussie / UK, which was a great mix. Some seriously excellent people on the team, many of whom went on to play for years in Kaimana. I think most have now returned to their country of origins and the Kiwi contingent are running NZ. Respect to Sky for being the man.

Oz – UK – Ireland – I think you knew what the level would be like when you got here. How did you decide to deal with that when you got here? Giving something back to the homeland?

I’m not sure I thought that much about it.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t think ultimate was played in Ireland, and thought it would be semi-retirement with a few fun tournaments in Europe.  I was pleasantly surprised that the scene was moderately thriving. Your good self would have to take a huge amount of credit for that. Brian McD tells me that I first played at Herbert Park but I have a vague memory of a wet and unpleasant afternoon at UCD.  However I refer to my early memory related comments.

The semi-retirement didn’t really pan out – I remember one year travelling to about 15 tournaments across Europe (pre-kids) without really noticing. 30 days a year of annual leave also helped (sigh). When I moved back to Oz I really missed the European scene – not only lots of tournaments, but in different cities, countries, beaches. Just not possible to replicate that variety of experiences in Oz or indeed the US.

Back in Ireland, did it feel like a culture clash, people not taking training seriously.

I wouldn’t say a culture clash, yes I was very ozzified but I come from Tipperary where sport is taken pretty seriously, like all of Ireland. Australian ultimate was the same when I started in the late eighties, so it wasn’t an Ireland versus Australia thing, more of a reflection of the maturity of the game. However of course it was frustrating to feel a bit like stepping back in time, and not being able to reliably have a good quality game.

By 2001 you had the fine system in place,

(I loved it, it paid for my meal in Prague), tell us about that?

I misread this as having “a fine system in space” so my initial though was to thank you for the compliment. Ahem. If I did indeed have a system of fines in place (I have no memory of that) any system that ends up with you getting a free meal clearly needed re calibration.

2000 Worlds versus 2001 Euros, did you decide things needed to be done differently

That’s asking too much of my memory I’m afraid. 2001 was open versus mixed, so I guess that’s pretty different?  I think that the 2001 squad trained pretty well (help me out here).

Yes, more regularly, drills, practices, the lot.

In 2000 you were the captain, and then not, and then still decided to play. What happened, too frustrated with casual approach?

Yes, Heather (Killian) talked me out of my sulk, and to be fair, she also talked the team into more commitment. In the end I was very glad I stayed with it.

You and Barry O’Kane formed a strong dynamo to the team, did that help develop ideas for 01 team?

Not really, I think they were very different teams. The mixed team was hard, as some of the team had not played together and the gap from best to weakest player was wider than it was on the open team.  As a result we did play a certain way.  It particular on offence we isolated Barry and Heather a lot. Barry was just very good, and while Heather looks fairly innocuous at first, she was / is blisteringly fast, and she must have been our top scorer.  On defence we couldn’t really play much in the way of zone, and we struggled to stop teams isolating on us. I’m pretty sure we won a game or two, which was great for all of us.

2001 we had multiple vicecaptains, for o line, d line, etc, it helped create the beginning of a culture change in Irish ultimate.

Yes, this was undoubtedly inherited from the US influence, and we had invested heavily in it with King Brown.

How does it feel to be called Irish ultimate’s answer to Roy Keane?

Well I’ll take it as a compliment, though that may not be the intention.

Ha ha, diplomatically handled!

Your intensiveness on the pitch fueled by your desire to win, discuss?

Well I think we all like to win. One of my frustrations with Irish ultimate when I started was I felt that after a loss, there was a bit of an attitude of “ah well sure we didn’t really train properly, those guys are semi-professional training twice a week (i.e. they take themselves too seriously), what chance did we really have”. This was despite having played as hard as we could during the game.

I hate that attitude, and I know I was not alone. I think that the only way you should feel good about losing (if that’s possible) is if you have left no stone unturned, not the opposite. The problem was that training was poorly attended, and a bit half-arsed (one goes with the other). Apart from impacting on results, it also meant that we were unlikely to retain good new players who were used to organised sport.

From my point of view you brought a lot of strategy and tactics to the team play, Ultimate as physical chess for you?

That’s probably overstating the case.  Part of the rationale behind the division of labour sharing we talked about earlier, was to allow somebody on the team whose sole task was to focus on tactics. Nowadays I think most top teams have managers and support staff so the tactical side probably sits with them?

I loved the come from behind win at Prague against the Scottish team – we were behind the whole way, basically trading, but losing – you then switched to zone and they fell apart. Great win – do you even remember, any comments?

Well I remember now that you have prompted me. It’s most likely that a switch to zone was no more than a realisation that we needed to change something, or we were going to lose.  Happily on this occasion it worked (because I don’t remember our zone being something to be too frightened of).

Wrap up, career highlights, oz , Ireland (if any?)

Now that we have gone down memory lane, in Australia I have great memories of winning nationals with Queensland, that I still consider my adoptive state. Winning again many years later with a NSW team (Feral) was also special, and those guys were incredibly welcoming considering how new I was to that set up. My varied involvements with the Australian and later the Irish teams I still view as pretty special. I know I was lucky with the timing because the standard of play now and in particular the speed of players would have left me in the cold, but you take your chances based on conditions at the time.

I have very fond memories of the European tournaments many of which I was lucky enough to play in 1999 to 2001 – Bar de Peixe, Rimini, Tom’s Tourney, Ross on Wye, Porron, Yes but Nau, Karlsruhe savage, and of course the Dublin Open. We managed to win our fair share, though there seems to be a high correlation with the presence of Sarah and Sacha and my then partner Nicole.  Winning Yes but Nau with a team of 4 women and 4 men was pretty cool.

But the real enduring highlight, the enduring friendships. Enough said.

Ireland, with hindsight would you have done anything different?

Well well, that’s a potential can of worms.  I’m sure I would have done a whole lot of things differently. Off the top of my head, I should have worked more closely with you in the first place (I think it’s fair to say we have very different personalities). Also I think I captained the Prague team poorly. I think I was overconfident after Worlds in 1999 where I think between me and the other team leaders, we recognised the importance of the team rather than any individual.  One of the differences in dynamics it that in 1999 I was not by any stretch of the imagination the best player on the team, whereas in 2001 I probably was (at that time). That can be okay, but I think can corrupt the thought process (and did in my case).

What did I miss?

You did good, your memory for detail impressive. Thanks


8 thoughts on “You want Moore? Declan Moore, an Australian/Irish Ultimate legend

  1. Luke Skystyler says:

    excellent interview. As someone who was there for a lot of these years, I can confirm that Jim’s leadership style wasn’t for everyone but he did almost single-handedly propel Australian Ultimate out of the stone-age. And yes, Andy was naked a lot at the end of tourneys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Simon Cocking says:

      Thanks, and yes you probably need someone at the beginning to break a few eggs, just to get things going.

      Dec was always a funny guy too, beneath that intense exterior, there was a shy sociopath trying to get out.


  2. dan mone says:

    I was there for the early years in Oz and contest Declan and Aidan were running after girls and the disc like uncastrated male border collies.


  3. Pingback: March : Latest Ultimate Interviews including WCBU teams | Sarah Paddle Swim

  4. Woodie says:

    Did Declan Tell you how he nearly missed playing in Worlds 94 in Colchester as he nearly sliced off his finger while scratching off the brand logo on his Aussie Shorts with a penknife!!!


  5. Pingback: The iceman speaks, Ultimate from Graz to Ireland and China, Isaac Lawless, | Sarah Paddle Swim

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