Great to catch up with one of the early shakers and movers of Cork Ultimate, and hear about his subsequent adventures too!
Your background, sports played prior to ultimate?
I played GAA as a young fellah…scored two goals in the North Cork U12 final replay against Milford (and was then substituted…we won 10-2 to 1-3…not sure how we drew the first game…I think the grass might have been too long or something). When I was a teenager I was pretty big into athletics. I ran with North Cork A.C. and Leevale won a few provincial and national titles at 800m, 1500m and cross country. I trained 5 or 6 days a week but it was a fairly solitary pursuit so when I went to college in Maynooth I switched my attention to basketball and played with the mens team for the duration of my degree. We were pretty much the worst team in the varsity competition but it was a great gang of lads and turns out that basketball is a pretty good transition sport to ultimate.
When did you start? At Cork, did you play at Maynooth?
I started playing ultimate in 2003 when I moved to UCC to do my PhD. I really wanted to continue playing basketball which was my sport in Maynooth but I really wasn’t all that good and didn’t make the UCC mens team. Robin Giller was starting his PhD in the same lab as me and told me that he was going to try out this new sport he’d heard about called ultimate frisbee so I tagged along. We trained a couple of nights a week on the crappy astro turf at the Mardyke where I left a fair amount of knee skin behind because I didn’t know how to lay out properly (I figured it out after watching Adam Keys get horizontal a year or so later)! I spent 4 years playing with UCC in what were the pre-rebel days. We got to a few intervarsity finals along the way and had a few good battles with UCD but the lads only started bringing the trophies south after I left…but I don’t read much into that 😉
What was Cork like when you started?
We were a pretty ragtag bunch at the time with Dave Rosenfeld heading things up. Dave brought just the right amount of knowledge to our group so that we were able to get past the basics and start improving pretty quickly. We also had the benefit of a fresh cohort of American exchange students bolstering our ranks each year and watching some of those players (Fatman Maloney who has a Worlds medal with the US and won the AUDL with the DC Lightning last season for example) really opened up how we thought about and played the game.
What things happened for it to improve?
I think we started improving when we got enough players to consistently run full training sessions. We generated a bit of excitement within the club by starting Cork Open which I think was probably the first annual tournament that started attracting international teams to play the game in Ireland. There was a bit of a buzz about ultimate in Cork…it was a really fun time to be in the middle of it. On a personal level probably the best thing that happened my game was spending the first year of my PhD in a business park up at Cork airport where there was fuck all to do at lunchtime except fling a disc around a car park…Robin and I probably threw a few hundred discs back and forth per day.
Was it more numbers, and more people helping out?
That was certainly part of it…we got a bit of a critical mass together in Cork, people like Dee O’Breasail, Mark Canning, Peter Forde, Sinead Fleming and Rose Glancy formed the core that remained from year to year and allowed for that growth to happen and stayed long enough to pass the momentum on.
Cork Open, grew and grew, became the premier outdoors Irish tournament with the demise of the Dublin tournament. Your thoughts?
Cork Open was the lovebrainchild of myself and Robin Giller and at the time was the only open club ultimate tournament in Ireland. We pretty much shared the TD responsibilities for the first few years and lots of other people worked hard to back up that effort to host what was Ireland’s biggest tournament for a few years in a row. I think we hit a really great balance between having a fun, party tournament (remember Frank the Monkey) and a tournament that attracted strong teams that wanted to win. We also started shifting the perception that ultimate in Ireland was only played seriously in Dublin which I think probably helped some of the future tournaments that have since sprung out outside of the Pale.
We also kicked off the Cork Beach hat tournament in the Summer which kept people coming back to Cork for ultimate year round! That was a pretty rag tag affair with dubious planning at best…I remember one year we landed down at the beach on the morning of the tournament with about 50 people in tow only to find most of the beach completely washed away because of changing tides….but we held a tournament anyway…most of the points took place in about two feet of Atlantic ocean. But in a way that was the beauty of it…nobody took themselves too seriously and pretty much everyone was willing to wing it.
It was well organised, good pr, highlights videos, facilities, party too.
Yeah, everyone rowed in and helped which was what made it such a success. Every single Cork player had visiting teams strewn all over their apartments for days on end before and after the tournament. Myself and Kieran Giller almost had to go to hospital after inhaling paint fumes the night before the 2006 tournament after using wall paint to paint a stat on about a hundred cotton tshirts.
I still watch the Cork Open video from ’06 that Mark Canning made with some cheesy soundtrack and watching Dave Rosenfeld fall on his arse when he runs up for the trophy cracks me up everytime!
Cork 07 final, on handing over the trophy you said it was the best final played in Ireland to date at that time … why / what did you mean?
I think that that final was a really high quality, exceptionally spirited game between two teams (JC -Dublin and FuF from Ghent) that both played fair, hard and went after the win. The setting for the final was perfect, a balmy Cork evening in early November played under floodlights in front of most of the 18 other teams that had travelled to Cork for the event. FuF had some big physical players (Jelle) that really knew what they were doing and I think it really hit home in that game that our up and coming guys (Cian O’ Morain, Hag) could play at that level and win. My comment was probably more of a manifestation of how I was excited for the future of the tournament and for ultimate in Ireland in general, especially with the momentum that the national squads had coming off such a fantastic run at the Euros earlier that year.
Your illustrious Irish national squad career, highlights?Best tournaments and best game played?
Playing in the Worlds in Finland in 2004 was a defining moment for me in terms of seeing the level that ultimate was being played at around the world and getting exposure to the global community that plays ultimate. It was also my first experience of a really big tournament. I had been playing the sport about 7 months when I got on the team and it was a massive honour for me to pull on the Irish shirt and go out to play against some of the best players in the world.
The tournament itself was one of the best weeks of my life…we slept on the classroom floor of a local school and bonded more than I think I have with any other team to this day.
Best game moment: A game highlight from that tournament was catching the game winning universe point against the Russians. BB to MalG who threw a floaty piece of shit into the endzone…luckily that was back when I could jump and the Russians were all about 5ft 3in 🙂
Worst game moment (that wasn’t even in a game proper): I was playing some of my best ultimate with a team that was firing on all cylinders in the lead up to the Euros in 2007 when I laid out for a disc from Nialler during a warmup drill at Tour and dislocated my right shoulder when I landed. It immediately ended my season and I lost the chance to be on playing line for Euros 07 in Southampton later that year, where the lads played out of their skins to finish 6th. On the plus side my lefty backhand is almost as good as my right!
Best off the field moment: Vancouver in 2008 was the culmination of two years of effort for me and leading the team through that tournament and being handed the trophy for most spirited team was a really proud moment for me.
Fun fact: In a game vs the UK at Worlds ’08 in Vancouver I caught a hammer in the endzone from Blonde Rob to end the longest single point in the entire tournament. If I remember correctly it had lasted over 15 minutes of continuous play…and it wasn’t even windy J …a few of us had to crawl off the field on all fours.
Different positions played, didn’t you start deep, and then work back a little?
Haha yeah I started as a deep cutter because I could outrun and outjump most people. I think at one point during worlds in Finland right after the group stage I was actually one of the top scorers in the entire tournament but I could probably count on one hand how many times I’d thrown the disc forwards! I was definitely a one trick pony! Cluiche Peil won us many a point in those days!
And now Im one of those lazy tall handlers who busts deep every now and again and remembers that’s where he actually belongs. I’ve been spending the last few seasons perfecting my lefty push pass hucks with varying degrees of success.
You also captained the team too (?) how did you find that ?
Captaining Ireland for the Worlds campaign in ’08 was a huge task for me. I was inheriting a team that had come off a fantastic run at Euros under two of the best leaders I’ve ever seen play the game (Marko and Britboy) so there was a lot of pressure that came with that role. I was lucky to have had two phenomenal co-captains in Dman and Rob K and we poured everything we had into the team for about 7 or 8 months in the run up to Vancouver.
We had a really successful warm up tournament at the 6 nations event held in Berlin, Germany where we beat some teams for the first time on the international stage (Germany on universe as well as the Netherlands) and we really had great momentum heading to Vancouver.
And then if I’m to be honest things started to unravel for us a little. Unbeknownst to us the two South American teams- Venezuela and Colombia had been massively under-seeded at 17th and 18th respectively. They brought a level of physicality to ultimate that we hadn’t previously encountered and with much of it bordering on the reckless we didn’t do a great job of sticking to our game plan. We lost both encounters which that made our group games against the top seeded team GB, Australia and Germany even more challenging. We lost all of our group games and with no way to rejoin the top section of the tournament proceeded to win our next 4 games before a final game loss to Germany for the 13-14 spot. Colombia finished in 8th position and along the way almost had a fist fight on the field with members of the Swiss time as a result of their aggressive style of play.
Picking up the spirit award on the final day in front of the huge crowds that came out to UBC was probably the best moment of my tournament. The Irish team…for the second successive World championships was recognised in front of the world’s players as playing the game to the highest possible standard of fairness and sportsmanship. That was a definitely special moment for me.
That said for a while after Worlds I felt that our team deserved more…I was quite annoyed that all of the time and effort and money that we had put in over the previous two years boiled down to a crazy set of pool games because some TD did a crappy job of seeding. And then I realised that I was just making excuses for losing and that sometimes sport (even ultimate) just isn’t fair…and I let it go. Ironically the captain of the Venezuelan team is now a good friend of mine and we play on the same Thursday night team.
After that, to Africa, how was that as a contrast?
A few weeks after finishing Worlds in Vancouver I found myself in Northern Ghana with no running water, no electricity and digging holes in a field when I wanted to take a crap. To say it was a bit of a culture shock would be an understatement! Working and living with the people there for the year was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I gained a huge amount of perspective and appreciation for how lucky I have been in my life…and I hope that I still have a bit of that hanging around these days. I brought about ten or twelve discs with me when I traveled around Southern Africa and wherever I hung out with the locals I left a disc or two behind…wonderful to see the smiles on kids faces when they play with a Frisbee for the first time!
Canada now, you play a bit of mixed? How does it compare, pros and cons of ultimate in Canada?
I play on a bunch of mixed teams here in Canada. Its pretty relaxed stuff (both of my teams are sponsored by micro brew pubs…we get about 8L per night in the summer!) but the standard of play is actually pretty high (there are ex-captains from both the Australian and Venezuelan open teams on my Monday night team). We regularly play against guys and girls that are playing for Riptide, Nighthawks and Traffic etc. so that keeps it interesting. We go to about 4 or 5 tournaments a year but they’re all quite similar in format. I really do miss the variety of tournaments that we have in Europe, all only a couple of hours flight away from anywhere else. My favourite tournament this side of the pond is called Potlatch, a 3 day tournament held just outside of Seattle which attracts 120 or so mixed teams every year. It’s a big party tournament and with everyone camping at the fields the party really only starts when the official one ends!!
The ultimate scene in Vancouver is very well developed and managed. The VUL (Vancouver Ultimate League) have two or three full time employees which allows them to run a really amazing amount leagues during the year. On any given weeknight in Vancouver during the summer there are probably about 40 or 50 games being played simultaneously across all of the divisions. It’s possible to play ultimate pretty much every night of the week with a different team. This setup, along with a really well developed secondary school and university scene means there is a massive player base with alot of talent coming up through the ranks. There are also two professional ultimate teams based in Vancouver (Riptide and Nighthawks) which gives the sport of ultimate a much broader public profile than normal. Summertime MLU/AUDL games will regularly see close to a thousand people coming out to watch.
The only cons about the scene for me is that sometimes there isn’t as much shennagains as I’d like…people don’t spend as much time messing as they do in Ireland. Luckily Ive found a few like minded souls so we do our best to make up for the rest of them!
Did you think you’ll come back and play / live in Ireland again at some point?
Yeah definitely! I love ultimate and can see myself playing in some capacity for quite a while yet (Irish masters worlds anyone?) In terms of coming back to Ireland I think that it’ll happen at some point but I’m not sure when yet. It took me a few years to get set up here in Vancouver and now that I’ve figured out what a growler means over here I’m going to enjoy it for a few years! I’ve lots of adventures to tick off the list but obviously when you’re away you’re always a bit homesick and think about coming home.
What else should I have asked you / would you like to add?
Not much really, just to say that its fantastic to see the Irish ultimate scene doing so well these days. I followed the Irish beach team at Dubai on facebook and feel very proud every time I see an Irish player represent on that stage knowing the journey that it takes to get to that level as a player. It’s a credit to all those who put countless hours into organization, coaching, training, travelling to tournaments etc. and it looks as if the future of Irish ultimate is in rude health!