Beach Ultimate, BULA, Burrow Beach, Interview, Rory Kavanagh, Ultimate Frisbee

WCBU : review of the Mixed division with Ireland’s Rory Kavanagh

By @SimonCocking


Well done, great week what were your highlights?

Thanks Simon, we’re pretty happy with how the week went in general. My highlights were third day of competition, we knew we had 3 potential knock out games against three strong teams to finish the group and we smashed it. The Portugal game is also probably a bit of a highlight, the result was tough to take but the fight back the team showed and the emotions during that game were something else. The experience of staying in a 90th floor penthouse walking distance from the fields with the team is something that will be hard to forget.

In 2013 you had a surprise loss in the 1st round, this time around Portugal not exactly a ‘shock’ as they are a good team, but anything you would have done differently in that game or any of the others?

The loss to Poland in 2013 was the best thing that happened to us at that tournament. We entered off the back of a strong preparatory season and were probably somewhat complacent going into that game. Poland went up 5-1 by being more intense than us. They hit us like a freight train and by the time we recovered it was too late to take the game back. The lesson we took was that we need to start every game at 100% and try to do what Poland had done to us.

The context in Dubai was very different, we were the higher seeds in the group, but our preparation and team pitch time coming into this tournament was very different from 2013. We had seen Portugal playing in Lisbon and knew they were on form and had a deeper squad than in 2013. The way we started the game was a bit of a shock, but a close final score was to be expected.

For this game I think we were a little bit preoccupied with our opponents. We knew they had a couple of superstar players and what they liked to do. We focused too much on our opponents and less on ourselves so that we ended up starting with some nerves and unforced errors instead on being intense and hitting the field with confidence.

Was it tougher playing so early in the season, with less prep time?

The timing certainly provided some challenges. Having major tournaments in late summer gives you a good 9 months to prepare, and all the regular top competitions are at your disposal to get playing time together. In 2013 our objective was to make the most cohesive team possible by playing 3 tournaments (25+ competitive games together before the actual championships).

This time around due to the short preparation time and high cost of the tournament we had to get the team on the same page before the championships without raising the cost or commitment to a level that excluded the top quality players.

We had no trial, a couple of training days in Sutton and the majority of the squad made it to a warm up tournament in Lisbon. The first time the entire squad of 17 played together was our friendly against Australia the day before the tournament, not ideal.

Did playing in Dubai make any difference or much the same as in Europe?

In terms of playing, organization the tournament was delivered with the same quality and professionalism as ECBU or any of the best European tournaments. The only differences were off the field, the context for the tournament was so different to Europe. None of us had been to Dubai before so we spent the first couple of days craning our necks at the buildings and taking in the mix of culture Dubai has to offer. The heat was a challenge with a couple of players suffering during the tournament but it wasn’t as bad as Worlds in Italy in 2011.

You had some turnover from 2013 team, about 1/3rd maybe? Did that affect things, or not?

We only had 6 returning players from the 2013 squad, only one of which was female. However the vision was very much a continuation from the 2013 experience. The basic plan of playing to the strength of our women on O and a mixed bag of strategies and lots of intensity on D. We lost some of Ireland’s most experienced women, many of whom have since retired but the talent that stepped up in their place was equally impressive.

The average age of the team dropped dramatically. Also the clubs where the players came from were a lot more diverse than previous times. The youth and broad range of backgrounds and skills changed some minor parts of these plans. For example we played a lot of Zone in 2013, what we learned early in the season was we were a lot stronger on man D so we focused on that. On O our girls were moving the disc up-field a lot more and throwing and scoring the goals between themselves as opposed the male thrower to female receiver trend of 2013.

7th is pretty awesome, especially in terms of getting out of the first pool. Do you think it could have turned out any different by avoiding the loss to Portugal?

We never set expectations or goals before the tournament. We wanted to go out and execute our game plan and see how far that would take us with the limited preparation time. USA, Portugal, Russia, Japan, Australia and Switzerland are big names and our high seeding put a target on our backs. We started the Portugal game nervous and we paid for that. Having said that there were no “Easy” quarter finals. The top 4 of the other pool was just as scary. Beating Portugal would have given us the Philippines instead of Canada. It’s hard to tell what that match up would have been like.

Personally I was very happy to make it to the quarters but frustrated that we didn’t have a stronger performance against the North Americans.

Germany World champs, did you predict that one? Glad a European team did it, any sense it could have been you guys, or were they a stronger unit than the 2013 version?

I don’t think any of us predicted that one at the start of the week. I’m delighted for them they played an unreal game in the final and thoroughly deserved the victory. I think we would consider Germany, as well as Portugal and Sweden to be our peers in Europe, and seeing one of your peers win world’s obviously makes you imagine yourself there. In 2013 we played the Germans at Paganello (and won quite convincingly) but the Dubai German Team was light years ahead of the team we played then.

With the team and preparation we had this time I don’t think it we could have been there instead of Germany. Ireland are still a long way off but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a future Irish team with the right preparation to take down a North American team.

Canada seemed to improve across the week, across several divisions, finding their sand legs perhaps? Do you think a European team could have taken down the US too?

I’m not certain but I believe the Canadians were from across the whole country so I imagine preparation as a team before hand must have been near impossible. They certainly had talent so I’d imagine it was the team gelling with every game they played. They also managed to get their semi against the US on the very windy day which I think equalised things a little bit.

Having played both the US and Canada I have to say I was much more impressed with the US strength and depth compared to the Canadians. The US defence was completely smothering and their O was clinical whereas with the Canadians we felt more room to manoeuvre and a closer contest.


What’s next for Irish beach? 

Worlds will be back in two years. They’re changing the rotation so that it doesn’t clash with other international events. Location is TBC. I think lots of us would be up for giving it another bash in the mixed division.

Domestically, this year on Sept 18/19th we’ll have the first All Ireland Beach Championships which is being pushed by Irish Beach Ultimate. The idea is to get an event in the calendar and see some domestic beach take off the same way indoors has grown in recent years. The ideal situation is that by 2017 a lot more players will be playing and interested in Beach ultimate so we can send more teams with more depth.

And you, do you now look at grass again?

Warming up for my first grass practice after Dubai felt very strange. I still play grass and still love it, but beach has taken over as my number one. I will even be putting my body through a week long grass tournament this summer at EUC in Copenhagen playing with Spain mixed.

Being Spain based, why do Spanish teams not make it to worlds as often as other nations? 

The short answer is money. Spain had a team in every division at Euros which was in Spain, however for Dubai there were no projects put together. There was some interest but the cost of the tournament and the timing made it hard to get sufficient numbers. Instead in 2015 there’s a lot more focus on EUC. Spain are sending teams to 5 Divisions in Copenhagen.

What is the depth / strength of Spanish ultimate relevant to Ireland, or even Portugal?

I think the Spanish and Irish communities are very different. I would say Irish Ultimate is much more organized and growing faster. The university and schools / juniors set up in Ireland means that every year there are more and more players being trained by better and better coaches. In Spain there are no university clubs, and while school programs have really taken off in the last year (especially in Catalunya) the results of this work wont be seen for a while. Player growth in Spain is competitively slow.

Ireland has also benefited from being so close to the UK. Being able to travel to Tour every year is a great and inexpensive opportunity for Irish Teams to learn that you just can’t replicate here.

In terms of the quality of players there are some great teams here. Corocotta from Santander, Quijotes from Madrid and Mubidisk from Lanzarote are the three that dominate domestically and have put in some quality performances at European / Worlds level. One big difference is that with most Spanish teams the average age of players is a lot older than in Ireland. Because there is less organic growth in the community most clubs best players are over 30 and have been playing since their club was founded. This is exemplified by Spain having an Open Masters and Women’s Masters team at EUC.

I’m less familiar with Portugal. I know they have strong clubs like Bufa who play the big Beach tournaments in Europe helped along by some strong foreign players but domestically as far as I’m aware their club scene is growing but wouldn’t have the depth that Ireland and Spain have. I would liken them to Ireland Open in 2007, where the community was of a size that allowed a couple of very strong players to build a team that played and trained together to the point that the team was stronger than the sum of it’s parts.

How was Dubai in general?

Dubai was really strange. We stayed in an Airbnb penthouse apartment on the 90th floor of the Princess Tower. (The tallest residential building in the world) It was 15 minutes away from the fields with spectacular views of the marina and Palm Jumeirah. The jacuzzis on the 5th floor were put to use nightly. It’s a really strange mix of everything, cultures from all over the world, western consumerism and outlandishness expensive displays of wealth, because ‘why not?’ I don’t see myself going back there any time soon but I’m happy I got to experience it even for a little while.

Are you done with beach, or already looking at next WCBU, in 2017?

Definitely not done with beach. Word on the street is that the next worlds is in 2017. I’d very much like to be a part of that project in whatever way I can and I know Sam and some of the team are already into it. Here’s hoping it’s somewhere in Europe.

What else should I have asked you / would you like to add?

Our kit was sponsored by an Irish company, Nurse Jobs Ireland so a big thank you to them.

I’d also like to thank the community for the support they showed us and the open team during the tournament. The messages of support are really touching and mean a lot.

See more from their blog here and their twitter @irlmixedbeach



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