Your background, sports played before ultimate.
I played different sports. My parents are from strong GAA backgrounds so I spent a lot of Sundays in Croke Park watching matches and I played mainly hurling from the age of 7 for Kevin’s hurling club in Crumlin and later Kilmacud Crokes up to age 13. When I went to school in Gonzaga age 8, I played schools rugby, tennis and cricket competitively as well as for Lansdowne cubs rugby club, St. Mary’s and Donnybrook tennis clubs and Merrion cricket club. I dabbled in soccer with Granada in Blackrock for one year and I played small amounts of squash, basketball, golf.
You got to UCD with JD, and seemed pretty much ready to go, (and play ultimate) what inspired you to take it up?
I really wanted to do something different at university and I had seen an international ultimate frisbee match between the United States and Sweden when I was about 16 on Screensport or Eurosport. I only saw a few minutes of it and was immediately fascinated by the skill of it and the long throws to the endzone which were much more frequent than in American football. When I saw a flyers at UCD with training times, I turned up and there were only about 3 people there. I began throwing and I guess I was hooked straight away. I then starting getting friends to take it up. JD was also in my medicine class so we used to throw all the time in both Belfield and the Iveagh Gardens in Earlsford Terrace.
You / JD / plus a core of others, really helped to move UCD on – there was a team the year before, but not the same unity, how do you remember it.
For the first year it was really a core of JD Coakley, Alan Murray and me. We are also great friends who socialised a lot together so it was very easy. We used to train outdoors and then go to the UCD sports bar afterwards. It was just great fun and the numbers started growing. My first tournament was the Edinburgh Beginner’s Tournament, a 32 team tournament for novice college teams from all over the UK and Ireland. We didn’t win but we came close and that’s when I realised we had talent here and I started to want UCD to be a real force in the UK. I really wanted to return some day to the UK University championships and win. Our core of players grew in the following years and included Mark Earley and John Staunton and the club swelled to 250 members which played in 8 tournaments a year and had a 25,000 euro annual budget. It was really exciting to see it grow.
Heilbronn 2000, Ireland mixed, a fairly successful debut, how do you remember it, what were the good bits, any frustrations? How did you find the influence of Dec Moore and Barry O Kane, and any others?
It was great, We were by far the most inexperienced team in the division at worlds and several of us had been playing less than a year. We played well and we won a couple of matches and lost a few close ones too. I remember our first win against Brazil and just wondering how this was all happening so soon after starting playing. Playing with Declan Moore was just awesome. He has amazing throws and really understands the game so I just learned tonnes from him. He also really wanted to win which I liked. I was so impressed seeing the top teams in the open division though, they were just at a totally different level of speed and skill.
Prague 01, clubs, you broke your hand the week before … annoying? You went on to be captain of the O line, what was that like, how do you think the team performed?
Yeah I laid out (diving catch) on the last throw of the last practice in Herbert Park before the tournament. The disc dipped last second and I foolishly adjusted to catch it and stubbed my hand in the ground and broke a metacarpal. So it was hard to sit on the sideline but I developed a mean left handed scuba by the end of the week. It was great to see us win a few more matches, especially against Stockholm. Beating a Swedish team was a big deal.
France 03 – co captain, what worked, what didn’t? We had a lot of rookies (as always) on the team? Getting better but not quite the finished product? You had some good strategies…
Yeah it was a real learning experience. Dominick Smyth, Mark Earley and I were co-captains, at the old ages of about 22 each! I wanted us to be super fit and to train regularly as a team and I think this ruffled a few feathers at the start. It can be difficult being a captain when so many of the players are your close friends but the teething problems of that didn’t last long and we all found our feet. We were in the open division and so the speed of the game was a lot faster. It was during the dangerous heat wave in France and we found the 33 degree heat difficult. What worked well was our organisation and set plays using long endzone strikes for players from the opposite wing to chase down 50-70 yard passes, which we really managed to surprise some of the the top teams with. I think we were finally knocking on the door of really competing with the other European teams, but not there just yet.
I remember one point where they pulled to us, they zoned us, you laid it off to Stokes, I popped, took the disc, laid it back off to you, and we then repeated that cycle of passes all the way to a score in their endzone. Not sure if you remember it, but it made me laugh, shame it wasn’t repeated more often.
Yeah I remember it for sure. I love playing zone offence more than anything else, it favors skill over speed and you get to use fakes and pivots to create holes in defenses. Once you crack a zone in a way they don’t have a solution to, then you just keep scoring until they change their D.
3 captains, didn’t quite work? But did lay the ground for future successful campaigns?
I think it did work well, we each have different personalities which allowed us to relate to the whole squad better. Dominick
is the quiet workhorse who turned heads with his athleticism and never give up attitude, Mark has great awareness of how to get the most out of our players and, in this self refereed sport deals very well with opponents. And I am a strategist who likes to figure out ways to open up defences and score. Being fair to ourselves, the other European teams each had very established domestic university and club leagues with larger player bases and vastly more experience. I think catching up to this standard in just a few short years was always going to be a rocky roller coaster! I look back and I’m pretty proud of our team for doing it.
By 06 / 07 / 08 Ireland getting better, why? Your thoughts on it.
I missed 06 and 07 as I had begun working as a Doctor and was also living in Australia for a year. I got back into ultimate for Vancouver 2008 in a big way. I realised that we had a great bunch of talented players and it was worth giving everything to. The team had also finished 6th in the recent European Championships.
We were playing really good ultimate and had even beaten Germany, one of the top European teams, in a warm up tournament in Berlin a month before. For the first time in a tournament that I had played in, we were all super fit and we had depth. Our team photo says it all! We were in a really tough group with GB, Australia, Venezuala and Colombia. We played some really great games but in the end lost to both the South American teams very narrowly so missed out on the upper bracket. The standard of the game was just rising so fast at that time. I think if I have one regret it is that the limits of self refereeing were really tested at this very competitive tournament, especially in very close games. This will always favor one side over the other but that is no different to a standard referee. However it is distracting to players on both sides who have one extra thing to think about. After all the endless fitness work and training, you just want to turn up and play for the full allotted time and not be distracted by discussions and disputed calls.
Broccolli, why did you guys set it up, what did you like about it, and Mixed veg?
We needed a club team in Dublin for people leaving the university teams. So it was made up largely by former UCD players. We wanted to travel to international tournaments around Europe and to play competitively. Mixed veg was a co-ed team that we made with many of the players on the Irish ladies team. It was a really necessary step to allow people to play competitive ultimate at a level below the major tournaments which allowed younger players to get good experience.
Your take on the rivalry with Chimpo & Throwing Shapes?
It was great, it had all that is necessary for a good rivalry, both teams had different personalities, different playing styles and neither wanted to lose to the other. It was perfect really for raising the competition and establishing a club rivalry.
You played for Cork successfully also, winning All Irelands, how did they differ from the Dublin ultimate scene?
Wow, where to start! The Cork ultimate scene is so different from the Dublin scene, its been fascinating to be part of both. I played for Rebel and we won All-Irelands in 2012, beating Broc in the Final. I also trained the UCC team as much as I could although time was tight with work. I really enjoyed playing ultimate in Cork, the setup there is really well organised and people like Fergus McAuliffe, Ray Considine, Brian T. O Callaghan and Donal Murray to name but a few, did huge work to organise the university and club teams. They really look after their new players very well and give them a real structure and clear pathway to playing for the senior teams and the players really respond to this structure by turning out in very large numbers. They place a high value on attendance and punctuality so only committed players get invited to the senior training sessions so the “selection” is really done by the players themselves over the course of the season. There is huge pride and huge respect between the players. Its a great scene and so many of the players have GAA backgrounds, they are athletes and naturally rise to the occasions in close matches. I was delighted when UCC became the first Irish University to win the UK and Irish Open Outdoor Universities Championship.
Dublin Ultimate is different in that there are just so many teams to play against and it is much easier to fly to tournaments from Dublin. So Dublin players get great exposure very quickly and can develop rapidly as a result. Ranelagh Ultimate is now a great team with a strong emphasis on attendance and fitness and it is reaping deserved rewards and really bringing great new players onto the scene.
When it comes to national teams selection/organisation, it is certainly interesting to see the Dublin/Cork rivalry/logistics/politics play out. I think as Iong as there are people from different clubs all over Ireland playing on the national teams together and who speak their mind, it will be ok. Playing with your friends for your university is great but playing with the best players from all over Ireland, against other national teams is just so special that every player should really aspire to it. Its worth the sacrifices.
1999 – 2015 – your 15 year overview?
Playing the sport is the best thing I have ever done. It is amazing how far the sport has come in Ireland and continues to grow. Its really exciting to see the secondary schools teams playing. I think the All-Ireland secondary schools competition is going to be a great way to develop the sport.
Are you playing in Canada ? Retired?
I played division 1 mixed summer league ultimate when I got here which was good fun. I was basically happy not to retear my hamstring each time I played! They play great ultimate here and they like to throw it long a lot.
I hope to play at a social level when I move back to Ireland soon. Its also great for staying in shape. Ultimate players age well!.
Favourite players played with / against / watched?
Favorite player to play with is Brian MacDevitt. Both on the pitch and off the pitch Brian has a great influence on others. Dominick was my favorite person to do track fitness with, he always had an encouraging word for me! Even though I didnt know him personally, my favorite player to play against was the late Philipp “Phillis” Timmermann of the German national team. He was not only an amazing player but a real believer of spirit of the game before winning. It was a joy to play against him and the German team.
Anything else to add / should have asked
Not really. Thank you for asking me to give the interview, its an honour. And thank you for starting up the sport in in Ireland. If you hadn’t then I might never have played and my life would not have had this chapter. For your interest, when I lived with Donal Murray in Cork, we planned to write a song about the history of Irish ultimate to the tune of “California dreaming” by the Momas and the Papas. The first line was , “It started off with Simon, Simon Cocking, back in ’98, back in ’98….. Maybe we’ll get to finish at least the first verse some time.