Ireland Mixed 2015, Irish Ultimate

Ireland Mixed aiming for EUC 2015 Copenhagen glory, 1 point at a time

By @SimonCocking, interview with Conor Hogan @IrelandMixed

When did you start training together?

Back in September and early October we had our trials, and after picking the squad we had our first training weekend in early November. It was a casual enough affair where we set our team goals for the season and had a meeting and mobility screening with our S&A coach (Doyler) on Saturday. Then on the Sunday we started introducing our structures. Since then we’ve had 1 training weekend or warm-up tournament per month, other than April where we had a month off and July when we had both a training day and a warm-up tournament.

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What’s the plan for the last few weeks – any tournies, or wrap everyone in cotton wool (please)

So we’ve just finished our last training weekend. Dublin Women’s Ultimate invited 4 Seattle Riot players over to run some clinics for coaches, junior players and female players, so these four were our guest coaches for our last session together. It was awesome to get new perspectives on some of our systems and they really helped us figure out some of the kinks in our structures.

For our last week and a half before we fly, it’s more or less a case of don’t be stupid. Club training, a last bit of conditioning, etc. is all fine. But we’re all smart enough to know that the weekly 5-a-side on a Thursday night after work is a crap idea between now and EUC! Everyone’s normal Frisbee routine will be sufficient to have us in good shape before Euros so we’re not quite at the cotton wool stage just yet.

You have a few players with experience from the successful mixed beach campaigns of 2013, has that helped?

Most of our team has previous success on an Irish mixed team, be it the beach teams of 2013 or 2015, the U23s of 2013, or the 6th place finishers at the last Euros in 2011. So we’re not lacking in mixed experience thankfully. The main benefit of having players from that 2013 team is having people on the squad who know what it’s like to play in a European final in front of a big crowd. We were fortunate enough to make two finals so far this season, both with decent crowds, so I’d like to think we’ll not be uncomfortable if we should progress that far in Copenhagen. But yeah, having Sam for example give us his thoughts on what it was like to play in front of a big crowd in Calafell was a big help so far this season in big games. So the benefits of this are mainly psychological.

At the same time it is also a relatively young squad you’ve assembled, has that helped too?

We’re pretty young alright, yeah. The average age of the team is 24 (and a half!). A lot of us have been playing together for years though, be it with our respective clubs, colleges, or on national teams, so we’re a pretty cohesive unit and we all know each other’s preferences of cuts, throws, etc. really well. So I guess the fact we’re pretty young doesn’t help one way or another as such, but the amount we’ve all played together definitely has helped a bunch!

Who are the different captains and what are their roles?

Our “leadership team”, for lack of a better term, is made up as Frenchi as coach with myself, Emer, Fiona and Liam as captains. 5 seems like a lot to run the team, but it’s been great from an organisational point of view because there is always someone free to do whatever work is needed. The captains’ roles don’t really differ that much to be honest. At our first training weekend, we were all announced as “pod leaders” meaning we had 4 players each on the squad that we would have in our pod for the season. The idea of the pods was so that Ian didn’t have to look after the questions, concerns, demands, etc. of 20 other people, which would have been a logistical nightmare. We help by communicating different bits of information to our pods, such as feedback on performance post training/tournament, and we answer any and all questions regarding tactics or logistics. On pitch our roles don’t differ; for each game someone does the flip, someone does the speech post game, but no one person is designated to do it for a full tournament or anything.

To help us throughout the season with spirit issues, we’ve appointed Alan Pierce as our spirit captain. He helps keep us on our toes with spirit discussions before, during and after tournaments, and helps resolve any issues that come up mid-game too.

What new elements, if any, have you introduced to how the team trains and plays?

Most of the team were familiar enough with our structures in one way, shape or form when we introduced them throughout the season. The main thing we’ve introduced that would be different is a number of initiations which needed to be learned by all, but I guess that’s the same for every team at all levels. Some players are debutants at Senior level, so they would have had to adapt to the speed of the game, but you wouldn’t guess it from the way they’ve been playing recently!

You’re coming off the back of several successful results and tournaments. Well done on that. What aspects have worked that you were especially happy about?

Yeah, thanks! Results wise we’ve had a pretty nice season so far. It’s been a good confidence booster, but we’ve had a scare or two along the way to keep us honest, which was important too.

Without going into tactics and that, the main things we’ve taken away from our pre-season is our attitude and positivity. When we have been relaxed, with positive feedback for each other and positive body language, we have crushed it! It’s been really awesome to be a part of. When we’ve been a bit lethargic or lacking in energy we’ve struggled to maximise our efficiency on pitch, so it was really important for us to recognise this as a team, especially at Dublin’s Golden Cup, and to tackle the issue. We responded really well after a sluggish start to the weekend and it showed us that we need to be switched on 100% of the time, which can be mentally fatiguing, but it’s really important for us to be there if we want to do well.

What are your goals for EUC 2015?

We’ve a number of team goals which will remain a mystery for the time being! We do want to go over to Copenhagen and perform to the best of our ability though. Throughout the season we’ve focused more on the process rather than the results. If you do the former well, the latter sorts itself out. Something that the Riot girls talked about at the coaching clinic last weekend was “focusing on the controllables”. There are going to be a ton of distractions and hype around the event. There could be fluctuating weather conditions throughout the whole week. There are hundreds of different variables that we can do literally nothing about, so why think about them? If we execute and succeed in our goal to control the things that we can control, then the other team goals will sort themselves out.

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Have these shifted / what’s your strategy to manage expectations, and help to team to pace themselves for a successful whole tournament campaign?

If we take each point one at a time, and “live in the now”, we’ll be fine with regards to pacing ourselves. We have 5 group games, but there’s little point in looking forward to our Thursday morning group game on Monday, when we’ve 4 to play before then. So if we employ a tactic of just thinking about our next game, and giving it everything for the next point of that next game, our focus shouldn’t falter.

Without mentioning any specific teams, some nations have gained a reputation for questionable behaviour and gamesmanship. Have you done anything to help prepare the team for dealing with this sort of thing if you happen to encounter it?

Funny enough, we kind of have. We’ve talked at length as a team about different scenarios that have cropped up in our games throughout the season and we’ve discussed the way that we would like to approach these scenarios should they arise again. Pierce, as spirit captain, has been great in this regard to remind us of certain rules and how we should implement them in a given scenario. We’ve talked about how we react to calls too and how our tone and body language can be used to calm situations rather than having our opponents get their backs up against us. At our training with the Riot girls they introduced a few drills and tactics too to help us deal with overly physical teams. In the next 2 weeks we hope our players will get their clubs to run these drills so they can get more and more comfortable in these awkward situations.

You’re the marketing guy – the team profiles are good (but you should have made them sharable / tweetable too), was there any interest in corporate sponsorship for the team – with the Irish economy picking again, it might be an opportunity moving forwards?

The masters in marketing hasn’t been a waste of money after all! Unfortunately, Ultimate Central doesn’t give social media options, but it’s a good idea going forward – definitely something to give them feedback on.

We did have an offer to sponsor some of our kit, but with the timing of getting our kit and all the logistics of getting something printed on them after receiving the kit, it’s been tough to successful negotiate a deal. It might still happen!

Going forward, yeah, it would be sweet to get some sponsorship! To go into a bit of a partnership or deal with someone for a few years would be great, and it would help keep the costs of attending international competitions lower. If anyone knows any companies that might be interested, you might get them to email president@irishultimate.com. I’m sure President Boyle would love to hear from you.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

I’d just like to do a number of thank yous at this point! Thanks to Ian, Emer, Fiona and Liam for all their hard work so far this season, and getting the team to the point we’re at. Thanks to the Riot girls (Charlie, Rachel, Shannon and Surge) for making the trip over and helping us to up our game. Thanks to everyone who has helped us out in one way or another this season (Nuala, Lizzie, Claire, Doyler, Perfect, and anyone else I’ve missed!). Thanks to the rest of the team for making this season so memorable, even if it’s far from over! And lastly, thanks to everyone who has supported us this far. We’re coming up on our last hurdle and all of your messages and support has been awesome!

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