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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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Ireland, Ultimate Frisbee, Women's Ultimate

Emer Mernagh, Irish / Aussie Ultimate ace

By @SimonCocking

It’s a shame she’s been over in Oz so long, but from playing with her in 2005 onwards she was always great fun to play with. Never afraid to give the male members of the team a bollocking if they needed it. She was a bright eyed member of the ’05 Rostock Europeans clubs team, and then went on to be a member of both of the successful mixed and open teams over the next few years in Ireland. She’s been part of some great ultimate moments, with an awesome huck, and some great photos to prove it. Here she is in her own words …

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What sport did you play before ultimate / at school?

In secondary school I played numerous sports such as basketball, netball, tennis but my main sport was badminton. I played for my county and won a good few tournaments. It was a lot of fun and something I got back into it here for a year but ultimate took over my time and pushed it back into the cupboard. I’ll go back soon though.

Was it difficult to stop that / why did you start playing ultimate?

I never actually stopped playing badminton. I played straight through my 4 years of college and then joined a club in Tenure once I graduated. I’ve maintained most of my skills so I’m happy with that J

I started playing Frisbee in my 3rd year of college and all the credit goes to Niall Deehan (aka Seb) and Micheal Larkin. I was in the same course as both of them and one day they dragged me to DCU hall to give it a go. There were loads of people there; discs flying everywhere. I remember throwing my first forehand and throwing it into the wall to the left of me, I thought it was hilarious so I kept going. Then I figured out there was more to it and once I realised it was an outdoor sport I enjoyed it even more, even playing in miserable weather.

Rostock, you played that very young, maybe your 1st or 2nd season – how did you find it – playing with and against more experienced people?

It was actually my first season. I started playing around November I think and my first tournament was NYE Beach in Berlin. It was an indoor beach tournament in Berlin. I went along with Dominick Symth and it just engrained the sport into me more.

The people were lovely and I am still friendly with some today.

Rostock was an experience in itself. It was my first serious tournament and I knew I wasn’t quite ready but you guys needed the numbers so I jumped on the bandwagon (isn’t that how all teams were made back then). It was a great decision. I always wonder how good we would have been if we had another year of training under our belts and hearing Perfect Dave speak fluent German was pretty cool as well.

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You emerged onto that team along with Laura from DCU, how was it starting at DCU, how did you find the ultimate scene there?

Laura was so much better than me when we first joined and I came to learn she played in school so I was already jealous of her finding out about the sport before me:-p She had this beautiful forehand that I was so jealous of at the time. My competitive streak kicked in and I made it my mission to one day be able to throw better than her. She was very fast and a good jumper so I had to beat her a throwing 😉

DCU was a great place to learn. Yiv showed every girl a very warm welcome and even though boys don’t throw to girls, a few misguided throws went my way and so I felt part of it all. I think my first year we had the infamous Donegal Trip and that sealed us all in this forever friendship. When you get up to that much messing it’s hard not to form strong ties with people. My college experience was only 2 years so most of my time was playing with Throwin’ Shapes, Biddy Murphy, MAC or Ireland.

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Emer, front row, 5th from left

Soon after you began playing for Ireland women, what was it like to make the team? Looking back what were hi’s lows, and what could have been done differently?

It was amazing! It’s something that I’ve come to love more as years go by. Playing for your country is something special and as cliché as it sounds, being able to play with a bunch of friends is even better. Yes there were strong personalities on the team, mine probably being one of the strongest, but we had fun and had some beautiful wins and tough losses.

One of my favourite highs was during one of our warm-up tournaments; Windmill Windup. We beat the French National team to get into the final against the Italian National team. They were quick, tall and fast and they won the game quite convincingly but there was one point where they were playing zone on us. They had us pinned back and I saw Laura sneak off to the endzone, to this day I don’t know how I threw it but I threw one of the best throws of my career from our endzone into there’s straight to her. The crowd went wild obviously!

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Front row, second from right

We arrived home from that tournament to a heroes welcome of green and gold at the airport as it was the first time an Irish women’s team had made the final of a European tournament. It was a great feeling.

Not too many lows come to mind. I’m very good at forgetting the bad ones. However I would have loved to have played better at Rostock. It was probably way too early in my career for it but I would have liked to have been able to give it more.

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Johnny Chimpo! the only regular female on the team, why on earth did you want to play for them? 

I absolutely loved playing for Johnny Chimpo. I say it was the fact that I could tell the boys there to get their shit together and they just laughed at me! I hold my time on that team as some of my best ultimate days and the boys taught me some discs skills that ladies didn’t use at the time so it helped me to grow.

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In the orange of Johnny Chimpo

What was it like?

It was great. They were a mixed bunch of messers, serious and old people :-p Cian and Enda would always have my back when the guys would try and go long on me… I don’t actually think any of them managed it with those two on their tails.

I remember one ‘friendly’ game against Broccoli in UCD and we started on Offence, so out I jumped to the line. They got the turn, both Cian and Enda were bursting long for an open pass when it happened so I was left deep. Tadgh aka Tiger burst deep for a score for Broccoli and I chased after him. I jumped and just tipped the disc with my fingers to take it off its trajectory…. Yesss I D a boy!

Needless to say the boys thought it was hilarious and Cian’s words to me after was ‘Jeez I thought we were screwed there!” Thanks for the vote of confidence!

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Great photo, taken by Emer?

You played when they demolished Faff in the Cork final, a strong member of the O line, how was that?

That was a lot of fun and I wish more of it was recorded as my memory is so bad I can’t remember it fully. I played the O points mainly and I believe I came off the field with 0 turnovers which is great.

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Emer bottom row, 2nd from right,  +1 & ‘lil sister  (& ace photographer & spider remover) backrow far right

Mixed ultimate, throwing shapes, All Ireland winner, the good bits / bad bits?

My mixed ultimate scene was short in Ireland. It was good but I think I didn’t have enough time with it to know how much fun it was. Throwin’ Shapes was a lot of fun and I will always remember it fondly as the first team I had a co-ed shower with along with a bottle of champers.

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Australia. What’s the ultimate scene like? (and compared to Ireland)

Compared to Ireland it’s not great if I’m honest. The skill level appeared higher when I first came out and the numbers are definitely more but the atmosphere and range of tournaments you can play back home is so much better than here in Australia. The Australian’s just don’t know how to have the craic. They go for one drink and they mean a little one… there is never any stretching it out. I’ve not even had one impromptu random night out, that happens so often at home. Half the teams don’t even show up to the parties organised at tournaments anymore. It’s just disappointing.

Highlights of Oz playing career?

Playing in Seattle with the Firetails in ECC (Emerald City Classic). It was part of trying out for the Firetails which I sadly didn’t make. It was a tough blow and I suppose affected how much I enjoyed playing here being close to politics of the Frisbee scene here was frustrating.

My current womens team Rabble has been going for the last 3 years and last year we finished 5th at Australian Nationals, which was incredible for us. We have a great coach Alec. It was his first year coaching women’s ultimate but he has definitely relaxed around us more and brought the team on so much!

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How is it living in Sydney, lots of other Irish too, lots from DCU too, – or not a big part of your network?

Hmmm it’s a mix, it really depends on what time of year it is. Michéal is down in Melbourne but he shows his lovely face in Sydney to surprise us all once in a while. Pete and Louise have now joined us in Sydney and they seem to be settling down well. The long-term residents Al and Luan are prominent in the DUFF club and we see them regularly for a pint or a bottle of wine (we’re all posh over here now). Jiggles and Duffman are in the gang as well but as Jiggle injured her leg badly she hasn’t been able to play the last year and won’t play anymore before they head back to Ireland next year. It’s great to have the few people from home to hang out with and help the homesickness ease a bit.

The rest of my social life is other travellers and a good few Aussies. The dog has widened our friendship circles a bit as well which has been great. We are never short of someone to call on on a quiet Friday night to go for some food or a cheeky schooner!

You’ve been there a while now, will you be there for a long time too?

It’s always hard to say a definite answer to that question. For now it’s a yes. The classic phrase ‘it’s just so far from home’ comes up regularly when I’d love to pop home to try out for an Irish team or go to someone’s birthday party etc. For now I am happy here enjoying the sunshine and mild winters.

Spiders, how do you manage! Big, mostly not poisonous?

I don’t! The other half disposes of them 90% of the time. Otherwise it is a wonderful spray called mortein and a big bloody as shoe! The cockroaches are more plentiful than the spiders and they are just as gross.

Your ultimate playing siblings, your fault? What happened there? 

Yes my sister is definitely my fault and then my brother followed. I didn’t think Keith would like it so much but Frisbee won him over as well. Fiona went to DCU as well and Keith found the route through Tallaght IT.

You didn’t get to play together that much with them though?

It was a shame that they started playing so late after me. I did play Europeans with Fiona which was great but I have only played a Christmas Hat tournament with Keith and that didn’t really showcase how good a player I’ve heard he has become.

Do you have another sibling that doesn’t play? If so, what do they make of it all?

Yup our older sister by-passed all the sports. She used to play a bit of badminton with me but she lost interest in it. The competitive Mernagh gene skipped her for some reason. I think I got her dose as well

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What’s it like having an ultimate playing partner?

Darkie has actually not been playing for the last 2 years so it’s been a while since I had one over here. Back in the good ole days it was really good fun. It meant weekends away with a ton of people and parties all the time. Now unfortunately it’s expensive weekends away for one with my annual leave diminishing and his growing so makes it hard to take non-Frisbee time off and go on holidays.

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What’s it like actually playing with them?

It’s was fun when we got to play together. I think the best time we played with each other was when we were both on Johnny Chimpo. The ease of winning made it easy to enjoy it more :-p.

Over in Australia we have now played a league season and 2 Mixed Nationals seasons together. The mixed scene over here is very different. Each year new teams are formed and you have to be in the know in order to get on a decent enough team. It can lead to many frustrating emails and eventually tournaments.

It’s hard to play with your partner sometimes especially when you are both as competitive and stubborn as each other. You have your own personal dialogue that you use in every day speech, which can be worst when brought onto a pitch. That one look that means ‘If you don’t get off the couch and clean the house’ also works quiet well when they throw the disc away and so a lot is said without it being said. Although I think the same can be said as a positive but we just haven’t managed that part of it yet. It’s best when we play opposite points. haha.

Reflect for a moment on being part of the team, with your +1, that won the Sligo final beating Marko, Dman, and a bunch of other good players – (made me laugh anyway).

I’ve no recollection of this whatsoever but Mark informs me it was a great game. I also asked him if I was awesome but he said he was too busy being awesome himself! Darkie also says I kept giving out to Marko for laying out as we were playing Dr. Sand and Mr. Grass a couple of weeks later and I didn’t want him to injure himself… that does sound like me!

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Are you about to retire? What are the factors, too many injuries, busy, spiders?

Hmmm this is very present at the moment and it really depends on what day you ask me. Do I just play one more season or do I put my name back on the radar for 2016 and try out for another Worlds team. When I first arrived I was a keen bean. I wanted to get involved straight away and now I am not so sure. This next season will tell.

What should I have asked you?

I can’t think of anything else 🙂

Anything else to add?

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A picture of a Huntsman and Murphy our 10 month old German Shepherd with a sliotar 🙂

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