Club or Country: An Irish Perspective

An Irish Eye, Club or Country, Discussion, Irish Ultimate, Open, womens
New contributor Brian ‘Boyler’ Boyle discusses Club or Country from an Irish perspective…
EUCR-S is happening in Nantes, France, this weekend and for the second year in a row, Ireland will only be represented by one club after two years previously of not being represented at all. Despite this, there is interest in Ireland next year not only to send an Open, Women’s and Mixed team to EUC, but also an Open and Women’s team to U23 Worlds. This begs a very important question that I think all Irish Ultimate players need to start asking themselves: why as a country are we willing to spend so much time, effort, and money to play for Ireland, when we are not willing to spend a fraction as much to play for our clubs?
The Case for Tour
Irish players are incredibly lucky to be so close to the UK and have the opportunity to play Tour for such a small cost in comparison to other European tournaments. The competition is of a high standard, and the chance for teams to improve on their final position from the year before will always be there as an incentive for clubs to compete year after year. There is also the thrill of playing against a team that you’ve never played before or never beaten before, and starting new rivalries outside of Ireland. If the spirit circles after matches are anything to go by, British teams are always happy to play Irish teams and I’m sure they would welcome more Irish competition at Tour. A player can also play all three Tours with an additional European tournament (be that EUCR, Windmill Windup, Cologne, etc.) for less money than an entire season with an Ireland National Team. Perhaps this is something to consider with trials coming up soon.
Open
Irish national teams are supposed to have as little effect on club Ultimate as possible, but this is never the case. The biggest hindrance to clubs during national team years is using Tour 1 and Tour 2 as warm up tournaments for EUC or WU23. If this continues next year one of two things will happen: either the club teams that go to Tour will under-perform because their key players are playing for Ireland, or the club teams that would normally go (or might want to go) won’t be able to because they don’t have enough players. Ireland is too small of a nation to sustain a Senior Open and U23 Open team as well as a competitive club scene.
There is something to be said for younger players playing for a National Team and becoming better players, and then making their club teams stronger in the future. I would argue that there is just as much to be said for a younger player joining a highly competitive team and playing club Ultimate in the UK and Europe. This also benefits more players directly and exposes more players to a higher level of Ultimate than one national team could ever do. Ireland teams are one-off and only last a year. Club teams (hopefully) last for years and years. Is it worth putting a club team on hold for an entire year just to benefit a few players? As a small nation our goals should be for more players playing more Ultimate, not fewer.
 
Women’s
Women’s Ultimate in Ireland has been growing stronger and stronger over the last few years, but Irish women’s teams are still under-represented at Tour. Most annoyingly, an Irish women’s club has still yet to compete in EUCR (UK Nationals). Despite this, our clubs have proved that they are able to compete at a high level, whether it be LMS winning several games at WUCC and going undefeated at Tour 2 (kept out of the top 4 since they didn’t compete at Tour 1), or Rebel Ultimate competing strongly at Tour 3. If these two clubs put the effort in next year they could both attend all three Tours and EUCR for less money than it would cost to represent Ireland at EUC in Copenhagen. In contrast, if there is an Irish women’s team next year the likelihood of a club going to all 3 Tours is slim to none, and Ireland will once again go unrepresented at EUCR in the Women’s division.

Solution

I can think of three possible solutions to the problem of National Teams damaging club teams in Ireland. I’m sure all three will be seen as dramatic by most Irish players, but I only pose them so people can start to discuss this issue which I feel has been going unnoticed. The first is to not send an Irish Open or Women’s team to EUC next year and to concentrate entirely on Club Ultimate. However, this would need the backing of the entire community as well as a concentrated effort to get as many teams to Tour next year as possible, which I see as fairly unlikely at present. The second is to allow National Teams as normal next year, but to ban them from competing at Tour for their warm-up tournaments. Personally I like this option, but with a lack of other affordable and high-standard tournaments available I don’t see it as very viable.

The third is to send club teams to represent Ireland in EUC. This would obviously have the least effect on club Ultimate in Ireland next year, though it is not without its drawbacks. To counteract these drawbacks, whichever club team gets chosen to represent Ireland could pick up a small number of players from other clubs who get the chance to play for Ireland without damaging their own clubs by losing too many members. Club teams already compete and train regularly, and players would not be forced to choose between their club and their national team. Most importantly, the national teams would be able to compete at Tour without preventing other club teams from also competing.

 

The Cost of an Ireland Jersey
Representing your country in sport is indisputably a great honour, but I think Irish Ultimate players need to ask themselves an important question: is it a great accomplishment? With such a small player base the best players in the country already know they will make the team before trying out. Until there are over a dozen highly competitive clubs in Ireland, playing for Ireland can arguably be seen as more of an ego-boost and selfish, especially when you’re playing Tour for Ireland and leaving your club-mates at home. When Ultimate in Ireland was much smaller, Irish national teams contributed immeasurably to make Irish Ultimate what it is today, but now by choosing to represent Ireland instead of your club you may be indirectly harming Irish Ultimate rather than helping it. As someone who has played for Ireland myself I won’t deny that it is an incredible experience, but think about this: if you consider the people who have played for Ireland more than once, there are currently more Ireland jerseys in Ireland than there are IFDA members.
 
Conclusions
If you’ve read this far than you have might have found a major flaw in my argument. The players who are willing to spend so much time and effort to play for Ireland are most likely already willing to put that effort into their clubs. It’s the less eager players who are not willing to travel to Tour. After all, there were no senior Ireland teams this year and numbers at Tour were still low. This is an inherent problem and we need some sort of system to incentivise or reward players for going to Tour. Until then, as this club season comes to an end and you start working on plans for next year I would urge any player who wants to get better or see their club get better to convince your teammates to compete for their club at Tour next year. If your club has an AGM at the end of the year, raise the question of what your team will do in order to make it to all three Tours next year. The costs of going may be minimal compared to the costs of not going.

 

Author’s Note: I chose not to focus on Mixed Ultimate as I feel Irish mixed clubs and Mixed Tour is a separate issue worthy of a separate article. Also, while I am President of the Irish Flying Disc Association, the opinions expressed in this article are my own and not those of the IFDA as a whole.
Brian will be continuing to write for The Showgame as Irish correspondent – welcome on board! Do you have an opinion about Club or Country that you want to be heard? We are looking for more contributors to this popular discussion, so get in touch!

4 thoughts on “Club or Country: An Irish Perspective

  1. The sending a club is an option I've thought of before, but with the size of the playerbase I think it's a poor use of player and coaching resources. Real national teams do a great job of spreading knowledge across the country, and enable more strong club teams to survive. I would have had to leave Jabba or give up an international career if this structure had been in place. I like to think that I've helped develop a large number of players for the country in the last few years while still being able to fulfill some of my international ambitions.

    I also think that Irish club teams are certainly willing to travel abroad for tournaments, just not EUCR it seems. We're in a terrible region: far away, expensive, super competitive. It's a lot of money and time to be invested into a regional competition. If you look at the article this site published at pretty much the same time as this one, even very local regional tournaments aren't very appealing to teams that don't have a very good chance of qualification.

  2. Ireland had a fantastic result at EUC 2007 that seemed to be followed by a resurgence in Irish ultimate. Denying a small ultimate nation access to all of its best players seems counter-intuitive to me. I don't think that the UK player base is big enough yet to send a club team to represent GB, so I definitely feel that Ireland is better off sending a true national team.

    As for the “negative” impact on your clubs of sending Ireland to Tour, I'd counter by saying this is a great opportunity to send the rest of your players to a tournament where they need to step up and play a bigger role. Try not to see it as a failure if their seeding falls compared to if the club was full strength; instead, see it as a rare opportunity to focus on player development. Perhaps some of those “less committed” players will thrive and return to Ireland with more experience & more desire to improve. If individual clubs can't field a team without their Ireland players, then see if you can put together an all-star team instead. I think removing emphasis on how important and exciting it is to represent Ireland could do more harm than good. Without exposing your top players to EUC, you risk the overall quality of play decreasing (or failing to improve).

    The bottom line is that Ireland will improve through increasing it's player base, by having more teams that can compete with each other regularly, and by exposing the top players to the highest level that you possibly can. It's the same recipe that works for all other countries. I think you're on the right track; did All-Ireland championships exist in 2007?

  3. Hey Brummie,

    My biggest fear for next year with an U23 and Senior Open and Women's team isn't that the standard of teams that we send to Tour will drop, it's that no teams will go at all. Ideally we would have strong national teams and club teams that are willing to compete at Tour as well, and I think the responsibility rests on the club leaders and the players themselves to say “even if we're missing some key players next year, we still want to go to Tour and we still want to compete”.

    Personally, my biggest fear is for the Women's division. I think if we send a Women's team to EUC and WU23 there will be virtually no Women's club scene in Ireland next year due to the low player base. However, I suppose there is something to be said for the experience that those Women will learn playing for Ireland next year and returning to their club teams as stronger players, even if it means sacrificing a year of Women's Club Ultimate.

    The first Open All-Ireland Championships was in 2009.

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