Aidan Kelly took in a day of real mixed emotions for the Ireland Men’s team – one that began on a real high but, despite heroic performances, couldn’t quite finish that way.
It was a day of incredibly mixed emotions for Ireland’s Men’s team on Wednesday as they fought two competitive, entertaining battles against France and Australia here at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships.
In the early morning game, the boys in green were set to face their ongoing rivals in the form of France. With both teams having lost their other two pool games to Canada and Japan, there was a huge amount to play for, as the winner would get a shot of the top eight, while the loser would effectively be knocked out and play for ninth.
France and Ireland had played three times already in the lead up to the competition. While Ireland had drawn first blood at the Confederations Cup, winning 14-11, it was France who came out on top at Windmill with two wins (15-11 and 15-10). So the question was, would the French make it three in a row, or would the Irish win when it mattered?
The scene had been set as the heavens opened minutes before the game was ready to begin. A light mist covered the pitches of St Albans, adding a slight air of unpredictability to what was already a tense atmosphere. With France coming out on O to start, the two sides traded to 33 for the first ten minutes, before Ireland’s tireless D-line grabbed an early break to take the advantage. France battled back, again holding to 5-5 until the momentum shifted massively.
Ireland’s O line, which had been firing perfectly up until this point, had started to break down. Unforced turns, overcooked hucks and risky decisions allowed France’s clinical D-line to take advantage and grab two unanswered breaks. At this level and stage of the game, if you lose the disc, it’s incredibly hard to win it back and France proved this by punishing the Irish. At 7-5, France worked to take half in an 11 minute point where they would make two time out calls.
Now, with the score 8-5, it would be a massive uphill battle for the Irish. With a bit of a rest and coming back on O, Ireland held for the first time in five points, but it wasn’t enough to inspire a run as the two teams again traded to 10-8. The next point proved to be the most important of the match, but not in the way you may think. Lasting just under 15 minutes, Ireland pegged the French offence back in what can only be described as a siege.
Allowing almost nothing upfield, France were forced to reset again, again and again. Racking up almost 200 passes in possession. Ireland would finally get the turn off a huck, but with the tired legs from their warriors’ performance on D, they found it hard to get their offensive flow going for the break, hucking it away.
However, when they did lose the disc, it was back to square one. After another long run of possession and another French turn followed by an Irish throwaway on a huck, it almost felt like the two teams were stuck in purgatory, destined to play the point forever. In their third period of offensive play, it was evident that the French were tiring from the endless waves of Irish pressure. Their throws were starting to look less sharp and forced their receiver to make big bids to keep the disc alive. One hammer later, the point was finally over, but more importantly the Ireland defence had done its job by running the French O line ragged. Ireland went out and scored their subsequent O point in an efficient pace to force the still tired French back out.
And here is where the momentum shifted hugely. France’s offence had visibly lost the pace and cohesion that made it look unstoppable earlier in the game and this allowed Ireland to capitalise. After stealing a turn, the Irish broke to bring it to just a point at 11-10. With this taste of blood, Ireland kept the intensity up and France just couldn’t seem to match it. Another break brought it to 11-11, a scoreline that almost felt unthinkable at half time. With time gone, it would end up being a game to 13.
The level of tension on the sidelines at this point was almost impossible to fathom. These two teams had been toe to toe for over 100 minutes at this point and the margin of error on either team was minute. With Ireland on serve, they had the advantage but one turnover could determine the game. The next point was again a long one, full of close bids, sky Ds and close saves. With the disc right in front of their own end zone, a moment of pure madness occurred as a French player turned on a routine swing, giving Ireland the short field. One pass later and the game was officially flipped on its head at 11-12. France would go on to put their next one in, but a final point with two turnovers and a Will Martin huck to Brian T O’Callaghan was enough to put Ireland into the pre-quarters against Australia.
The Ireland vs Australia game can be pretty much summed up as a game for the O lines. With only five breaks in 27 points, it was a display that really showed how tight the margins are at this level. Between 4-3 to the Aussies and 11-11 there was only one turnover. But, the possible defining moment of the game came when Ireland gave away a quick turn from an overcooked swing in front of their endzone. Suddenly, in the space of a single pass, Australia had gotten a massive break. With the pressure building on the Irish and the game hitting the late stages, Australia increased the strain and quickly grabbed a second to go 14-11 up. Ireland threw on a strong line to get the hold but it was too late as the Dingoes took their final point and eliminated Ireland from contention.