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University Ultimate 2016: Irish Intervarsity Championships

news, Open, Tournament Reports, University

Tadhg Bogan debuts on tSG with an in depth look into Ireland’s University Indoor championships.

As the fuzzy heads of fresher and final year students alike recover from University/College life to prepare for their inevitable exam-induced panic, there is one blissful source of escape for the University Ultimate players of Ireland. Thankfully, All-Ireland Open Indoor Inter-varsity (IVs) 2016 awaits to welcome the eager and determined players with open arms. At this year’s battleground, the Kingfisher Leisure Sports complex in the heart of Galway city, 24 teams representing nine Universities from across Ireland took to the hard-courts across the weekend of the 19th and 20th of November. With goals of development in mind for all the fresh-faced beginners embarking on their first true competitive IVs, but aspirations of total domination in the hearts of those more seasoned players, the weekend certainly provided action every minute across the three courts of the Kingfisher complex. So, with much to get through, let’s begin!

Prior to the tournament, the country was at odds with each other in predicting who would be victorious. This year saw the first year that seeding would be decided by captains’ predictions rather than placing the year before. With the tragic loss of many big college players to graduation, the captains struggled to put one University ahead of another. To make matters worse, this year saw the major addition of a cohort of experienced Ireland Junior players recently returned from their successes at WJUC 2016, where they finished 7th. When it came down to it, last year’s champions UCD were still favourites… just. With the other members of Ireland’s ‘big four’; University College Cork (UCC), Trinity College Dublin (Trinity/TCD) and the University of Limerick (UL) all hot on their heels, along with the ready-to-breakthrough teams of Dublin City University (DCU), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), NUI Maynooth (MU), Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), and hosts NUI Galway (NUIG) all vying for the top spot, it was all up for grabs.

A note to our friends from further afield, the Irish Varsity Ultimate system is unique in the way that it opts out of using a regional qualifying system, as we currently boast only nine competitive Universities. Nor do we make use of a tiered divisional system. We much rather go for a winner takes all, do or die approach to the weekend with everyone going straight to Nationals.

The Saturday saw power pool play with last year’s champions University College Dublin 1 drawn in an all Dublin affair with local rivals Trinity College Dublin 1, Dublin Institute of Technology 1 and Dublin City University 1 all hungry for an upset. The first few games went as expected with UCD 1 and Trinity 1 dispatching both DIT 1 and DCU 1 with relatively comfortable score margins. The eventual match up of Dublin giants UCD 1 vs Trinity 1 was a tight game for the top spot, but the young Trinity side edged it out on a universe point win to take down the champs and claim the top seed.

Final Seeding

Team

Play-off

1

TCD 1

Quarters

3

UCD 1

Quarters

5

DIT 1

5-12 crossover

7

DCU 1

5-12 crossover

The second power pool saw the rest of Ireland face off as last year’s runners-up University College Cork 1 took on University of Limerick 1, NUI Maynooth 1, and NUI Galway 1. This pool ended up much closer than anticipated. UCC 1 took a hard fought victory against MU 1, despite MU taking the lead with minutes to go. Alongside this match, UL 1 took on NUIG 1 in a game where the Galway boys announced themselves to the tournament. The game was tight in the opening minutes, but came to a grinding halt with 17 minutes to go after UL and Ireland Senior player Mark Fanning landed awkwardly and suffered a devastating leg break. The injury interrupted play, but this did not deter NUIG. Once the game restarted they kept their hunger in a very physical game, but were unfortunate to lose on universe point, establishing themselves as ones to watch for the future. The remaining pool games saw UCC 1 win in comfortable fashion against UL 1 and NUIG 1, despite also losing their own Irish (junior) international Timothy Peters to injury. After their early morning scare, UL 1 held their 2nd seed, placing NUIG 1 and MU 1 into the crossovers.
 

Final Seeding

Team

Play-off

2

UCC 1

Quarters

4

UL 1

Quarters

6

NUIG 1

5-12 crossover

8

MU 1

5-12 crossover

The crossovers took place towards the end of Saturday play with UCC 2, Trinity 2, and NUIG 2, along with QUB 1 all ready to stake their claims on the top eight. While NUIG 2 and QUB 1 were unlucky in their respective efforts against DCU 1 and NUIG 1, an experienced UCC 2 managed to break their way through a tough DIT 1 outfit to win a spot in the bracket. They were then followed by Trinity 2 who were able to topple MU 1. Trinity took an early 3 – 0 lead which they held through the very physical intense contest to see them bookend the top eight with their first and second teams.
 

Seeding

Quarter-finals

1 v 8

TCD 1 v TCD 2

2 v 7

UCC 1 v UCC 2

3 v 6

UCD 1 v NUIG 1

4 v 5

UL 1 v DCU 1

 

The Sunday quarter-finals saw two interesting intra-uni clashes with both UCC 1 and Trinity 1 playing their second teams. Both games saw the first teams come out on top, albeit with the second sides giving an abundance of reasons for their players to be on the first teams. Elsewhere UL 1 saw their way past DCU 1 by establishing a very early lead through their trademark use of height in their iso and aerial play. The Dubliners did begin to mount a comeback, with Jamie Bolger playing a pivotal role on defence in the air. In the end, the early created deficit proved too much for DCU as UL 1 advanced. The last quarter-final saw UCD 1 square off against NUIG 1. Both teams were determined to grasp that semi-final spot in a game that came down to the wire. At universe point, the game came to a sudden halt when what seemed to be a winning goal from UCD fresher Mark Doody was contested with an ‘out’ call from NUIG. This call had the sideline split, resulting in the it being contested and the disc being sent back. After getting the disc back, UCD 1 again found their way through the Galway D to book their place in the semi-final.

Seeding

Semi-finals

1 v 4

TCD 1 v UL 1

2 v 3

UCC 1 v UCD 1

Moving to the semis, a further-weakened UL 1 team (who were now playing iron-man for the remainder of the tournament due to the loss of their junior Brian Ó Brion) were drawn against Trinity 1. The Shannonsiders were still optimistic heading into match, as Captain Dylan Ryan rallied his troops for their toughest opponent of the weekend. This optimism however, was quickly cut to shreds. Trinity were able to out-work UL almost immediately, and once the disc was moving for them it was impossible to stop. Furthermore, they found ways to dance their way around UL’s big wall, be it with cheeky pop passes to the front or huge jump-ins, such as Jack Mac Namara clotheslining himself in UL’s wall to toe the endzone. An early 5-0 lead was too much for UL to come back against as Captain David Stokes and his Trinity side marched their way to the final. Across the hall, the other semi-final saw a rematch of last year’s final as UCC 1 took on UCD 1. UCC came out hungry for redemption on defence forcing two early turns to take a 2-0 lead. UCD fought back however as Ferdia Rogers was able to lead his team back to 2-2. In the game, both teams made good use of their isolation plays, as spectators were treated to a Stephen Jones and Donnacha McAuillfe matchup. However, UCC’s man defence, be it tight on the dump by Colin Feely, or strong downfield, forced UCD to take risky puts to the end zone, allowing them to go up 8-3. This deficit ended up being too much for UCD as UCC 1 made their return to the final winning 9-5.

Final

TCD 1 vs UCC 1

As 4 o’clock ticked nearer and the final drew closer, the experienced UCC 1 side prepared to claim the title they had narrowly missed out on last year. However they would have to get passed the rejuvenated Trinity 1 outfit. Trinity started on D, and entrusted the task of getting a crucial break to their new recruit; three of the starting line were freshers. This task proved well within their reach as James O’Donovan turned UCC’s offence on the first pass and managed a jump in goal for the score. The game became characterised by big physical and contact heavy bids as both teams were determined to grab any loose disc. The teams traded points for much of it with UCC’s play flowing mainly through a towering Donnacha McAuillfe, who had a height mismatch with basically all of Trinity’s players. Both teams opted for an intense man defence, which ended up favouring the Dubs as slight lapses in concentration from UCC on offence eventually allowed Trinity to open up a 9-6 lead with minutes to go. UCC refused to die however as patient, chilled dump-and-swing play picked the holes of Trinity’s wall. Ruthless man defence from David Forde and Colin Feely caused Trinity to force the disc to space that wasn’t there, allowing UCC to fight back to universe point. As the 27 minute fixture ticked into its 40th minute, both teams refused to lose. In the final point, Trinity’s O quickly worked their way to the UCC end zone. However, a nasty three player collision on a floaty disc froze Trinity’s progress, with layout bids from McAuliffe and Forde of UCC. In typical Irish fashion however, Spirit of the game prevailed as UCC conceded the foul. With Trinity retaining the disc, Stokes eventually found one of his juniors through the UCC wall for the win, welcomed with a thunderous roar from the Trinity sidelines. On the day, it was heartbreak for Captain David O’Regan and UCC yet again, but well-deserved victory for Trinity and MVP of the final, James O’Donovan.

Winners

TCD 1

So, what does this all mean moving forward? Well to start off, a mention is due of an improved NUIG. I feel their 7th placed finish does not do them justice, as throughout the weekend, they had a number of close games that could have gone either way. Universe point losses to UL and UCD in their quarter-finals could have resulted in a very different shape to the weekend had the results gone in favour of Captain Eoghan Staunton and the Panthers. Another point of note is the depth of UCC’s and Trinity’s Open teams. UCC 2 and Trinity 2 finished 5th and 8th respectively in efforts that UCC 2 captain Matt Cox and Trinity 2 captain Oisin Skineader should be proud of. With both teams finishing so high, and having the opportunity to go against their 1st teams outside of the training grounds, it’s likely that there’ll be interesting squads chosen for their first and second teams as we move to the outdoor season.

However, I feel the major takeaway from this weekend is the impact of the freshers. Because Ultimate in Ireland used to mainly be discovered by people once they started University, Varsities used to be a platform for the Uni clubs to showcase their recruitment and development of new players as they progressed through the years. Now however, we are seeing the fruits of Ireland’s developing youth system with the injection of experienced junior players and the boost they can give to a club, shown clearly in the case of Trinity.  Their mix of Varsity experience and sheer intensity from Captain David Stokes blended perfectly with the skill and athleticism of junior Players such as Jack Mac, James O’Donovan, and Andrew Cleary to lay the foundations of a fearsome new team for the season and years to come. With this new energy coming from first-years, not only will the overall standard of the Varsity scene drastically increase, but it will also hopefully drive Universities to enhance their own school systems, widening the player base and improving the sport as a whole. However as the Varsity season rolls from the warmth of indoors to the brisk reality of outdoors, it’s clear this division is still wide open. The only way to find out how the teams stack up against each other on grass will be to check in again at the Siege of Limerick in March. Until then!

Featured image: All Ireland Open Indoor IV Champions – Trinity 1.

Bonus video: UCC v UCD semi-final: 

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