Our favourite Irish reporter Aidan Kelly gives his views on All Ireland Ultimate Champs.
The 2017 Irish domestic club season prepares to come to a head, we are warmly welcomed by the pinnacle of Men’s Ultimate in the country. The All-Ireland Ultimate Championships.
With three* different winners in as many years, (or four if you count a club’s second team as ‘different’**) there is set to be a massive tug of war over the title of national champions, and with qualification for both next year’s EUCR-W (three spots) and WUCC (one spot) on the line, the stakes are that little bit higher.
The participants in this battle royale have been known since our regional qualifiers took place last month. Travelling from the East are Ranelagh 1 and 2, XVI and Dublin Gravity, while in the West we have hosts PELT 1 and 2, Rebel and Ballincollig. A betting man would stick their house on a PELT vs Ranelagh final and a rematch of last year, but the other six challengers will look to upset the status quo and cause a shock.
Here’s our rundown of the division based off seed:
1 – PELT (Limerick)
Last year those messers from Munster shocked the WORLD (or, Irish Ultimate) by taking down a stacked Ranelagh side that boasted almost half the Ireland Men’s WUGC team to win their first All-Ireland. And they didn’t just beat them, they did it comfortably, finally managing to shake off their ‘bottlers’ tag and announcing themselves as top dogs in the country.
Since that day, they’ve gone on to compete at EUCF, win bronze at Windmill and battle it out with the UK’s best at EUCR-W, finishing third. The club, made up of an extremely tight knit group of players who have battled with one another since they were freshers in Uni will no doubt be hungry to repeat their win from last year and show they’re still number one.
With club talisman and captain Padraig Sweeney pulling the strings as the axis-handler combining with the work-horse ethic from players like Eoghan Lawlor, Dave Smyth and Jamie Chambers along with the unpredictable nature of Niall McCarthy. They could be considered almost unstoppable on their day. Add John Doherty, fresh from a stint with the AUDL into the equation and things really get interesting.
2 – Ranelagh (Dublin)
A wounded animal. This is a team that is hurting. After the bitter disappointment of missing out on EUCF qualification last month, the Lagh are looking to take their frustrations out on all who stand against them come AIUC.
Last year, as heavy favourites, Ranelagh walked past every team that faced them on the way to the finals, conceding only 12 points all weekend in the lead up before falling to their Limerick rivals. This year, they club are smarter, more aware and prepared for what lies ahead. With already one scalp over their counterparts in the AIUL, there is a sense of belief that they can take the trophy back to Diceys Sunday evening.
Under the tutelage of Cork bai Matthew Feely, this rather new-look Ranelagh side boasts many talents like the cohesive combo of Keith Mernagh and Liam Fletcher, the powerful Ross Andreucetti and the reserved yet uncontrollable Ronan Callaghan. Expect them to act as the fire to PELT’s ice.
3 – PELT 2 (Limerick)
In what may surprise some, PELT’s second team secured a top 3 seed by finishing second at regionals, besting a number of first team clubs. How this team will actually look, I do not know, but expect a number of athletic young talents and future first teamers combined with some calm headed experience to back them up.
I can see this going two ways, PELT 2 will either sink like a stone, finishing 7/8th or like their first team before them, rise up to the challenge and shock all. I do think a semi-final place is out of their reach however.
4 – Rebel 1 (Cork)
Are they a fallen giant or simply a sleeping one? Rebel have had a rather odd few years, losing a number of their younger talents to other clubs has meant that they’ve had to focus on farming more in order to keep their club’s ethos alive.
Despite this, they have still been able to fight for themselves, finishing third last year. This season, we haven’t really gotten a chance to see the best of this Cork outfit, and this could be their biggest weapon. Underestimate the tricky reds at your peril, as they are equipped with enough experience and clever players to punish you.
Captained by stalwart Brian T O’Callaghan and American import Drew Moore, the side will no doubt be backed up by ever-presents Donal Murray, Michael ‘Fada’ McGrath and Lee Griffin.
5 – XVI 1 (Dublin)
The young guns’ first foray with Div 1 after winning Division 2 last year will be an interesting one. A wild-card of sorts, it’s hard to know where they will end up. A semi-final could easily beckon if they play to their potential, and after a long season where they’ve managed to get many competitive games under the belt as a club, there’s no reason why they can’t.
With a gung-ho, nothing to lose attitude, combined with youthful exuberance. If they was ever a team that would cause an upset to the top two, it would be XVI.
Featuring an abundance of underage and u24 internationals, with at least 5 European Junior silver medalists including Paul McDonough, Conor O’Doherty and James O’Donovan. These kids have nothing to lose. With senior international Ian French also kitting out to play for the side at AIUC, there’s some major scope for the boys to turn heads this weekend.
6 – Ballincollig (Cork)
Rebel’s little brother (Although I doubt they want me calling them that…) up until now have never quite reached the heights they seemed destined for when they came together three years ago. Much like their fellow Corkians (Corkites? Corkies?) the club always seems to have an eye on two or three years down the road, rather than now.
Sustainability is rare in Ultimate, as players tend to have quite short-sighted goals. Instead Ballincollig tend to look to embed younger players like Eanan Cronin, Killian Leahy and Adam Purcell and combine them with their experienced leaders such as Ben Noonan and Donnchadh Mc Auliffe.
7 – Ranelagh 2 (Dublin)
Another former champion hoping to upset everyone (including their own club mates) and take the crown. A rougher diamond than their first team, expect Ranelagh 2 to be well-drilled and hard working. Whether they can compete with the top end of the division is tough to say, as they narrowly lost to XVI at regionals last month after leading for most of the game.
Armed with seasoned battlers in the form of Alan Kelly, Brian Boyle and Cormac Bourke, experience will play a massive part in how the side performs over the weekend.
8 – Gravity 1 (Dublin)
Qualifying thanks to a massive universe point win against the veterans of Masterclass, Gravity will look to test themselves against the best the country has to offer. With a massive roster turnover from last season, I count only four members of the previous year’s first team playing this time round.
With an ethos that looks to play with joy and combines it with positive spirit, I feel Gravity will need to keep their heads up in order to compete at AIUC. Their pool is a tough one and I must admit it’s hard to see where the wins will come from on day one, however if they go in with the right mindset, learn from any mistakes and adjust to their opponents, they could make a big push for wins on day two. A semi final spot is a lot to ask, but fifth isn’t an unreachable target for them.
Led by Gearóid Ó Fearghaíl and Matthew Colfer, expect to see big performances out of their rookie players Shane Corcoran and Dean McCreary, who are both capable of making big plays despite only playing a number of months.
Aidan’s predicted finish:
1 – Ranelagh 1
2 – PELT 1
3 – XVI
4 – Ballincollig 1
5 – Ranelagh 2
6 – Rebel 1
7 – PELT 2
8 – Gravity 1
*Ranelagh 2014, Jabba 2015, PELT 2016
**Ranelagh 2 won in 2013″
Feature photo by Claire Baker.