UCC Ultimate – from Cork to Nottingham, via Maynooth

BUCS, Division 1, Irish Ultimate, Nationals, Open, Outdoors, Previews, Trinity, UCC, ultimate, University

Mark Earley brings us the story of University College Cork’s year so far in their journey to Nottingham. Cork will be attending UK University Nationals next week with aims to avenge a painful finals loss at the hands of the Sussex Mohawks last year. 

In Ireland the tournament that decides which university teams are the national champions is called Intervarsities and it takes place relatively late in the calendar year (April). Given the size of Irish Ultimate the Mixed and Women’s Intervarsities are smaller affairs with the Open division tournament canada goose Canada Goose mænd being the centerpiece of the university season. That said, the Cork outfit, UCC Ultimate currently hold both the Women’s and Mixed events and were looking to win their third title of the season last weekend. There is no qualification process for Open Intervarsities and all colleges are encouraged to bring as many players and teams as they can muster. Since the first Intervarsities took place the number of teams in attendance has ebbed and flowed, peaking at 16 in 2009, a number almost equalled this year.

Open Intervarsities took place last weekend in Maynooth, a town just outside Dublin in wet and very windy conditions. Fifteen teams took part with a pick up canada goose Chateau Parka team helping to round out the schedule. Going into the tournament it was hard to look past one of three teams as potential winners – UCC from Cork who had won the tournament 3 years in a row, and the two strongest Dublin-based college teams, UCD and Trinity. Three other teams, DCU – the college team from where WJUC took place last August – UL, from Limerick and NUI Maynooth, the home team, were expected to battle it out for the remaining semi-final spot.

UCC Ultimate Logo

After an upset free Saturday, it was Maynooth who caused the big shock of the tournament by winning their quarter-final on universe point against DCU. This was quite a break through for the team and their first time making it through to the semi-finals. (Later in the day they would add the Spirit Award to their top 4 finish). Cork, Trinity and UCD all joined them, as expected. The pick of the semis was a battle between long-term rivals UCD and Trinity. Both teams had looked strong up until meeting and went in to the game confident but it ended up being a match that will be remembered for the upwind downwind conditions as opposed to for the Ultimate. At first, neither side managed to do much more than play for territory but it was Trinity who imposed themselves getting a brace of upwind goals to build a 4 point lead that they kept until half. UCD fought back in the second half but the gap was too much and Trinity progressed.

Elsewhere UCC took care of a young and determined NUI Maynooth with little fuss, advancing into the final, making it a rematch of the previous year. UCC captain John ‘Doc’ Doherty put their performance against what he called ‘the tournament surprise package’ down to their considerable advantage in terms of experience. ‘A lot of us playing so well in this game was down to the fact that we were much more experienced than Maynooth in the windy conditions, and they had a lot of up-and-coming players who probably hadn’t played that much in such conditions before’.

Trinity’s Hugo Fitzpatrick with a big bid in the final

The final took place on a slightly more sheltered field and Cork came out on D to start. They turned Trinity in the first point and after a dropped pull in the second were very soon 2-0 up. This became 3-0 after more tight defence and the Corkonian team were in a position they are familiar with – bossing the pace of a game having taken an early lead. Trinity captain Finnian Flood explained that having gone three points up early ‘UCC played with a lot of hunger and composure. Suffocating our O with their strong defense and hitting the open man on their offence whether it was an under cut or a deep strike’. This was echoed by his counterpart Doherty who was pleased with their performance; ‘The offence was patient, the D was tight. We played like we knew we could in the first half to get the lead. I think in the second half we could have been a little more patient, because the wind picked up a lot, and we tried to force it a bit’. Trinity came back into the game with Sam Mehigan, Brian Boyle and Sean O’Mahony helping to add a measure of respectability to the scoreline but realistically it was all over as a competitive game by half-time. Standout performances came from a number of Cork players including veteran Donal Murray and captain John Doherty, It’s worth noting that UCC had lost twice to Trinity earlier in the season so to win the final 13-6 to win their 4th title in as many years will have given them great pleasure.

Trinity’s David Ferguson throws around the mark of UCC captain John Doherty 

Given how late the Intervarsities tournament takes place, qualification for UK Uni Outdoor Open Nationals takes place via a University League held in February. UCC will be representing Ireland in Nottingham next week and are looking forward to it. We spoke to their captain Doherty about the trip and he had the following to say: ‘It is always hard to tell what we will come up against in the UK. I saw some of the defending champions Sussex at Siege of Limerick, and they looked even stronger than last year. So we have them as the team to beat standard-wise in order to be good enough to win it. We are missing a good few big players from last years team – last year’s captain Donal O’Donohoe, Mark Fanning and the star player all weekend Kevin Rice, but we have five new first year students this year who we think are capable of stepping up when needed’.

Last year the boys from Cork finished runners up after an excellent string of results but couldn’t beat a Mohawks side who were (and arguably still are) in a rich vein of form. That said, Doherty and his team are going over with only one thing in mind: ‘My team mates would be amazed if I said we have any other plan than to go over to Nottingham to win the tournament. It’s been our goal all season to win our own Irish IVs, and to then go to the UK and win UK Nationals’. This comment could be construed by some as arrogant but it would be slight on the Cork mentality to brush it off like that. Focus, determination, hard work and tactical intelligence are the mark of this team. As Flood, the Trinity captain, commented ‘They (UCC) are a very experienced, hungry team with a lot of athleticism and confidence and should do very well in Nottingham. Teams will have to play smart to beat them, but one thing is for sure – at UK Nats they won’t give up anything easy’. 

We wish them the best of luck on their trip, as no doubt do the many Irish players they are representing.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Cummins & Mark Earley.