Josh Coxon Kelly looks at the Irish Open Squad’s start to the Under 23 Championships
Featured image courtesy of Andy Moss from Ultiphotos.com
With a landmark 11-9 victory against Australia and a decisive 17-11 win over Belgium, the championships couldn’t have started much better for the Irish Open squad. With the disc moving between hands constantly, the team was playing with enviable flow by the end of their second game, as a crisp upwind flick huck was caught in stride to end the game and the first day’s work in style. “That’s orgasmic” mutters a sideline observer. Granted, it was actually one of the Irish players who said this, but these boys can be forgiven for feeling a little proud about their achievements, even at this early stage.
After a disappointing performance at the 2013 U23 World Championships in Toronto (placing 14th), Head Coach Leo Yoshida has been able to bring back around half of the squad for another go at the world’s best young players. Players and coach alike have been hungry to prove that they could improve on their first outing, and the low player turnover has been a key factor in bringing together a squad to break out of the lower rankings and into the top eight.
Yoshida brings his experience as a player and coach from the Vancouver Ultimate scene, where he was a part of the University of British Columbia team benefitting from close ties with local Furious George players amongst others. This knowledge and experience helped organise a spike in Irish enthusiasm that came out of a tense rivalry between Cork and Trinity College teams in 2008/9. Now having had adequate training time to bring cohesion out of these rivalries, this team enjoys a fluency between Cork, Dublin and Limerick players. Assistant coach Niall Harbourne proudly describes the team as “a real all – Ireland team”.
This intermingling of players can be seen with the brothers Matthew and Colin Feeley being utilised across the two lines. Trading their usual roles, Matthew has been brought across as one of the most experienced squad players to bring some firepower onto the defensive line, with the younger brother bringing consistency to the offensive line. Whilst the closeness that has come from so many opportunities to train may have made these players “sick of playing each other”, they will surely be happy with their preparations now that they finally get to take on the competition they have been lining up in their sights for two years.
The coaches praise this team for their self sufficiency, and the player driven approach that this allows them to adopt. Distraught after Toronto, the team organised their own sports psychologist and hit the training ground with a seriousness that is often belied by their upbeat and humorous approach to competition. Ireland are internationally famous for their spirited play, and this squad is here to show how that looks when it is brought with intense athleticism and tenacious skill that they’ve been fostering in their passionate home Ultimate communities.
Whilst Tuesday started with Ireland scoring the first 17-0 of the tournament against the Philippines, yesterday’s action also saw the first loss for the squad as they faced up against Austria. Harbourne was aware of the danger that lay ahead in pool and his concern showed true as Austria took a 14-10 victory. Later in the pool games, Belgium (who Ireland beat comfortably) overcame Austria 17-16, but Ireland nevertheless advance to power pools as the second seed from pool C. They are in their best position yet to advance to the quarter-finals, and what’s clear so far is that this team is here to seriously outstrip their starting seed of 12th. They know that their work is cut out with USA, Great Britain and Colombia to play, and they’re more than up for the fight with the big game of the international scene. It might take some upsets for them to get where they want to be but whatever you do, just don’t call this bunch of lads lucky.
[ed. note – ‘Trinity’ corrected to ‘Dublin’ in third paragraph].