The European Ultimate Championship Finals begin next week in Frankfurt. Once again the best 12 Mixed and Women’s teams and the best 24 Open teams in Europe will gather to crown a champion. The ShowGame will be running a series previewing the tournament from a UK perspective, with some additional pieces about how our Irish friends may fare and what to expect from European teams coming as well. To kick us off, Sean Colfer previews how the four-time reigning Open champions, Clapham Ultimate, might do.
Clapham are fresh off yet another national title, their 16th in a row, which they were able to win despite a season with more ups-and-downs than they’ve become accustomed to, all the while featuring a lot of new faces. They didn’t attend Tour 1, won Tour 2 and won Tour 3 despite a shock loss to Fire in the pool stages. Sure, those aren’t very ‘down’ downs, but when the standard is as high as Clapham have set it, any stumble is noteworthy.
They continued their dominance at Nationals by topping Chevron 12-10 in one of the closest finals we’ve seen in some time (there’s never been a closer one in Southampton), a game that was tied at 9-9 with the outcome in real question until a score by rookie Bullfrog Conrad Wilson gave Clapham a two-point lead they wouldn’t surrender.
The influx of new talent has been quite dramatic this season, particularly from the Tour season to the postseason – eight of the players that were on the roster at Nationals were in their first year with the team. That number included Australian national team player Andrew Jackson, as well as two former GB under-23 players in Mike Speer and Andrew Hillman. Joining them after the Tour season were former KaPow standouts Will Martin and Alex Mazzon, as well as Connor McHale and Wilson, who played for EMO and SMOG, respectively, this season but played together for Leeds in 2015.
Clapham have lost some players for Euros – offensive stalwarts Cian O’Morain, Matt Parslow and Lloyd Cheesman, along with defensive presence Dom Clark, will all be missing.
Ordinarily, I would say that these new found signs of something approaching mortality and some important personnel losses might make Clapham vulnerable when playing teams like Bad Skid, the Windmill and Tom’s Tourney champions this season, and Italian powerhouses CUSB La Fotta, not to mention the other teams they’ll be up against at Euros. However, Clapham have added a few players to their roster that weren’t at Nationals that could very well turn them back into the unstoppable force we’re used to.
First, they get players like Ash Yeo back. Yeo was one of the key players for GB Men’s this year, making some incredible catches down field. He’ll be a key receiver and is almost impossible to stop going deep. Throwing him the disc will be veteran GB and Clapham handler Jaimie Cross, who also returns after the GB campaign this summer. So, too, do Tom Cartwright, Richard ‘Gash’ Harris and Chris Baker (all of whom have GB experience). So not bad, really.
Second, and most notable, they add professional player Alex Thorne, an offensive handler for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds of the AUDL. He led the Thunderbirds in touches in 2016 with 461, despite being 12th in points played. He had a 94% completion percentage and threw 40 assists to 27 turnovers, leading the team in both categories. Thorne has long been a standout across the pond, winning two titles with Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur in college and featuring for Doublewide outside of his AUDL exploits. His ability on the disc will add a whole new dimension to an offence that probably didn’t need that dimension to dominate.
Clapham will, as always, have a target on their backs. Everyone in Europe knows they’re the team to beat, and this plays two ways for them; many times, the other team is already a point or two down when they step onto the field because they don’t truly think they can win. When teams get over that, like Salaspils and CUSB did last year, or Fire did in Cardiff, they can cause an upset and reveal the other side of the equation – Clapham will always get the very best effort that other teams can give. Knowing you’re playing the best can draw that extra two or three percent, and they’ll have to deal with that in every game.
That hasn’t been a problem for them since 2011, though, and I don’t expect it to be a problem this time around. They’ve lost some very good players from their domestic season, enough talent that would cripple any normal team. But they’ve replaced them with other very good players, and might even be better for the changes. When you’ve got the players Clapham have, despite their changes, it’s not so much rebuilding as reloading.
Their pool features last year’s finalists CUSB, comprising 14 members of the Italian Men’s team that finished ninth at WUGC this summer, as well as five-time Finnish champions Otso (nine members of the Finland team) and Danish team KFK (four members of the Danish team). CUSB will likely present the greatest challenge to Clapham in the pools, but in reality the greatest challenge will be for anyone in Europe to stop the Bullfrogs from reigning supreme again.