In his ShowGame debut, Lorcan Murray previews Irish Nationals this weekend.
Limerick, High Lady of the Shannon and the Celtic Tiger’s forgotten daughter will once again open her walls to welcome Ireland’s finest disc dancers onto her fertile fields. Though this intrusion will be borne on the opposite end of the club season to that which she is accustomed, rest assured precise execution and intense competition remain defining aspects of her Siege mentality.
It has been an active year in Irish Ultimate; the country has seen itself stride towards an international relevancy previously only dreamed of, now we hungrily wait to see the impact this has had on the domestic landscape. The inception of the all-Ireland Ultimate League has allowed Irish clubs to face each other with an unprecedented regularity. This is particularly useful in gauging team strength following the turnover of players in the Eastern conference. In short, Irish Ultimate has been taking itself rather seriously for the past ten months. In a week we will find out how this has changed the landscape of Ireland’s club scene. Until then we shall placate ourselves by chilling out with Fact’s cooler younger brother, Speculation!
The word super team gets thrown around almost as much as a disc in our sport, yet it may for once have caught some relevancy over the past year. Boasting a dominant win record over their Eastern conference counterparts, their local competition simply pale in comparison to these Dubliners. Cleaning out the top shelf of last year’s winners Jabba, Ranelagh have become the powerhouse we were always afraid they would be. Their one loss to an Irish opponent this season came at the hands of Pelt, over at Tour, one that the Dubliners rectified on universe point in the AIUL final. Practically every player on Ranelagh represented Ireland this year. Their victory in AIUL came nearly unopposed, a performance they can be well expected to reprise in Limerick. Their route to the final seems predetermined as old rivals Rebel lack the force to push them as they did in the past. Simply put: when Ranelagh bring their full arsenal to bear every other club will find themselves significantly outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned.
While the Rebelles have been exercising dominance at home and abroad, their Corkonian counterparts have existed in a state of limbo for most of the season. Their performance at Regionals was muted, but achieved the main goal of securing a decent seeding for Nationals. Their appearances in the All Ireland League have seemingly been about blooding the younger elements of their squad in the pursuit of rebuilding their club from the ground up. Still reeling somewhat from losing a generation of talent to their local rivals Ballincollig, they retain a few well-established weapons in the forms of Brian O’Callaghan, Daragh Ó Céilleachair, and John Doherty to see them through the rough patches. Their Saturday match-up with Ranelagh will reveal how relevant they remain on the title scene.
One of the more boisterous outfits involved in Nationals, Gravity still have the ability to put up a good display. Their squad has one of the widest ranges of skill level, a testament to their efforts to develop Ultimate in a fun and welcoming atmosphere. This means that while they can put together runs on teams, they can rarely capitalise on them. Close battles with Uproar in AIUL and Regionals are evidence of this. When the going gets serious, Gravity’s influence on proceedings has had a tendency to wane. At full strength Gravity’s matches against Rebel and Snatch are attractive prospects. They have the depth and experience to capitalise on the inevitable opportunities that will pass through their orbit on Saturday. Captain Richard Eyres has the experience and poise to keep his team competitive under pressure, as well as weapons like Cormac Burke and Sam Courtney to pull off high-pressure plays. The high turnover of players inherent in Gravity’s make-up means there is also the possibility they will get crushed.
Longstanding whipping boys of the West, Snatch have persevered through several tumultuous years. With inconsistent practices and a high turnover rate of players they have struggled to establish a consistent reputation. However this summer has seen them take a positive turn, reflected in the competitive matches they have put up at both regionals and in the AIUL. They have extended their list of competent handlers somewhat, and surrounded them with athletes ready to make up for errant throws. This has resulted in the development of a strong deep game, as well as an infuriating wind one. While they remain off the pace of the leaders, they are moving to the front of the pack. Their group matches against Gravity and Rebel are crucial moments in the club’s development. Sitting on the precipice of consistency these diamonds in the rough could sneak into the semis, or fall back into obscurity.
Pelt offer the main resistance to Ranelagh’s march towards a fourth championship. If Pelt were an element they would be plutonium, if they were a table it would be three parts hardwood and one part rabid mongoose. These can be positive qualities, say if you want to make a bang or if your main opponent happens to be a pit of snakes, but unfortunately they are just as likely to blow up in your face and bite you in the ass. The snails have been hard at work on both their tactics and their culture as they look to rectify their painful loss in last year’s final. Walking through Regionals and providing the only injection of doubt into Ranelagh’s League run, the Peltic Warriors look strong and confident. The Cork clubs will have a thing or two to say about their presumptive return to the final, but AIUL and regional results indicate the Limerick Lads will ignore their protests. Last weekend they became the first Irish Open team to qualify for the European Ultimate Championship Finals (EUCF). Their impressive performances in close games at the European qualifiers alludes to the success of their internal rebranding. However there is an undeniable feeling that when the pressure comes on, they may forget themselves once again.
With Jabba slipping down the pecking order and Gravity struggling to get off the ground there has been a quiet ascension from the Maynooth based club. Steady progress and an internal focus has driven Uproar forward over the last few years. Since their inception they have been slowly raising their voices in an attempt to get the attention of the Ireland’s elite class. Consistent victories against their regional rivals except Ranelagh have firmly rooted the East Leinster outfit in the penultimate position of their conference. They pose an exciting prospect for the development of East coast Ultimate outside of Dublin, and a salivating match-up for the Western teams less accustomed to their high-energy style. Their weekend will be determined by their Saturday match-up with Ballincollig, a result most people outside of Maynooth see as inevitable. That said, anyone who dares to sleep on Uproar will find themselves in a ghastly situation.
Roaring up out of the suburbs of Cork this young outfit have been boaring their way through Irish Ultimate for a few years now. This side has always been judged by its inexperience and size. Diminutive as the majority of the squad may be, experience has come to their ranks the hard way. This team is led by some of Ireland’s most promising talents, though there is the notable absence of critical handler Ben Noonan. AIUL performances reveal their true strength, they remain a tier below Ranelagh and Pelt, but have their guns firmly aimed at them. They should make the semi-finals fairly comfortably, though what they will do once they get there is the true test of their maturity.
- Jabba the Huck
The reigning champions of Ireland have a hard task ahead of them. Following their Cinderella run to the title last year it would seem like they were set up to become dominant in all divisions. Unfortunately they had some of their prize possessions stolen by the lovable rogues Ranelagh in the offseason. Since the departure of the clubs tent poles Ian French, Keith Mernagh, and Liam Fletcher things have gotten a little sluggish for Jabba. Veteran Hucker Richard Buggy remains at the helm of a club that finds itself once more needing to carve out a reputation on the national scene. Poor showings at Regionals and in the League indicate that the bulk of their work remains in front of them. Limerick will be the dawn of the new era of Jabba the Huck.
Predicted Final Standings
8) Jabba the Huck