Lorcan Murray reviews the action last weekend in Limerick as PELT stormed to an unlikely, cathartic championship on home soil.
After several years of close calls and an uninvited moniker for stress-induced asphyxiation, PELT have claimed their first national title. The Limerick lads emerged victorious from a virile performance in the final on home turf against national bad guys (and actually fairly sound blokes) Ranelagh.
The final itself was a tale of two halves. The first was decided firmly in the favour of the locals as PELT stormed out to an 8-3 lead, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact they started the game on defence. Furious man D, a hallmark of PELT, was married to the kind of patient and consistent offence the Limerick club has been searching for since its inception. Ranelagh came out with a defence custom made to shut down the way PELT used to play. Clogging the open lanes and an audible call for help whenever one of PELT’s shooters got the disc on an under are tactics that would have crushed the Limerick club last year. However, hard won lessons from Tours and Europe along with a conscious redressing of PELT’s culture ensured it would be much tougher to stop this iteration.
Ranelagh’s first half offence seemed to revolve around loading up deep shots from Sam Mehigan to isolated cutters. PELT were able to capitalise on this dimension and force a combination of overthrows and dump turns throughout the half. The success of PELT’s man to man coverage meant it fell to Conor Hogan’s penchant for spectacular hammers to dig out scores for the Dubliners. As the game wore on it became apparent Ranelagh were not as willing to utilise their full roster as their Limerick counterparts.
In the second half the men in black were far from defeated. Proving their mettle in the face of adversity, they only improved as the game wore on. Ranelagh upped their performance in every department, becoming more clinical with the disc and far more aggressive without it. Ranelagh’s airtight marking of PELT’s downfield cutters looked for a time to be resurrecting their opponent’s old habits. For a period it seemed PELT might just succumb to the impetuous turnovers infecting their offence. However, with the bulk of their work done in the first half PELT were able to hold on to the lead they had built to see out the game 15-10. Though they had the lead for the whole game, it was never a comfortable one. As one enamoured punter said of Ranelagh: “Those boys would have played til sunset.”
A certain amount of credit for PELT’s roaring first half performance can be awarded to Rebel, who in the semi-final against the eventual winners gave their best showing of the Open season. Iron man shifts from club leaders Daragh Ó Céilleachair, Brian O’Callaghan, Dónal Murray and John Doherty, while impressive, were only enough to slow the snails march to the final. Rebel did put up the best score line against PELT this past weekend, and came one unfortunate drop in the endzone away from bringing the eventual champions to universe point. A close game throughout, the semi-final is a positive step for the Corkonions who, despite there only being three spots on the line for the rest of their squad, showed little fear in unleashing the more neophyte elements of their roster. Sean Cahill, Cian McKibben and Conor O’Leary let the competition know they were ready for the next level in Irish Ultimate over the course of the weekend. This match showed Rebel still have the fight, and after a few years of rebuilding, they may have the future they’ve been searching for as well.
In the other semi-final Ranelagh were walking their way to a 15-6 victory despite the spirited efforts of the young Ballincollig outfit in front of them. The score line was an indication of the jump Ballincollig need to make to become as relevant out of doors as they are inside them. Matthew Staunton and the Feely brothers, Colin and Matthew, did their best to lead from the front, but their squad faltered when put under the Dubliners’ claustrophobic defence. Ranelagh utilised the full depth of their roster to outshoot the Cannons in both experience and athleticism.
In the third/fourth playoff game Rebel reaffirmed their dominance of Cork 15-9. The match revealed two issues at the core of Ballincollig’s squad. Primarily, despite a concentrated effort to improve, their roster still thins out faster than their patriarchs’. Both squads possess players of inimitable style and quality, along with ever improving supporting characters. However it seems that Ballincollig’s tend to run dry quicker than Rebel’s. The other difference, and one that became painfully apparent after their game on Sunday, is Ballincollig lack a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option. They don’t have a John Doherty ‘get out of jail’, 50/50 option. Rebel managed to shoot themselves into contention in the semi-final before putting Ballincollig down in similar fashion. This huck-orientated offence may not be the most sustainable, but it reaped rewards for Rebel on Sunday. There is always the point that whoever gets the early run in the third place match tends to win due to their opponents’ loss of interest. Whatever the cause, this game showed the gulf between the two Cork clubs may not be as small as it seemed a year ago.
There were two other important games played on Sunday. The earliest of the pair was the fifth/sixth playoff match between Snatch and Uproar. Due to the conference system in Ireland, if Snatch were able to win this game and PELT 2 were to win the Division 2 final it would give five slots in Division 1 to the West for next season. Sitting on opposite ends of the country, these two sides were very evenly matched. The teams traded to fives before Uproar went on a run to take half 8-5. Most points were littered with turnovers, but it seemed like Snatch were always a touch shakier than their Eastern opponents when it came to working the disc downfield. Uproar, aided by the Sunday return of Conor Phelan adding deadly legitimacy to their deep cuts, were able to take over the second half. A late game surge put Snatch’s Eoghan Staunton on the Uproar endzone line with the chance to bring it to universe point. Unfortunately old habits die hard on the ‘Wesht’ coast and the dump cutting stopped, forcing a risky pass to the ground. A quick turn around and huck saw Uproar catching the winning score at 13-11.
The Division 2 final was interesting despite the one sided nature of the 15-5 score line. Eventual champions XVI are the current Irish Junior team. The adept display, led by Brian Connolly, Mark Doody and final MVP Leo Micklem, had any fans of Irish Ultimate’s future salivating. Watching them play it was apparent they could have challenged for a semi-final place in Division 1. The other exciting aspect of the match is the rumour that this Junior squad will be setting up their own club in Dublin. The potential for a high-powered opponent to challenge Ranelagh’s dominance in the Eastern conference is something everyone in the country can enjoy.
Saturday was a relatively straightforward affair. The eventual finalists both strolled through their opposition, ending the day with a combined point differential of +75. Their respective semi-final opponents, who dominated the other games they played, followed them into Sunday with little obstruction. No games played in Division 1 on Saturday featured both sides scoring in the double digits, a stinging indictment of the caste system starting to take root in Irish Ultimate.
Overall it was an emotional weekend for some, but largely uneventful for the rest. A season of international focus has left the domestic scene somewhat lopsided, though after this weekend the combination of ambition and the necessity revealed indicates a changing of the times. When the sun rises on the Irish Ultimate club scene next year it will interesting to see how things have shaken out. If XVI manage to craft a real club, they may be able to break the stranglehold Ranelagh have in the East. The progressions of Snatch and Uproar will hopefully continue through the college year giving much needed depth to their respective conferences. Rebel’s furious and motivated display on Sunday will hopefully prove to be a rebirth instead of a brief reprisal of their old ideals. While on the opposite side of the Lee, Ballincollig remain one culture shock scalp away from becoming a genuine threat. With Irish eyes starting to look seriously across the sea to the glory and challenges awaiting them on foreign fields it is a time of great promise across the Emerald Isle. However, as the sun set on the Shannon that evening there was only one certainty. PELT were champions and the night, if not the coming year, belonged firmly to them.