Here come the Irish

Aidan Kelly outlines the strength and impending invasion from Irish Ultimate.

There’s an invasion coming. A red-hot fury is coming from the west of the UK and it’s heading straight for the Ultimate field. Board up your changing rooms, tie down your endzone lines and lock up your significant others because the Irish are running riot.

A few weeks ago, UKU announced the significant news that from 2017 onward, they would be inviting a number of Irish teams to UK Nationals. This is in line with Ireland switching region for the European Ultimate Championship Regionals (EUCR). Up until this year, we Irish had been part of the southern region, comically grouping us with our ‘neighbours’ Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Israel. Historically, this arrangement has been a burden to teams who that qualified for EUCR, as they have found it tough to afford the surprisingly heavy and awkward journey to Italy.

In 2016, PELT and Rebel Ultimate Mixed both achieved great things by being the first Irish teams to earn spots at the European Ultimate Championship Finals (EUCF) and flew the flag for Ireland brilliantly. But this taste of the big time has made us only hungry for more. After some negotiations between the IFDA’s Barry Walsh and UKU’s Si Hill over the past few months, an agreement to make the geographically logical switch to the western region has been agreed.

So! What does this mean? Well, since EUCR-West and UK Nationals are the same tournament, the UKU have essentially added an extra region in the form of Ireland. The island will have a number of bids for each year, to be determined by the winner of our own Nationals (All-Ireland Ultimate Championships) from the previous year. For 2017, UK Nationals will provisionally see one Women’s team (Rebel Ultimate), one Mixed team (Dublin Gravity) and either one or two Open teams (PELT, and possibly Ranelagh).

The 2016 Irish national champions, PELT
The 2016 Irish national champions, PELT

For us in the emerald isle, this is huge. Not only does it relieve the financial and logistical burden of travelling across Europe to attempt to qualify for EUCF, but now creates an extra, easily accessible outlet for getting more competitive Ultimate.

For years, the Irish have been knocking on the door of our neighbours when it comes to Ultimate. Regularly our teams will highlight Tour as a major part of the season and a perfect opportunity during the summer to travel and play high level games over a number of weekends. Last season Dublin’s Ranelagh went to Tours 2 and 3, finishing fifth at the Windfarm and third in Cardiff, beating Chevron Action Flash and Fire of London along the way.  PELT took two small but strong squads, each containing just nine players, to Nottingham and their first team finished sixth, initially beating their Dublin counterparts on the Saturday but were forced to surrender their final game due to injuries. Then, after qualifying, the Limerick lads went to EUCF and beat both Fire and Ka-Pow! during the event. Given the chance this season, I would put a fair chunk on both qualifying for EUCF.

In Mixed and Women’s, Rebel Ultimate have flirted with their British counterparts many times and certainly haven’t looked out of place, finishing third at London Calling 2016 and making the final in Nottingham, losing out only to giants Iceni. Entering EUCR Mixed, Rebel battled past all southern European opposition with relative ease, qualifying in first place, and bettered JR in Frankfurt.

Outside of club, at college level, Ireland has already previously conquered Britain. UCC, down in Cork, famously sent a team to University Nationals in 2012. After losing out in the final to Sussex Mohawks a year earlier, they blew the competition away. Conceding no more than six points in any of their games, they took the trophy back home to Munster in the hands of their mad captain John Doherty. That would be the last year Irish teams were ever invited following changes mandated by the university sport governing body, BUCS.

Then, even at school level, Ireland has started showing signs of being able to go toe to toe with the UK. Last year Gonzaga finished third at UK Indoor Nationals, losing only one game all weekend. And then of course, there’s this:

At the end of the day, this new development will hopefully result in one thing: both the UK and Ireland helping to strengthen one another. As I’ve already said, the Irish will benefit from the extra high standard competition, but I feel the UK teams should also receive this news as motivation to continue to improving. If clubs feel they may be potentially losing out on a spot in their region due to our inclusion, don’t think of it as us stealing it, but think of it as an opportunity to work harder and get better. It’s a fire that’s being lit underneath you to push the club to finish higher in the region and be better. I feel it’s an exciting change and can’t wait to see how it unfolds in the years to come.

But remember this, Britain. As the Notorious One himself once said:

“We’re not here to take part. We’re here to take over…”