UK Ultimate isn’t the only body having regionals this weekend – our Irish friends are also getting ready for their Nationals. Aidan Kelly and Tadhg Brogan walk us through the teams to watch in Ireland.
As we wave goodbye to both the month of July and the Tour season, here in the Emerald Isle the club season is ready to kick it up a gear (or five) as the All-Irelands Regionals events take place in two locations this weekend.
How our All-Ireland Ultimate Championships (Nationals) format works is fairly simple. Each regional event takes place a few weeks as a qualifier for Division One, which is comprised of eight teams. At the moment there are four spots in the East (Leinster/Ulster) and four in the West (Munster/Connaught). This can vary each year depending on finishing spots. Any team that doesn’t qualify is free to play Division Two, which usually takes place alongside its premier counterpart.
This year, we have ten teams squaring off in the East and six in the West. Here’s a round-up of who we’ll be seeing, and our bold* predictions of how they may fare.
AIUC East – Aidan Kelly
Ranelagh 1&2 (Last year: 1st and N/A)
Top dogs in Dublin, and indeed the region, Ranelagh are back to playing with two teams this year, after having one, larger panel in 2016. Unbeaten at Regionals in the two previous years it’s run, I don’t expect the first team to fall to anyone this time around either.
Expect the second team to feature a mixture of some younger, developing talent combined with a few veterans of the Lagh to help drag them over the line. With both teams well drilled by the coaching team of Sam Mehigan and Matthew Feely, and with the valuable positive performances at Windmill and Tour 3 already under their belts this season, there is no reason why we can’t see both Ranelagh teams finish in the top four spots come Sunday evening.
Uproar (Last year: 2nd)
After finishing runners up at last year’s event up in Belfast, the Kildare side have experienced a massive amount of turnover in their squad. Pulled apart by immigration, travelling, players joining other clubs (sorry lads) and long-term injuries there are as many as seven of last year’s first team no longer on the roster.
However, expect a number of their younger players, mostly blooded from the local Maynooth University, to attempt to step up to the plate this year and embrace the chance at taking on bigger roles within the team. Regionals will be a massive test, especially with possibly their most important game of the weekend first thing Saturday against Masterclass. But, as previous battles throughout the season with their rivals have proved, they won’t be surrendering a spot in Division One without putting up a real fight.
Dublin Gravity 1&2 (Last year 3rd and 5th)
As possibly the biggest club in the region (roster size-wise), Gravity have typically been comfortably blessed with depth that has seen both teams in honest contention for qualification. Last season Gravity 2 (or Anti-Gravity as they oddly like to be called) narrowly missed out on the top bracket thanks to a bitter and contentious loss to Jabba in the game to go.
This year they’ve also been met with a lot of roster turnover, however some of that has been in their favour. With the additions of Ireland regulars Enda Kelleher and Daniel Purdy, expect the well-drilled side to have an extra layer of unpredictability as they now have that all-important Plan B that they lacked last season (i.e. huck it to the stupidly tall lad).
Jabba the Huck (Last year 4th)
Despite “retiring” their Men’s team, the former champions and current Mixed gold medallists have made the rather surprising decision to give Regionals a go this year. Rumour has it that this is just to give some extra playing time to their Mixed players and for a chance to just play some more competitive Ultimate and sure, why not?
After causing huge controversy last year for giving opponents Ranelagh a 15-0 walkover in an attempt to keep the legs fresh for the tighter games later on in the day last year (hey, it worked I suppose), I don’t expect the club to have the same mindset this time around. I do however expect Jabba to make things hard for their opponents by playing with little pressure and nothing to lose.
Belfast Ultimate (Last year 6th)
A fallen giant of Irish Ultimate, Belfast have found things tough over the last few seasons. A victim of a lack of foresight in the past as many of their older, seasoned leaders began to retire years back without enough younger players to take up the mantle, this year it looks like the ship has started to be steadied somewhat.
With a new, fresh leadership combining Ireland Masters’ player Wesley Fraser and former Junior international Richard Sayers, things are starting to look brighter up North as massive attempts to redevelop the Ultimate scene in Belfast have been made this year. However, with the region being so competitive, it may come as a season too soon if they want to be taken seriously as contenders for Division One. However, I expect BU to look to take at least one scalp this weekend, while playing with great spirit as they look to do Belfast proud.
XVI 1&2 (Last year N/A)
After giving regionals a miss and dominating Division Two last season, the young guns, comprised mainly of both former and current Gonzaga students, come with huge pedigree despite the average player age. Containing more Ireland underage caps than I dare try count, XVI will look to use this tournament as the platform to announce themselves as All-Ireland contenders. Whether they can actually do it is another question entirely.
When on-form, it’s near impossible to stop this side, but the problem is that we have really gotten a chance to see that so far. It’s easy to forget that this is a club still in its infancy and it takes a lot more to run a successful side at this level than to train in a park twice a week. However, they have shown signs that they don’t fear the early learning curve with big wins against Masterclass and Uproar already under their belt this term. If they can keep composure and use their heads I see them finishing comfortably in the top four.
As far as their second team (…XVII?) goes, I would wager it’ll contain an even younger, developing group of future first teamers that will use the weekend as great experience for the future.
Masterclass (Last year N/A)
The bloody wildcard. A bunch of old, semi-retired vets who are just here to have fun and fuck with everyone else (and let’s face it, nothing is more fun than that…)
If this was a one day tournament, I’d put a lot of money on Masterclass to qualify, but it’s not. The schedule will play a massive part in how this side ends up. Despite the fact they hold a generation of experience under their belts and know how to conserve their energy (lazy, lazy zones), it’s a massive question as to whether their bodies will last up to seven games over the weekend.
1 – Ranelagh 1
2 – XVI
3 – Ranelagh 2
4 – Dublin Gravity
5 – Uproar
6 – Masterclass
7 – Jabba
8 – Belfast
9 – Gravity 2
10 – XVI 2
AIUC West – Tadhg Brogan
In contrast to the east, out wesht we have just 6 teams venturing up to Galway to fight for a spot in the Top 4. With such few teams, here’s a look ahead for what to expect.
PELT Ultimate 1&2 (Last Year: 1st & 5th)
The powerhouse of the west, PELT claimed their first All-Ireland title last year, and they have continued building since. This season has seen them go unbeaten domestically in the All-Ultimate Ireland League (AIUL) and abroad they have only suffered losses to Clapham, Chevron and Freespeed, resulting in third-place finishes at Windmill and Tour 3. With an almost full squad (despite the noticeable absence of Andrew Meade) it’s hard to imagine them being dethroned at Regionals as they look set to continue to another All-Ireland final, with the WUCC qualifying spot firmly in their sights.
PELT 2, on the other hand, have come up short the past two years in terms of qualifying for Division One. While the team has had success at Division Two All-Irelands, the club’s goal for regionals is to have both teams qualify for Division One. As a result, you’ll find that some of the talent has been spread across the squads to ensure this, so it won’t be too surprising if the club manage to have both teams crack the top four.
Rebel Ultimate (Last Year: 2nd)
Rather surprisingly, the Cork giants are only sending one team to this year’s Regionals, in contrast to the three teams they managed to muster up last year. These short numbers are stretching all the way up to the first-team squad with only 13 players making the trip to Galway. Despite the short numbers and probable absence of one or two of their bigger players, Rebel can never be counted out. Already having competed at Tom’s Tourney (taking ninth), Tour 2 and Tour 3, the team will be ready for battle and with hordes of experience under their belt, odds are they’ll hold onto their Division One spot. Short numbers could see them fall down the seedings when all is said and done, though.
Ballingcollig Ultimate (Last Year: 3rd)
Collig have put in a pretty decent performance so far this year at home, fairly comfortably dispatching Rebel and Tribe in the AIUL, only suffering a loss to PELT, which will most likely see them come second in the league. Further afield, they have taken the time to develop younger side of the squad at Tour 1, where they put in a relatively decent performance at C Tour. This could prove crucial as Collig are likely to be missing some of their bigger players in the form of John “the Boy” Hallisey, Donnacha McAuillfe and Dave Forde. However, what I imagine will be the main worry for the side is how they will fair in close games without Matthew Feely, who they lost to Ranelagh earlier in the year. In a similar situation to their Cork brethren, Collig are only sending one team due to short numbers. As a result, it would be asking a lot for the team to take down PELT 1, but I would still have them tipped to possibly get the better of Rebel.
Tribe Ultimate 1&2 (Last Year: 4th & N/A (Formerly Snatch))
And finally our hosts for the weekend: Tribe. In contrast to the Cork sides, the Tribe lads are managing to send two teams to Regionals. With a large portion of Tribe 2 being more inexperienced players looking to build experience, the focus will be on getting Tribe 1 into the top four. Tribe has been a team that has been constantly improving thanks to the University team in NUIG. So far this year however, the Tribe Men’s team have only been seen during the AIUL where they suffered losses to both Collig and Rebel. Some added talent over the season may provide Tribe with the boost they need to get past these teams come Saturday. However, with the major threat of PELT 2 vying for at least that fourth spot, the pressure is on the Galway boys to climb the seeds or hold their spot.
So with five teams really looking for the top four spots, and a bit of a wildcard in the form of PELT 2 thrown in for good measure, here are my predictions for the weekend:
1 – PELT 1
2 – Ballincollig 1
3 – Rebel
4 – PELT 2
5 – Tribe 1
6 – Tribe 2