The showpiece of the domestic season is taking place this weekend in Birmingham. UKU Nationals is what these teams have been building towards all season with nine places at the European Ultimate Championships Finals on offer – four in the open division, three in the mixed division and two in women’s. As always, the ShowGame is making sure you know everything you need to know. Here’s Sean Colfer on the open division.
The format for the open division is slightly different to usual this year. The four qualifying places on offer mean that the top three, rather than just the top two, are done by lunchtime on Sunday. The backdoor route into the top four is still open, though, and could see some intriguing games on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
Starting off with the first round, there are only a couple of games that are difficult to call. Clapham and Chevron are going to win, although a word for YOpen who have done a fantastic job in developing their team and earning their first Nationals berth. Ranelagh face fellow Dubliners XVI and should avoid the upset, as should PELT who face Bristol and Rebel who play EMO. Devon have been very strong all season and it would be a big surprise if Fire are able to beat them, although the Londoners kept it tight at Regionals at 14-11. Alba have regional rivals Manchester, who they didn’t face in York. They did play at Junction 7 earlier in the season, though, and it was a comfortable win for the Scots. The closest game here could be the 6 v 11, between Brighton Open and Ka-Pow!. Brighton won in sudden death at Regionals, the game first thing on Sunday that means Ka-Pow! had to play an extra game to qualify for this event. The teams are clearly well-balanced, so it’ll be intriguing to see which one of them will come out on top here. My guess is Ka-Pow!, but it’s pretty much a coin flip.
The quarters come next. Sticking with my predictions above, Clapham will play Rebel. The team from Cork feature probably the only person who’ll have been disappointed that the Ryanair strike was resolved since it means captain John Doherty can’t swim across the Irish Sea to warm up for the weekend. They usually have very small squads (Rebel 1 had 7 at WindFarm while Rebel 2 had 9) but I daresay they’ll consolidate a bit here and will have greater numbers. They’re a threat in the tournament-within-a-tournament for the EUCF spots, but they won’t beat Clapham. The second quarter is probably going to be an all-Irish affair, with Ranelagh facing arch-rivals PELT. PELT love beating the men from Dublin and will be aiming to knock them out of EUCF contention, but without key central handler Padraig Sweeney they’ll need to find consistent sources of offence across the roster. I don’t think they’ll quite have the firepower to match Ranelagh. Devon versus Ka-Pow! is the third quarter, which will be close. I’d favour Devon because of their ability to raise the intensity when needed. The final quarter could be the most interesting of the lot; Chevron against Alba. This was the final of the northern qualifier, which Chevron won 13-10. Alba have made no secret of their desire to challenge the top two teams, and this is an early opportunity to do just that. Whether they have the horses to run with Chevron at this stage of their development, I’m not sure. It’s likely to be closer than Chevron would like, and this is a stinker of a second match for them, but I think they’ll come through with the win.
That leaves us with semi-finals of Clapham against Ranelagh and Devon against Chevron. I think Devon is a better matchup for Chevron and see them coming through that one more comfortably than in the quarter. Ranelagh have played Clapham plenty of times, and many players on these teams were involved in the tight Great Britain v Ireland match at Windmill. Ranelagh have the ability to keep this close, but ultimately probably don’t have the depth needed to challenge Clapham through a whole game – I think they might start to fall away in the final third after a tight battle to that point.
So, here we are again. Clapham versus Chevron in the national final. Chevron might be able to keep this reasonably close for most of the game, but I daresay Clapham will do again what they’ve done every year for the last 18. A real key for Chevron will be how effectively they can contain and disrupt the Clapham offence – Josh Briggs and James Mead had excellent EUC campaigns with Great Britain and have been playing at a high level all year. Chevron’s ability to stymie that movement and increase pressure on the dump marks will be crucial if they’re to win the game. They have athletes, like Steve Dixon, that can make life difficult for Justin Foord and the rest of the cutters, and have players than can cause problems with the disc – Joe Wynder, Rollo Sax Dixon and Tom Bennett are difficult to contain whoever you’ve got. Still, I can only see this game ending one way, and that’s with number 19.
That means Ranelagh will face Devon for the final EUCF spot. This is the game that Devon won to qualify for WUCC at Nationals in 2017, breaking Ranelagh’s hearts as they lost the chance to qualify for their first EUCF. Ranelagh have a history of struggling in close, important games whereas Devon usually thrives under pressure. Still, the Irishmen have better depth which I think will prove decisive. I think they’ll finish third and qualify for their first EUCF.
So, after 900-ish words, we get to the fun bit. The second round for the losers of the first games will see BAF face EMO in a regionals rematch – EMO should come through there. XVI will play Bristol and despite smaller numbers I’d back the Irish team. Brighton against Fire would be a huge battle between two storied teams who know each other very well. I’m leaning towards Brighton here but really, this is another coin flip. Brighton might realistically go down to the dreaded round robin having played two sudden death games, which would be incredibly unlucky. Manchester will be able to beat YOpen.
That leaves Alba against EMO, XVI against Ka-Pow!, PELT against Brighton and Rebel against Manchester. I think Alba, PELT and Rebel win those games with something to spare. Having seen the XVI roster, the other game is going to be a good one. Andrew Cleary is a very talented young player and their roster features several players able to test defences and make things tough for opponents. I’d back Ka-Pow! to win but it’s by no means a comfortable game for them. That means Alba against Ka-Pow! and Rebel against PELT. Alba play the kind of game that Ka-Pow! struggle with, taking big, aggressive deep shots and grinding on D. I think they’d win that game, and face PELT who’ll overcome Rebel in a tight, needly game.
That leaves us with Devon against Alba, winner goes to Euros. Devon have been here and won before, and will have slightly fresher legs having played one game fewer over the weekend. Their top players will be able to cause Alba problems – Josh Awcock has had a fantastic season GB men (senior and under-24) and is growing into one of the best cutters in the country. Still, Alba seem to me to have better depth. Cam Agnew and Cam Mackie lead a team with plenty of options and ways to move the disc. The game would doubtless be fiery and physical, but I’ll stick to my guns after backing Alba all season and say they make EUCF to cap off a superb first season.
My full, 16-team prediction is below here. I look forward to your complaints. See you in the glorious midlands everyone!
Feature photo by Andy Moss.