Wednesday, July 13, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Ireland

By Bex McLaughlin. Additional reporting by Thomas Newton, Aine Kilbane, Abby Whiteley, and Matt O’Connor. History
Irish quidditch started with a highly spirited, albeit unsuccessful, international debut back in Nov. 2013 when the small but plucky squad of the Galway Grindylows competed at the first British Quidditch Cup (BQC). The second and third BQCs were only open to teams in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), with no teams from the Irish Republic permitted; the Grindylows remain the only foreign team to compete at the event. Since then, the Grindylows have become less active and are currently on hiatus. However, there is a new community team emerging in Dublin, and four other university teams are in the pipeline. A tournament for these teams in autumn of the coming academic year is in the works; the details are still to be confirmed.

Several stumbling blocks face the development of quidditch in the Irish Republic, not least of which is its incredibly small population of around 4.5 million people, fewer than Norway by half a million and Catalonia by three million. Obviously, fewer people means fewer players. In addition, the popularity of Irish sports such as Gaelic football and hurling, in addition to rugby and other more common pursuits, draws potential quidditch players elsewhere. There’s certainly potential in the Emerald Isle if that rich sporting culture can be fully utilised and quidditch players drawn in.

Team Ireland at European Games in Sarteano 2015 | Photo Courtesy of Team Ireland
However, when players from these sports do pick up a broom the results are impressive, as shown at the 2015 European Games. With three late additions of UK players with Irish heritage, Ireland managed to muster an eight-person squad. But the Irish-born players, fresh from rugby and roller derby teams, were fierce competitors. The squad scored on Norway and were in SWIM range with the Netherlands, but fatigue and inexperience took their toll, and Ireland went winless. This time around should be a different story; although the squad for Frankfurt still lacks Irish-born players, a large number of UK-born players qualifying for the team through Irish parents or grandparents are bolstering Team Ireland this year. While quidditch in Ireland rarely interacts with quidditch in the United Kingdom, the Irish squad has drawn from the British Isles quite heavily. One such draw is Reading Rocs’ beater Thomas Newton, who despite living and playing in the UK, felt compelled to represent Ireland. “Team Ireland is immensely important to me,” said Newton. My nan, God rest her, was Irish through and through and singly the loveliest person I’ve ever known. I miss her greatly and it saddens me that she never saw me play my beloved sport. I want to do my nan proud and go out in green with my head held high.” With the roster and passion this squad has, pride for the Irish is assured. The Squad
The Irish squad was chosen by team managers Ben Middlemiss and Aine Kilbane from players who applied via an online application form. Players stated their experience and eligibility. Careful thought was given to balancing the squad’s proportion of Irish-born players, but, unfortunately, dropouts due to costs have left the squad considerably heavier with British-born players of Irish descent. Middlemiss and Kilbane emerged as leaders through their enthusiasm to get the Irish to the World Cup, as well as their roles on the European Games squad.   The Roster (By Position) Keepers
Pierce Brosnan (Keele Krakens)
Ollie Bridgen (Bristol Brizzlebears) Chasers
Blathnaid Cluskey (DCU Dementors)
Fran Morris (Radcliffe Chimeras)
Isabella Aston (Bristol Brizzlebears)
Laura Campbell (Holyrood Hippogriffs)
Mathilda Rose (Oxford Quidlings)
Rebecca O’Connor (Galway Grindylows)
Aaron Jones (Keele Krakens)
Aine Kilbane (Galway Grindylows)
Ben Middlemiss (Holyrood Hippogriffs)
Eamonn Harrison (Taxes Quidditch)
Jodie Mee (Bristol Brizzlebears)
Kerry Aziz (Southampton Quidditch Club)
Matthew Drummond (Southampton Quidditch Club)
Tara McDonald (Holyrood Hippogriffs)
Tom Newton (Bathilisks Quidditch)

Team Manager Ben Middlemiss beating for Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs at the British Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Interview with Team Manager Ben Middlemiss
Team Manager Ben Middlemiss has been a driving force behind this year’s Team Ireland. The Quidditch Post’s Matt O’Connor spoke with him about the team and their goals for the tournament, among others. Quidditch Post: What are your goals for this tournament?
Ben Middlemiss: Make some new pals, get that freckle tan on, then maybe have a pop at the upper bracket. To be honest, most of us are just delighted to be playing quidditch without the need for several thermal layers. You know, this is the first year the Team Ireland kit hasn't been a kagoul. QP: What will your team need to do to accomplish these goals?
BM: Factor 50 suncream, buckets of the stuff. The Indiegogo doesn’t begin to cover it. More than anything, I want us to play for each other and give the crowd a wee team with big dreams to cheer on. When our first quaffle goes past the Belgians and the Aussies, everyone in Frankfurt will know who’s just scored. QP: How is Ireland preparing for World Cup?
BM: Well, we’re not over preparing, that’s for sure. Some national sides have tryouts, team practice weekends, several days to acclimatise, dedicated coaches and strategists, and then choke against France in the final. We wouldn’t want to make arses of ourselves like that! QP: Considering you live in the UK and play for a British team, what drew you to the Irish team?
BM: I grew up in an Irish community in the West of Scotland, so it’s always been a massive part of my identity. People that don’t know that culture maybe can’t understand, but I’ve never considered myself British; everyone around me had an Irish passport and travelled back and forth to Ireland to see family constantly – the links are incredibly strong. Growing up I always dreamt of being an amazing footballer and spurning Scotland and England to play for Ireland. I don’t know if this is quite the same achievement, but I’m hugely proud to play for the Irish national side, and it’s an honour to be so heavily involved this year. QP: What impact do you anticipate World Cup having on quidditch in your country?
BM: In my country, which is of course Ireland, what we really need are several stable clubs and a semi-regular tournament. Will the World Cup bring this about? Probably not. But we’re already getting a decent amount of Potter-heavy press and TV coverage in the build up, so I’m hoping that at least sows the seeds for the next generation of Irish players. QP: Are there any teams that you particularly would like to play?
BM: Really excited to play any teams from outside of Europe, such as Brazil, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. QP: Who are some of your team’s key players?
BM: We’re keeping our cards very close to our chests in that we’ve never actually played together, so I mean even we don’t know for sure. Mathilda Rose has extensive experience at top-level club competition, I think could be invaluable. I hear Ollie Bridgen’s a first class keeper, Matthew Drummond’s meant to be pretty good. I myself am of course the glittering jewel in our crown. Whatever, I don’t want to give teams too much scouting intel, but we’re collectively kind of a big deal.

Mathilda Rose chasing for Radcliffe Chimeras at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
QP: Was it a challenge to draw together a national side with Ireland lacking a large number of regular clubs?
BM: It was challenging, yes. We prioritised players from Irish teams in our selection process, and they formed the majority of our original selection, but dropouts saw that ratio diminish significantly. Most teams in Ireland practice sporadically and play competitive fixtures only rarely, so getting players to commit to come to Germany for a sport they sort of dabble in was no mean feat. It wasn’t difficult to find Irish players in the UK system or mainland players eligible for Irish citizenship; we were actually inundated with applications. But that’s not good enough we need the sport to spread and be played regularly across Ireland. Coordinating the squad this year has been my way of trying to help that along, but we need someone to be inspired and driven enough by what we do at the World Cup this summer to go on a mission to take this sport to Ireland in a big way. It could be someone on the team, someone in the crowd, maybe even someone reading this article. But that’s the end goal: grassroots quidditch in the Emerald Isle. Analysis When seeing the phrase “Ireland at the Quidditch World Cup,” it’s impossible for any fan of Harry Potter to not jump to the wizarding event of the same name as depicted in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In book four of the franchise, the Emerald Isle beat Bulgaria to claim the title of greatest quidditch nation in the world. With all due respect to the Irish team, who have come from a squad of eight at the European Games to an almost full roster for the “muggle” World Cup in Frankfurt, not even the luck of the Irish can secure the same results as their fictional counterpart. Many of the Irish team’s players currently reside in the United Kingdom, and are either “answering the call of the Old Country,” with players like Mathilda Rose and Thomas Newton honouring their ancestry, or have full citizenship directly. The players with UK experience will be invaluable in Frankfurt against tough opposition but also in developing tactical awareness for the Irish residents to take back home. On first assessment, the Irish squad is very beater-heavy. This is probably not by design, but due more to dropouts and limited available players. The beaters they have are of a high standard: Southampton Quidditch Club's Matthew Drummond and Brizzlebears’ Jodie Mee performed incredibly well at European Quidditch Cup 2016. Add the Holyrood Hippogriffs’ ferocious cage-fighter-turned-quidditch-player Ben Middlemiss, Taxes’ towering Eamonn Harrison, and Aine Kilbane’s experience from European Games 2015 and that’s a consistently strong second-string rotation in the bludger game. Despite being unable to coordinate the Irish and British sides training before arriving in Germany, not all synergy is lost. Mee and Harrison played the entirety of the 2014-15 season together with Brizzlepuffs Quidditch Club, and Drummond and Kerry Aziz played together for the past season with Southampton Quidditch Club as well, undoubtedly giving the team at least two strong pairs.

Jodie Mee and Ollie Bridgen playing for Brizzlepuffs Quidditch Club at Whiteknights IV | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography
Quaffle-wise, Oxford University Quidditch Club’s Fran Morris and Mathilda Rose are formidable. Rose has been a part of UK quidditch since the early days and brings extensive experience, a zest for fun, and a hard hit. Morris was selected for the Radcliffe Chimeras (the university's varsity squad) for the Southern Cup (qualifier for EQC) in 2015 with just a few weeks’ experience of the game. Since then, and with European Cup under their belt, their confidence and tactical awareness have improved greatly; they are certainly a player to watch. From an analyst’s point of view, there’s a great deal not known about the players of the Irish Republic. As such, we can assume they are lacking experience against tough opposition, but are likely to have more than a modicum of sporting potential. The squad certainly has a strong first string but, like many teams in this tournament, the loss will come when the subs are made; the team lacks depth. At least Ireland this year has the potential to actually make subs, which is a great improvement from last year’s European Games and puts them in a healthier position than some of the other nations in attendance.
When playing Australia and Belgium, Ireland just needs to survive; Slovakia could be a win for the Irish if they can quickly learn to work together, and hopefully pull some decent quaffle players out of the black headband long enough to get some goals. As ever, though, the Irish side will be good for the craic.
Editor’s Note: “craic” is an Irish word difficult to translate, similar to “banter” or “for the laughs”.

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