On Saturday, the 11th of September, the University of Limerick will host the The Irish Flying Disc Association (IFDA) Ultimate Frisbee All Ireland Championships.
The Championships are one of the major club events for Irish teams in mixed, women’s and men’s categories, with victory securing a highly prestigious spot at the World Club Championships in 2022.
For Limerick club PELT and their women’s captain Aoife McKeon, the All-Ireland represents a homecoming of sorts – a chance to impress on familiar territory.
“This year the All Ireland Championships will be played in Limerick,” McKeon tells Pundit Arena.
“The last couple of years they were played in Dublin, so we’re delighted to be able to host down in Limerick, there’s plenty of space for everyone to host the whole event in one grounds.
“We usually run the Siege of Limerick in the same venue the Championships are on and that’s always a great day, people are able to watch all the matches. We’re delighted to be able to run it and we’ve got a good bit of experience from running all the sieges.”
Ultimate Frisbee is a field sport that can be played both indoors and outdoors, with the All Ireland’s representing an outdoor event. There’s seven players on the line and the object of the game is to catch the disk in the opposite endzone, thus scoring a point for your team.
There are rolling substitutes throughout as well as offensive and defensive lines, with McKeon noting comparisons to volleyball, American Football and the sport she first started before taking up ultimate frisbee, camogie.
This is McKeon’s third year as the PELT Women’s team captain, but how did she first get into the sport and become a part of the local Limerick club?
“I started playing when I was in college,” she explains.
“I had a housemate who played it and because I was a camogie player who was able to catch, I was kind of dragged in. They were just looking to make up the numbers really and I was just one of those people but we’re much more solidified now.
“I went along to tournaments mainly, that was how I started, usually people go to beginner training in college but the way I ended up going was just because they didn’t have enough players and the team would have had to drop out if they didn’t, which is sadly the way with a lot of women’s sports nowadays. We’re trying to change that now though.
“Beginners would be traditionally how you’d get into it, in UL for example there’d be an event at the start of the year where you can see all of the clubs and socs and there’d be a recruitment drive and that’s how most people would get into it but I just found out about it through a friend. ”
As a club, PELT have worked hard on recruitment and encouraging people to get involved in what is a growing sport in Ireland. The club’s junior programme, which began in 2017 has seen them work with local schools in a bid to attract new members.
McKeon explains that the foundation laid by the programme’s early work is coming to fruition, with some of the original crop of recruits in 2017 now working with others and encouraging them to follow in their footsteps.
“Usually there’s always been a link between UL and the Limerick schools, going into PE classes and stuff like that so it was a step on from that really. One of the main coaches Chris McAllister went into schools but actually tried to get them to come and play for the club team.
“So the way it would work was that you’d do it in secondary schools but you were never really sure where they’d go to college so we weren’t ever really able to get that group to stay together so that’s where the club element came in.
“PELT Juniors was started in 2017 and we got a few girls out of that and there’s a few lads who would be first team players now so just kind of building on that foundation as the years go on. The original crop of players from 2017 are now the one’s that are going to schools so it’s a knock on effect I suppose.
Despite growing in popularity, with PELT in particular leading the way in their work with juniors, men’s women’s and mixed teams, McKeon concedes that the sport is still classed as niche to many people.
Curiosity is the immediate reaction when she says she plays Ultimate Frisbee, however more and more people are starting to become more familiar with the sport as time goes on.
“I’d definitely say curiosity, but more and more people are saying, ‘oh yes I do know what that is.’ You are kind of ready though to immediately say, ‘no we don’t just throw it and catch it there’s much more to it, it’s a field sport!’
“People are starting to become much more knowledgable on it though, especially when you explain it because there are a lot of elements from other sports say from the likes of volleyball and American football. People can always draw parallels and then understand what you’re talking about.
If that wasn’t evidence enough of the sport’s rise in recent years, one can also point to Ireland’s success on the international stage, with the 2019 Irish Senior Women’s team bringing home a gold medal from the European Championships in Gyor, Hungary.
For McKeon though, the sport is about more than just delivering success on the field. The PELT captain explains that participating in Ultimate Frisbee has lead to her making many friends off the field, with the All Ireland Championships representing another chance to meet and compete against people from around the country.
“I’ve just made so many friends from the sport. They’re basically the people I spend all of my time with now. It’s brilliant to be able to go and play now also, it feels like it’s been so long since we had a few tournaments together.
“It’s a very analytically minded sport. There’s so much to it in terms of working the disc up the pitch and all of the different plays that have to be drawn up which would have been a lot different to the other sports I would have played before.
“It’s cool, people will get to see on the day that there’s a good bit of technically stuff to it with different plays and things like that, so it can take people a little while to get to know.”