Like most people I was first exposed to the sport of Ultimate when I got into university in 2010. And like most, I decided to try it out without the intention of taking it seriously.
I must admit that after my first training session, I almost didn’t got back because it's not exactly fun playing Ultimate with a bunch of people who can't throw. But I ended up giving it a chance and after the 3 years I spent in University College Cork doing my degree, it is my experiences in Ultimate which have served me much more than any degree or qualification ever could.
As club captain in my final year, I spent a couple of hours each day, coaching, running fitness sessions, and doing admin work.
The saying “you get out of it what you put into it” never seemed to make more sense to me than with Ultimate that year.
By the end of the year I'd captained our men's and mixed team who both won college nationals, and I coached our beginners who won their beginners college nationals. Off the pitch the club was voted the university’s best club of the year, and I was awarded the university’s ”Sports Club Person of the Year” award. We also were invited to take part in the UK’s University nationals, and went over and won that event also after two previous years of coming up short.
The experiences I got from involvement with Ultimate only spurred me on to take it even more seriously, and to try and pursue a career that involved the same type of daily activities that I was involved with when running the club. I'd found something I loved doing every day. Playing, and being involved in coaching Ultimate is different from anything else. The whole culture of Ultimate, and the youth of the sport mean that there are so many different ways to take the sport forward. It allows leaders in Ultimate to be creative and look for new ways to do things that you don't really have in other sports due to how long they have been around.
I think I'll struggle to ever have another year that is full of so many good memories as that 2013 season. Those 5 months were arguably the best time of my life so far in terms of the successes and happy memories. It's also when I started going out with my girlfriend who I met through the sport also, so I suppose we will call that a plus as well.
Around this time, the AUDL started to become known, and the idea of going over to America to play pro seemed cool, but I knew it would be a couple of years before I'd make that move.
A few weeks later I had an experience that defined my approach to the sport. It was at the U23 world championships in Toronto, and our team did terribly. A season of what we thought was hard work filled with lots of promise ended in an almost complete disaster. The one positive was that after the event I remember our team talk, and I remember saying how we owed it to ourselves to never let a season end like that again for any Irish team we ever played on again, and I know I followed through with that.
Not long after Toronto I came home from a tournament and got a phone call saying my father was in hospital. My father had many health problems in his life, but they never really slowed him down, however this time it was serious, and he hadn't long left. I am still glad to have had those last few weeks with him, where I spent most my time with him. The real message he left me with was that everyone has to make their own way in this life, and that you can choose how it plays out. He was never someone who told me you need to this, or you need to that. I think it's a big reason why I'm so involved with Ultimate, and not tied down with a secure job, and living ''the normal life'' for someone my age. If I was, I'd never end up playing in the AUDL.
After he passed I knew the coming year would be tough, and I decided to try and occupy myself by taking on the role of coaching the U20 Irish Men's National Team. This was just another reason why this sport has given me so much. There aren't many sports that someone only playing 3 years can get the role of a national team coach, but due to the time, effort, and success that I'd had already, I got the go ahead to run the team.
The whole process of running trials, selecting the team, and coaching was something I really enjoyed. It was only later in the season when I was coaching the final team at the World Championships that I realised I probably enjoyed coaching on a daily basis more than I enjoyed playing.
There's something more satisfying about it. Perhaps it was the age of the players I was coaching, and knowing that I could share in any success they had, because I knew I was having a big influence on the team.
Because of all my successes that year, but also with the passing of my father, I'll always look back at 2013 as both the best, and worst year of my life. I also happened to wear the number 13 jersey, and since that year, the number has a lot more meaning to me, which is why the first question I asked when joining Seattle was could I get the number 13 jersey.
In 2015 I was in Copenhagen captaining the Irish Men's National Team at the European Championships. It was funny how only after my 4th year playing I was awarded the role of captain of the National Team, but again, it just goes to show the possibilities that this sport has given me due to my dedication.
In 2016 I was playing at WUGC, and I had made contact with a number of AUDL teams about keeping an eye out for me at the event. It looked like Toronto was going to be my destination. It's through the WUGC campaign that I got to know Mark Burton and he filled me in about how things work in the AUDL. I remember in Amsterdam at a warm up tournament myself and Mark were messing about who was better, and we ended up having a 5-stage competition to see who was better at various Ultimate-related things. The details are a bit foggy looking back on it now, but it went to a tie-breaker, and neither myself or Mark couldn't(could?) hit a target with a disc from about 10 meters away after about 15 minutes of trying. Needless to say, there is no real winner when that happens.
I kept in touch with Mark after that, thinking I'd potentially run into him at some stage in the league. I attended try-outs in Toronto and Ottawa in October. Both teams were interested in having me join them that season, and I had pretty much everything lined up. However a couple things changed for me, and it no longer looked like I'd be going to play. Luckily I knew Mark, and he had been following my Canada prep, and he said he could potentially get me a last minute spot on the Cascades and help me out with some things which made going elsewhere at the time a problem. A couple of conversations later, and I had managed to grab my spot on an AUDL team.
So that's gotten me to this point. As I look beside me now writing this, my bag is pretty much packed and ready. There isn't much else left to dwell on the past, it's time to start looking forward to my future in the sport.
And on that, I'll sign off.
See you in Seattle.
John Doherty #13