A Dublin-based team claimed second place at the World Championships on Sunday in Waidhaus, Germany. The sport? Jugger.
First conceived in the David Peoples’ (director of Blade Runner) cult film 'The Blood of Heroes', jugger is a team sport with five players, four of which are armed with padded swords, shields and lances. These players must block their opponents and pave the way for the designated ball carrier, or “qwik”, who is tasked with running to the goal.
The sport was first introduced to Ireland by Mark Hill, who founded the Setanta club that finished second in the world last weekend. He explains:
“Jugger is a unisex sport that has a team of five. The runner, who has no weapon, is the only one who can carry the skull (ball). If you get touched you’re out of the game for a short time. The weapon holders have to block and take down the opposition."
The dynamics of the game fall somewhere between fencing and American football, with martial arts just around the corner. Hill brought the sport to his college IADT, Dun Laoghaire in 2006, and since then has both coached and played jugger.
In their 10 years of existence, Setanta never previously eyed up silverware, always ensuring that enjoyment came first. This year, however, Hill saw a few tweaks made in the build-up to the World Championships and a clear shift in attitude.
Incorporating fitness and strength into their four training sessions every week, Setanta covered every base in preparation for Germany, only to be bested by Spanish team Verracos in the final.
Not bad for a team in a country that has 30 registered jugger players.
"We didn’t go in expecting anything but we changed (our mindsets).We decided not to do it as part-time enjoyment but take it seriously and do it professionally," Hill explained.
“When we step onto the pitch to play, we look to get the best out of each other but in the stoppages, we mess around and have a laugh.”
"A lot of teams that are very good only take it seriously and have a bad reputation for that. We never wanted that. We’re slowly building to becoming good. We played Verracos in the final, who won the Championship three out of the last four years."
So with the necessary explanation of the sport and club taken care of; what of the film that was cut from the same cloth as Blade Runner?
“The creator of the sport, David Peoples, also wrote Blade Runner and that was never meant to be big. It turned out to be massive," the 34 year-old explained. "When it did so well, producers wanted to do another film so they did this post-apocalyptic story based on a sport called jugger.
“It was kind of like Mad Max but instead of driving cars, people were playing jugger. Rutger Hauer got on board. It didn’t do well in the cinema but had a huge cult following all over the world. It wasn’t popular for years but slowly people joined and more sports-minded people joined. People just wanted to take it in one direction after that and grow it.”
So a movie that stunk out cinemas in 1989 has inspired a sport now played on five continents. But what inspired Mark Hill to bring to Irish shores a sport that is, in a word, bonkers?
“I lived in Hamburg for two years. One of my friends told me that he has a sport for me,” Hill, a former rugby coach, explained. “I had the same reaction as when anyone sees it ‘what the hell is going on here?’ It’s completely natural to react like that.”
“But when I started playing, the skill involved is just phenomenal. The team in Hamburg (who Mark won the World Championship with in 2006) were like the Manchester United of Jugger at the time so it was really good learning from the best”.
“I came back to Ireland and I was so in love with the sport that I set it up in college and 10 years later, we’re doing really well in everything. We won the Hamburg tournament in July, came third in the Irish international tournament and went to the Deutsche Meisterschaft [World Championship]."
While Setanta’s recent success could quicken the growth of the sport here, it is always going to be tough to blend a sport of jugger’s nature into the mainstream.
However, they are prepared to do everything they can to promote their sport.
Swords and lances at the ready.
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