"The big appeal to a lot of people is that it’s self-refereed”

A part-time marketing student in UCD, Conor Hogan is also High-Performance Director of the Irish Flying Disc Association. This body governs Ultimate Frisbee, a growing game in Irish colleges, and is seeking Irish Sports Council recognition.

Q: What’s so ‘ultimate’ about Ultimate Frisbee?


When the sport first kicked off, they couldn’t just call it Frisbee. If you said to someone, ‘I play Frisbee,’ they’re going to immediately say, ‘Oh, do you just stand there and throw it back and forth to your friends?’ or ‘Do you throw it to your dog?’ They’re the usual stereotypes we deal with anyway. So to try to glamorise it a bit they called it Ultimate.

Q: Are there any sports comparable to it?


It’s 7-on-7 on a pitch that is roughly the same size as a soccer pitch. The object of the game is basically to pass it between your teammates until one of your teammates catches the disc in the endzone, like American Football, and that’s worth one point. You can’t move when you have the disc but everyone else can move around you and you can pass it forward, backward, sideways – whatever way you want to work it up the pitch. You need to be able to cut and change direction like receivers in American football. A lot of the tactics are similar in a way to some of the basketball tactics – there’s a lot of stacks as set plays – and you need to be able to pivot like netball and basketball. There’s a lot of diving around too, or ‘laying out’ as we call it.

Q: The Ireland mixed team had some success in Copenhagen this summer. Could you tell me about that experience?


This year we were the dark horses going over to the Europeans. We had a good chemistry and we all knew what to expect from a week long tournament. We had either one or two games every day and each game was 100 minutes long with a 10-minute half-time. So the experience of games wasn’t overly new but getting to the final was new for a lot of us.

Q: You must have needed a lot of rotation to get through those 100-minute games?


The way the mixed format works is that the team who starts on offence decides whether it’ll be four guys or four girls for the next point, and then the other team has to match that, so there’s always a ratio of 4:3 (men to women or vice versa) on the pitch. We normally swap up the lines after each point and most players will only play a max of two points in a row before taking a point or two off.

Q: How did you find your first big final against Great Britain?


It was the second final that any Irish team has made but there was only one returning player from that. In the final it got to 8-all and half-time would’ve been the first team to score nine. We actually had the disc just outside the endzone but we had a miscommunication and GB worked it up the pitch to take the half, 9-8. From there they controlled the game and ran out 17-12 winners, which was a bit disappointing. They were a bit more experienced in that situation so hopefully next time we can fall back on that experience of playing in that final.

Q: You have been seeking recognition for Ultimate from the Irish Sports Council. How do you go about getting that recognition?


There’s a list of criteria we need to tick the box for and we’re probably the closest we can get to getting ISC recognition. Some of the things that need to be looked into are having an appropriate constitution for the sport and the governing body. We need to have accounts for a minimum of three years that are done up properly at the end of each year. They’re the few things that we were falling down on three or four years ago when we applied for it before. So we’ve worked hard to get those in line with what they want. We’re gearing up for another application in the next few months so hopefully we’ll get it done.

Q: One of the defining aspects of Ultimate is not having a referee. How does that work in practice?


The big appeal to a lot of people is that it’s self-refereed. So we call our own fouls or infractions of rules, and there’s a huge ‘spirit of the game’ element that you trust the other team that it’s going to implement the rules correctly, that you’ll do the same and nobody is going to cheat. The main thing that’ll happen which causes grief is that two people will disagree on what happened, rather than on what the rule is. That’s why one thing that is being toyed with at the moment is use of game advisors. They can say: ‘This is the rule and I think it was a foul.’ The players can then discuss further whether they think the game advisor had the best perspective. They don’t have to take their advice.

Q: Are there some teams that try to take advantage of collaborative officiating?


I’ve certainly been involved in a few games internationally where there was feigned ignorance. We played against a team in 2011, and I won’t name names, but their captain plays with a Canadian club team, so his English was very good.

But when they played against us, he feigned ignorance and said, ‘Oh, my English isn’t very good,’ just so they could avoid having a discussion with us, so they could break the rules. It meant that we missed out on a quarter-final spot because they cheated us out of the game. It tends not to happen that often, thankfully.

Q: Afterwards the teams give each other scores for spirit. What’s the lowest score you’ve ever given?


I’ve been on a team who was both given and received a four (out of 20), which was the lowest I’ve heard.

The four we received came in the final of an intervarsity event and there was a lot of miscommunication or misinterpretation of what went on in the game. Afterwards we actually sat down with them and said, ‘Listen, a four is a really bad score, can we talk about the game?’ We sorted out our differences after the game but, unfortunately, on the record it looks like we were not the best bunch to play against!


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