Yes, there is an Irish Lacrosse team, let’s get that out of the way first! The kicker? They are pretty damn good. Team Ireland is just back from an intense colourful World Lacrosse Championships, held recently in Denver, USA. The Green Machine managed 6 wins against 2 losses and continued their successful quest to put Irish Lacrosse on the World map.
Ireland enjoyed huge wins in their first three games, sweeping aside their group opponents under a deluge of attacking play. Uganda, France and Bermuda were all demolished by a combined score of 53-11. Ireland then suffered a setback losing to Israel despite 4 goals from Tom Riley. They then embarked on a terrific 3 game winning streak, besting the Czechs, the Swiss and New Zealand.
Ireland finished in 10th place after a tight, hard fought 6-8 loss to Germany.
10th place Worldwide is an excellent position for a young Irish squad that is improving fast and placing Ireland very firmly on the World Lacrosse map. The 10th placed finish out of 38 teams is a testament to itself.
The Irish had to fight very hard for this position, as every single game was played on consecutive days, a ferocious schedule in any sport, but even more so in a physical, tough sport like Lacrosse.
We were delighted to discuss the tournament and indeed Lacrosse in Ireland in general with Irish defensive star Conor Walsh. His comments are really interesting particularly in the context of minority sport in Ireland. Representing Ireland at international level is a joyful thing, but it carries certain sacrifices and responsibilities particularly at the minority sport level. Conor’s interview is a fascinating insight into this.
The interview exposes a really committed, talented group of players in a sport that’s growing fast in the Dublin area in particular, and also talks into some of the intricate and indeed funny aspects of representing Ireland at international level, impressing other teams and making new friends (including Iroquois Nation) in a minority sport setting. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable chat with an excellent ambassador for his sport. Enjoy!
Question: Conor, when did you start playing Lacrosse? Tell us a little about that.
Conor Walsh: I started playing for Ireland back in 2007 when I was 19. I had been playing lacrosse about 18 months or so and played in the world indoor lacrosse championships while doing my exams at UCD. Needless to say they weren't my best results!
Q: Why Lacrosse? What drew you to the sport?
CW: Well to be perfectly honest, I had played rugby at junior’s level in school and fell out of love with playing in the senior cycle so came to college looking for something different. I did a bit of research online before starting at UCD and had marked lacrosse down as a potential sport for me. On the day of the sports expo I was weighing up my options and all the sports clubs cost €10 to join but at the time I only had €2 in my pocket. I went over to the lacrosse stand and would you believe it, it cost €2 to join. I was the second ever person to join UCD lacrosse as it was the sport's first year in the college.
Q: It seems like UCD has a strong connection with the sport in Ireland, is it one of the better clubs?
CW: Yeah it is probably the strongest overall club in the country in terms of player numbers and general talent. That is down to a mixture of resources available to the team including a steady stream of new blood every year, funding from the college and study abroad students from the USA as well as a solid coaching staff in Sean Bodie and Kevin Quinn.
Q: Sounds like a good foundation, does UCD provide a high percentage of the National team squad?CW: UCD did provide a very strong percentage of players to the Ireland squad during the initial years; however a UCD graduate team formed out of necessity to grow the game in 2009/10 in the Dublin Bay Prawns team who have gone on to be the strongest feeder team to the Ireland squad with 9 players from the Prawns representing Ireland at the World Championships in Denver this year.
Q: Great name! So what kind of a commitment do you have to make personally to the National team, is there a lot of training? How do you balance that with 'real life', work etc.?
CW: You are expected to commit to six gym sessions a week from the time you are selected and additional weekly team training sessions on the field once the Irish Lacrosse League finishes and club teams are no longer doing their own training sessions. It also helps to play wall ball to work on your individual skills and it is recommended you spend an hour a week at that. It is a tough balance to strike. This year for the most part, my life has been Gym/Training/Work/Sleep. Everything outside of those four are difficult to get to.
Q: That is an incredibly tough schedule. That's fantastic commitment. The Lacrosse league here, tell us a little about it.
CW: There are currently 4 teams in the league and it is quite competitive. In the past 5 years of the league three different teams have been crowned league champions. The season is kind of complicated to explain so bear with me if you can. We recently changed the format of the season to facilitate further development as we had stagnated on that front. New players were being scared by early season competitive games. So we have developed a "Fall Ball" season which focuses on developing new players. That culminates with the Newtownards Cup which is a knock out competition (2 competitive games per team) that runs from September - November and features 2 non-competitive games to help bring on new players. In the Winter Months from January - End of February we run a 4 team indoor lacrosse league where all players are pooled together and teams are selected in such a way as to balance the teams evenly to help make games as competitive as possible.
From End of February until End of April we run the Irish Lacrosse League which is competitive and sees teams play 6 games.
Q: Do you get many people watching the games, or, like many minority sports in Ireland, is it a case of 2 men and a dog watching? How do people react when you tell them you play Lacrosse in Ireland?
CW: You’d be doing well to get two men and a dog out watching to be honest! People generally react by saying "oh that's cool" and that's about all you get out of people.
Q: In terms of being a minority sport, do you get any kind of funding or help developing the sport, or, do you pretty much have to do everything yourselves, fund raisers etc?
CW: Everything is player funded. We are working on getting the sport official recognition from the sports council so that we can begin to apply for and receive funding. So despite the initial €2 joining fee for UCD lacrosse I would say playing lacrosse for Ireland over the years has cost me between 20 + 30,000. This year alone cost in the region of €4,500 - €5,000
Q: I think all minority sports athletes who represent Ireland in tournaments and on tours probably have a similar story to tell. The tournament looked very interesting. Talk to us about it in general.
CW: This was the 4th time Ireland took part in the World Lacrosse Championships (2002, 2006 and 2010 in Manchester) and there is no easy way to compare it to previous campaigns. This was by far the largest lacrosse tournament ever held with a record 38 National Teams taking part in the World Cup
Q: Going into this tournament, what kind of hope did Ireland have? Did you feel you would do well, as a team?
CW: I suppose we were coming off the back of recent success at the 2012 European Championships where we were silver medallists so we came into the tournament with hopes of a quarter final spotQ: That's a super result in Europe, where was that tournament? What was the team's overall record, and who beat you in the final?
CW: The tournament took place in Amsterdam. We started the tournament with 3 losses but pulled some pretty amazing wins at the end of group play (including a triple overtime win over Finland) to set ourselves up for a run at the final. After the three losses we won every game into the final and unfortunately lost out to England in the end.
Q: Sounds like a great experience, did that squad hold together largely for this World tournament?
CW: Yeah we had a lot of returning player, but after each tournament it technically resets and there is a new try out. So it keeps everyone honest. We had 72 guys try out for the world cup squad which had 23 spots open.
Q: I noticed there seems to be a good few USA based players, what kind of requirements would they face, would they have to have an Irish passport, spend some time here, or anything like that? Does Lacrosse Ireland try to keep a balance (Home based v USA based players), or how does that work out?
CW: The current rule is 50% domestic and 50% non-domestic players. All players must have an Irish passport with the exception of one who has been resident here for over 10 years. We are in talks at the moment to increase the percentage of domestic players for the next European championships in 2016. The squad has worked really well over the past number of years. Once you don the green jersey and have an Irish passport you are Irish, so there is no real distinction made. The experience and knowledge of players who learned the game in America is of huge benefit to the Irish based players and every time we train or play together the Irish players improve and learn which is something they bring back to teach to the players at club level in Ireland
Q: The tournament proper! Looks like you guys got off to a barnstorming start, sweeping your group games, 3 wins in a row, what was it like to breakout to such a great start? 53 goals in your first 3 games, that's fantastic, did you get amongst the goals yourself?
CW: It was a pretty good feeling as you can imagine. We were in a groove and were holding high accountability to ourselves to the point where an 8 goal victory over Bermuda felt like a loss. I’m a defender so my job was to stop the goals; it is rare that a defender gets the opportunity to score. Pat Ferry once of our longstick midfielders managed to net a few which was impressive.
Q: So after the first 3 games, were people paying attention to Ireland? Or did you already have some currency on the back of the Euro silver? What was the atmosphere at the tournament must have been colourful?
CW: People had already rated us quite highly and expected us to make it through the group quite easily so the crowd didn’t find it all that shocking when we won well. The atmosphere at the tournament was amazing. We came from playing in a rainy field in Dublin in front of less than 2 men and a dog to playing in front of 100s of people, featuring on ESPN, signing autographs, posing for pictures the works. There was one time when myself and two of the lads went to dinner and it took us 10 minutes longer to get to the dining hall because there were so many kids looking for autographs. It made the return to Ireland and anonymity that bit harder to deal with, especially as i flew from Denver and went straight to work from the airport as all my holidays were gone
It is one of those experiences that doesn't sink in while you are there, you just kind of go with it. It’s just so foreign and unbelievable that you can't comprehend what is happening. i have a feeling that in 20 years’ time I will look back on it and it will really sink in then.
Q: So, the loss to Israel, a big setback, or a tough encounter with a good team?
CW: Tough encounter with a good team. They had 2 lads on the team actually from Israel and the rest were Jewish lads from the states who played professionally and at high level in college. We played them in 2012 and lost by one goal. We played them in NYC in March of this year and won by one. They just happened to bring a much stronger team to the world championships.
Q: I feel a rivalry brewing! 3 more great wins in a row, and it looks like the competition stiffened up?
Czechs, Swiss and NZ all handled, 3 game winning streak, how were you guys feeling after that?
CW: The groups are set up with 4 teams and 1 team in each group is seeded. We were the seeded team in our group. The winner of each group (generally the seeded team) progresses to the next stage. So once you get out of the group the games get much more competitive. We were feeling pretty decent; however we were still hurting from the loss to Israel and the fact that we were out of contention for the quarter finals spot
The tough thing about a 38 team tournament is that as soon as you lose that's pretty much it for your chancesQ: I notice the games were all literally on consecutive days, must have been draining physically? How did you and how did the squad hold up?
CW: That's one of the interesting things about the world lacrosse championships is that as it is amateur people are taking time off work to be there so the tournament needs to compressed into a short amount of time. We played more than a full college lacrosse season in a week in 30+ degree heat a mile in the air where the air is thin. It was very tough. The injuries started to pile up as we went through the tournament.Q:The 9th-10th place game, very tight by the looks of it? How did the team feel after that? Overall, was the squad happy with the tournament?
CW: I think ending with such a tight loss to a team we really should have beaten left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, but looking back on it we were pretty happy with a 10th place finish. Not often you can be top 10 in the world
Q: The Iroquois, did you get to see them play, meet any of them?CW: We actually have a really great relationship with the Iroquois. In 2007 they invited us to a Native American centre for a banquet which was a great experience. We played against them in the world indoors in 2011. This time around we had a warm up session with them. it is incredible to see them up close, they are so slick.
Q: How would people get involved in Lacrosse here, if they wanted to give it a go? And, would you have any advice for them, new players, interested in the game?
CW: If anyone is interested in playing lacrosse in Ireland the best thing to do is visit www.irelandlacrosse.ie, email email@example.com, or find us on Facebook/Twitter we are always looking for new players especially people who have never picked up a stick before. My advice to people who want to play or are interested in playing is to just get out and do it. I started playing in September of 2005 and in May of 2007 I stood in a 10,000-seater ice hockey stadium in Halifax Nova Scotia, opposite Canada singing Amhran na bhFiann before playing them in the opening game of the world indoor lacrosse championships. Don’t worry about how much you might struggle with it now or how embarrassing it might be if you drop a pass. You’re supposed to drop passes, you're supposed to struggle - it's a totally new sport to you. Get out, try it and enjoy it. And if you can master those three the struggles will eventually disappear.