Maybe the biggest surprise in EUCF open division history!
October 5, 2022 by Sean Colfer in Recap with 0 comments
The final in the open division brought about what might be the biggest surprise in EUCF history. Clapham (London), the team that had won nine of the last ten EUCF titles, fell to Ranelagh (Dublin), a team making its first appearance in the big game. The Irishmen reached their first semi-final last year and only made their debut at the tournament in 2019 and now they are the kings of the continent after a 15-14 universe point win.
Early struggles for the Laghds
Before the final much of the chat had been about how much Clapham would win by. The semi-final against CUSB La Fotta (Bologna) had been a brilliant game that seemed to show that Clapham was too strong for anyone else at the tournament. The defensive pressure that the D line could dial up was too strong, and the O line was too solid to buckle after being tested so thoroughly at WUCC.
Ranelagh, though, had shown that it was not to be an easy opponent. Mooncatchers (Brussels) might have been glad to see Ranelagh in the quarter as opposed to CUSB, as the winners of its pool Chevron Action Flash (Nuneaton) did, but the team from Dublin dialled up the intensity and overcame the Belgians in a fantastic battle. Ranelagh’s semi-final was less close, 15-7 against Heidees (Eppelheim), so they potentially went in to the final a bit more rested mentally and physically.
The game started out poorly for Ranelagh. Two breaks in a row for Clapham put the Londoners well on top and forced an early timeout from Ranelagh. A hold each put the Irish O line back out, and they were duly broken a third time. 1-4 down against the third-best team in the world is a bad spot to be in. It could have got even worse for Ranelagh had Sam Murphy not made a vital poach block on the goal line to prevent a 1-5 deficit. That seemed to settle his team down, as the teams traded out to 4-6 with Clapham coming out on O.
Ranelagh put out some O line players to try and get the break back. A Justin Foord huck didn’t complete and after a pinpoint huck by breakout young D line handler Dáire McNulty, talismanic offensive handler Ferdia Rogers was able to throw the assist to Rory Keogh to snag a break back. 5-6.
Clapham gathered itself and managed a hold on an absolutely absurd catch by Conrad Wilson, and Ranelagh responded with a remarkably calm offensive point against a transition zone. The Ranelagh D line came out hot with a strong force middle limiting the reigning champs, and McNulty came up huge again with a poach block just before halfway. He popped the disc to fellow D line handler Dean McCreary who ripped a flick to level the scores at 7-7. Clapham had been in the ascendency and had seemingly been marching towards yet another title, but the energy of Ranelagh had dragged it back into the contest.
Ranelagh builds into the contest
Clapham was still a break up, and converted two holds in a row either side of half to get some momentum back. On its next offense point Ranelagh was forced into a high stall turn and the Clapham D line capitalised for the first three-point run of the final, giving the Bullfrogs a commanding 7-10 lead. Ranelagh held on the next point, but it had a mountain to climb.
Clapham’s O line sailed a flick huck and McNulty came up with the big play yet again. McCreary ripped another big flick and the deficit was cut. Clapham sent out a power line to hold, bringing Andy Hillman and Connor McHale over from the D line, and did so with a huge layout grab by Hillman. Ranelagh held with a fantastic layout catch from Murphy1. Two clean holds each and the score was 11-12.
Ranelagh knew how important this moment was. Rogers, Murphy, MacNamara and Tadhg Deevy all came across from the O line again. McNulty was prowling around looking for another poach block, but the effort was unnecessary; a simple backhand swing sailed over its intended receiver and the Dubliners had a shot to level things up again. Murphy slashed, got the disc and hucked to Keenan. All square at 12s.
Clapham put out its power line again. Ranelagh defenders were flying all over the field, bids coming on almost every throw. The pressure told yet again as another simple throw drifted over a receiver. The disc found Shane Keenan, a cutter that had been excellent all game but is seemingly not the most composed thrower. He chucked up a hospital pass, a drifting flick into a pack that somehow bounced off one receiver’s hands and landed safely with Deevy for the score, putting Ranelagh up for the first time at 13-12. You could call it the luck of the Irish, but the team in white had earned its luck. This was the second three-point run in the game and had come at a crucial moment. Clapham took a timeout.
A wild ending
Ranelagh sent out the four O line players on D again. Two routine turns showed Clapham were rattled, but two ill-advised throws gave them the disc back and Clapham held. 13-13, and it was a game to two for the title.
Ranelagh’s O line played mostly calm, composed offense but Murphy bailed them out twice, once with a toe-dragging layout2 and once improbably reaching a paw out to snag a throw several feet behind him. A clean hold, 14-13.
Ranelagh sent out a strict D line, saving its stars for the potential final point. Another sailed throw, though, was taken down yet again by McNulty and the Irishmen had a shot to win on D. An unfortunate clap catch drop meant the Bullfrogs got the disc back, and they made no mistake on the second chance. The feeling on the sideline was that Ranelagh had wasted too many chances; three opportunities to extend its lead or even win the game on D, all wasted. Clapham always makes teams pay for not taking chances, and they’d do so again, surely?
Clapham stacked a D line for universe point. Foord, Yeo, Wilson and Ollie Gordon all came over from the O line. An offside call3 added to the drama. Matty Feely threw across the field to MacNamara who was marked tightly by Foord. An unbelievable layout catch by MacNamara was called a foul by Foord, and the disc went back. Ranelagh worked up the field gradually until the disc came to Shane Corcoran in the middle of the field just past the attacking brick. Rogers cut for the dump but changed direction at the last moment, fooling his defender McHale. Corcoran pivoted and threw an off-hand backhand into Rogers’s path. The centre of the field was wide open, and Foord desperately peeled off his man to try and contest the catch. Rogers milked it, jumped and clapped the disc as he collided with Foord, landing in the endzone. Foord made no call, Rogers spiked it and the Irish sideline went into delirium.
Rogers fell to the ground in tears, as did several of his teammates. Luke Doyle hopped onto the field to embrace Rogers. Several Irish spectators ran onto the field to congratulate the champions. Sam Murphy was deservedly awarded MVP of the final and the tournament by the EUF. Clapham, on the other hand, were crestfallen, another team that fell short of the fabled triple-peak after winning bronze in Cincinnati and yet another UK title.
Reactions from the teams
Clapham captain Josh Briggs was reflective in defeat.
“Before the game the thinking was that this was not a Ranelagh that we had played so far this season, and we must have played them three or four times this season. They were clearly under the influence of something this weekend and it caused them to play with real energy, aggression and confidence. They looked like the kind of team that knows how to win games.
“We relaxed a little bit at 5-2 up, our D line’s intensity dropped and our O line’s mental fortitude dropped. The end of the game felt like the Rhino game at WUCC4. Ferdia, Feely and Murphy were outstanding in the game and especially on the last point. They executed on eight and nine, they made tough catches, they were excellent. I have to extend congratulations to Ferdia and Feely especially, we have seen before that they start out games strong and one of the best handler duos in Europe but we have been able to wear them down. But they looked fit and confident, they were aggressive and they kept it going. They should be praised for what they’ve done for their team all the way through the tournament.
“It’s been four years with a lot of hardware but overall we have earned a lot of accolades. Ending this cycle on a bum note will affect us for a few weeks but losses make you better. Losing here in 2019 drove us forward to finish third in the world. The next leadership group can look back on this and try to do the same5.”
On the other side, Ranelagh captain Stephen Jones was ecstatic.
“It’ll be a few days or weeks before I come down off this high. Nothing in our preparation changed for this game, we focused on ourselves even when going down early, we stayed with the team and knew we had the energy and the legs to get blocks and convert.
“We made a mental shift at this tournament and found something within us to start with high energy and maintain it. I was telling the lads throughout the game that it only takes one of us, one to keep shouting and keep the energy high and it’ll feed into the rest of the team, it spreads. We did that and it worked.
“The O line was unreal, Ferdia put in some performance and started his campaign for European player of the year. Over this tournament four of our younger lads really stepped up. Louis Stewart shut down some of the best offensive players in the world on Clapham, Mooncatchers and CUSB. Sam Micklem was a late addition to the O line and slotted in phenomenally, did his job and had no ego at all. Shane Corcoran is maybe the best at fielding pulls in Europe now with the practise he’s had but he stepped up in this game and showed us all what he can do. And finally Dáire McNulty was phenomenal all tournament but especially in the final.”
This is the first win over Clapham for Ranelagh, and its first European crown. There may be some player turnover with retirements and moves away, but this team has been building for a decade to have a chance at something like this. Everything came together for the group this weekend and they had a chance to do something special. The men from Dublin stood, shoulder to shoulder, and answered the call.
On a backhand that was too fast and too flat from the otherwise impressive Tadhg Bogan-Carey. We’ll come back to that. ↩
Saving another too fast, too flat backhand from Bogan-Carey, who must either hate Murphy and not want to throw to him or love him and wanted to make him look good. ↩
That was referred to the monitors at pitchside and confirmed. ↩
Captains Briggs, James Mead and Andy Hillman are all stepping down after this season. ↩