SAYING IRELAND HAVE no chance in the Six Nations would risk accusations of trolling. However, when it’s clarified that the statement refers to dodgeball rather than rugby, it makes more sense.
The Irish dodgeball team is currently preparing for the big event, which takes place on 9 March, with France, Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland also set to compete.
Derek English will be one of those representing Ireland at the tournament, and he acknowledges that they’re going into it as considerable underdogs, given the strength of their opponents.
“They are recognised in Britain and they are funded, so they’re a little bit ahead of us in terms of development and where they are,” he tells TheScore.ie. “We’re improving all the time though. It’s the first year we’ve had proper Irish trials and we had over 20 athletes turn up, which is a huge plus.
“We’re going over to compete and to try to win [the Six Nations]. England will probably be a step ahead of us. We’d be the same level as Northern Ireland and France, but maybe Scotland and Wales would be a little bit above us as well.”
There is no doubt that the Irish team are up against it — they only get the chance to train together once per month, when players with various clubs from around the country meet up in Dublin. Moreover, they have, perhaps wisely, enlisted more experienced players from Britain to help guide them in their efforts.
Yet despite these current limitations, English says that at least two wins this year is a realistic aim.
“We hope to beat Northern Ireland and France — we beat France last year, so hopefully we can defeat them again and progress and beat Northern Ireland this year.”
Players are likely to be somewhat rusty, with the dodgeball season having only just started. Moreover, in addition to the Six Nations, they also have another special occasion, the Irish Open, to look forward to in the next few weeks.
“Internationally, this is the first tournament of the year. Locally and nationally, there is an All-Ireland competition. That will be held in Belfast in April. It’s the Irish Open — the first tournament in Ireland open to any team within the Republic and the North.”
The upcoming event will showcase the considerable growth of the sport in a relatively short space of time, as English explains.
“In Ireland, we currently have a club in Waterford, a club in Kilkenny and a club in Dublin. Within those clubs, there are three or four teams. Waterford have nearly 30 members at this stage. We started with over 14 or 15 last February. We’re also getting in contact with the sports council of Waterford. We’re looking to set up a youth league, so it’s growing on that front as well, but we hope to have more young people involved, which will help us to progress a little bit more, and we’re also hoping to get the schools involved by next September.
(The popularity of dodgeball in Ireland has grown considerably in recent times)
“We do run a couple of tournaments throughout the year. We were involved in the world mini games last year, which was a huge success. So we’re trying to get our name out there and trying to set up as many clubs as we can around the country. In Dublin, there are a couple of clubs — Trinity College have set up a club this semester. I believe they’ve set up two or three tournaments and have had nearly 60 people playing.”
And what would prompt someone to dedicate themselves to dodgeball rather than more popular sports such as rugby and GAA?
“You don’t have to be super fit — anyone can play at all,” he says. ”Dodgeball is a lot more fun-orientated. In sports like rugby, you have people sitting on the bench during matches, but in dodgeball, everybody’s involved. It’s also a good way of keeping fit. Compared to other sports, it’s probably more fun to play… It’d be competitive enough as well though.”
While the lack of funding they receive is a downside, it is inevitable, given that — unlike in Britain — it is not officially recognised as a national sport in Ireland.
“Funding is tough but the thing about dodgeball is that you can play it anywhere — you don’t need much funding. You can play it outside or inside — you just need three or four balls, a couple of cones and away you go. We are short the money needed to help it grow in Ireland, but it doesn’t cost too much to keep the clubs going.”
And finally, given the significant spike in popularity that the sport received following the release of the movie Dodgeball, is he pleased with the news that a sequel for the much-loved Ben Stiller comedy has reportedly been commissioned?
“A lot of people will see the film and that will generate some interest,” English explains. “People will see the film and it will show that it’s actually a sport. When you tell people about dodgeball, they don’t think it’s an actual sport, they find it hard to believe… But there were around eight or nine teams at one stage in Waterford, and that was around the time of the Dodgeball movie. So it definitely helps.”