Monday, 3 June 2013

Interview #15 - Fiona Mernagh (Coach)

Hey Fiona, how are things? 
Things are very well, thanks Hogi. I'm loving the sunshine we're getting these days, it has me in a great mood!

Tell us a bit about you and your playing career to date. Any highlights that stick out more than others?
I joined Ultimate in my first year of college, I knew I wanted to straight away because my older sister Emer played. I was one of those flaky beginners that didn't show up to much and was a bit too involved with GAA. However, I really wanted to play a tournament in the summer so my sister signed me up to Dub Tourney. I played iron woman and absolutely loved it. So in 2nd year I made a proper effort to play everything I could and haven't looked back since.
Highlights for me (in no particular order) include Vancouver in 2008 (WUGC) (as a whole tournament but also catching the winning score from Liz in our last game against France), making it to the final of Windmill Windup women's division with the Irish women's team in '08, winning UK Indoor Women's Nationals with DCU, winning Mixed Nationals last year, winning Munster Munch, co-captaining U23s in Florence and coming 6th at EUC '11. Playing Ultimate impressions in the tent at xEUCF '09 and accidentally skipping 200 people in the dinner queue is also up there.

In recent years you've been heavily involved with the coaching of teams both in Jabba and in UCD. How did your approach differ from one team to the next? 
Coaching the two teams is quite different. With Jabba, the struggle is trying to find a balance between bringing the beginners up to a high enough standard and not making the sessions too slow or dull for the experienced players. That can be done by arranging one on one drills so you can match up appropriately and segregating into smaller drills every so often with the more experienced in one half and the rest in the other. It also helps that we train mixed as well and there tends to be a stronger depth at those sessions.
With UCD, 90% of the team has always started off as beginners so it's been obvious that teaching the team at a low level is necessary. Unfortunately, you can lose some experienced players who don't like training at that slow pace but when it's a choice between keeping the experienced player that might only be there for that season or one more, or keeping on 5 beginners that are in first year, it's a no-brainer for me. As a coach, you should always think long term as well as short term! 

And did your approach change again for this team? 
I actually have no say in the coaching of this team! Ian makes all the plans and just tells me what to do, which is cool because it can be stressful to plan things. When I coach this team though, I expect a higher standard than from Jabba or UCD and am surprised when I need to snap a bit to get people more focused or to try harder in drills. I guess I have to remind myself that you are all still a bunch of kids. :P

Having a ton of experience in the mixed division, what do you think makes a good mixed team player? Do the skills you needed change for guys and girls?
Yes you need to be a bit more copped on, whatever gender you are. Poaches are more significant. If a guy is poaching deep for example, the disc shouldn't be thrown to a girl going deep (though it comes off occasionally, it is not recommended!) but if a girl is poaching deep and someone like Oisín or Liam is going long and their marks are behind them, you can throw that disc - as long as you put it over the girl's head. ;) 
Sometimes mismatches occur, e.g. a guy is being marked by a girl after a zone transition, so it can be a big advantage to spot that mismatch quickly and make use of it.
It's not all about the male athlete having all the genetic advantages over female athletes however! If your girls are better than their girls, make use of that and make sure the disc is going through your girls, i.e. boys clear out and stay out!
There aren't many other big differences between Mixed and Open/Women's that I can think of, besides learning to throw to different genders. Girls are generally smaller and slower so high fast discs are not recommended. And guys, learn to cut from quite shallow for the girls because they can throw big but usually the discs are slower to get there. Girls, throw early to guys, you'll be surprised sometimes the ground they can make up, especially on this team, especially since they all layout. ;)

What has impressed you the most so far about this team (if anything :P)?
Haha the team is great. Your results at Tour were impressive. You've got a very positive attitude when you get together. Mostly I've been impressed by individuals though, I think the effort from certain people is exactly what Ian was hoping for and I'm delighted that some people care as much as we do about making this team the best it can be.

Last weekend you won All-Ireland Mixed Nationals for the second year in a row. Having just come back from injury did that make it a bit sweeter after an annoying pre-season being sidelined for the most part? Or would the victory have meant the same had you been fit throughout the months leading up to it?
If anything, I feel like I deserved the glory less. Although I didn't miss a training session, I couldn't take part in about 80% of them and only could play at the weekend because my friend strapped my knee up really tightly (man, was that sore to get off) and that helped loads in making my knee stable and I rarely felt a bit of pain. I would have been a happier player had I been able to play at my best but I'm still ecstatic we took the trophy home again this year.

What is next for you personally this season?
I'm trying to see a knee specialist to fix my knee once and for all! I'm also focusing on women's with Jabba. We'll be heading to Munster Munch, Germany and All-Irelands so I've got a lot to work hard for.

Windmill Windup is in 2 weeks and Worlds in Toronto is only 5 weeks after that, what are the biggest challenges will the team be faced with in their last warm up tournament and at the big one?
Fitness. People are falling off on this and it's showing.
The team needs to not rely on certain players to do all the hard work for them. Everyone is going to have to step up, on offence and defence. Everybody should be going in with goals in their mind.
For Windmill, the O-line boys need to learn get out of the way of the girls. With Jen and Sarah both as tall as they are, the handlers/male cutters need to build a connection with them for when they go deep as they'll be massive assets. Oisín and Keith are obviously great receivers but they got enough practice at Tour from the sounds of things. :P 
I think the D-line's defence is absolutely huge. Once you get your match-ups right, you are an impossible force to get by so I think offence should be a big part of the focus at Windmill. Being efficient, so that once you get your turnover you score nice and quickly (whether with 1 huck or 10 short passes) and don't waste energy, you'll always have lots in the tank at the end of games. I also think the girls are going to be a bit shocked as the standard of girls will be higher at Windmill than they were at Tour so be ready to chase hard.
I'd also worry that some people take to heart their mistakes more than others but I hope that Windmill will teach them that their team needs them to drop those out of their minds and always think of the next thing. Usually they're the best players and if they're worried about the mistakes they've made before, they're not going to be playing their best anymore, i.e. feeling apologetic is not actually helping anyone so don't waste your mental energy on it! ;)
At the big tournament, the challenges will be to play better than you've ever played before and come together as a really tight unit that won't bicker or let your heads drop over anything. At that point, you've had your time to do everything you can so you should have no regrets going into it.

And with these challenges in mind, what do you think needs to be the focus of the team's workouts in the next 6/7 weeks?
The O-line should strive to be perfect. I'm not saying when a mistake is made, that's the end of it and you should all walk off with your heads down, but it is possible to score all your O-points - so aim to do it! And if you lose that disc - you get it back again. There's no question of that. You just get it back.
For the D-line, you need to be “dick in pocket” every point (excluding zones of course) and when you're on O - MOVE! Don't be static. Run that team into the ground on O and your next point will be even easier.
Getting everyone on the same page. Without passion, it's very hard to motivate yourself. I feel like a lot of players have lost their passion for this team's goals but if their teammates were to rally them and drag them out to fitness with them, text them encouragement every so often or to see how they're getting on and/or push them hard at club trainings, the team would gain a lot both in terms of skill and strength of heart.

Finish off by making us laugh.
Well looking up the top 50 jokes got me some of the worst jokes I've ever read. I kept looking and the first joke I laughed out loud at was too dirty, I couldn't sully my reputation with it. So I've settled for this traditional one:

An Irishman, Englishman and Scotsman go into a pub and each order a pint of Guinness. Just as the bartender hands them over, three flies buzz down and one lands in each of the pints. The Englishman looks disgusted, pushes his pint away and demands another pint. The Scotsman picks out the fly, shrugs, and takes a long swallow. The Irishman reaches in to the glass, pinches the fly between his fingers and shakes him while yelling, "Spit it out, ya bastard! Spit it out!"

Thanks for your time Fiona!

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