Northern Ireland

Dodgeball World Cup: Northern Ireland teams to make dodgy moves in Manchester

Dodgeball European Championships Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption Northern Ireland's men and women will be competing at the first ever Dodgeball World Cup

Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.

Those are the hallowed five Ds of dodgeball, as laid down by legendary coach Patches O'Houlihan in Hollywood comedy 'Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story'.

That tale might have been Tinseltown fiction, but Patches' Irish name was no coincidence.

Dodgeballers from this part of the world are hoping to prove a match for all-comers as they gear up for their own underdog story at the first-ever Dodgeball World Cup on Saturday and Sunday.

Both Northern Ireland's men and women's squad have qualified for the main tournament in Manchester.

The women's side required a nail-biting 7-6 play-off victory against Malaysia on Friday to book their spot.

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption The women's team competing at last year's European Championships in Belfast

"Malaysia gave us a run for our money," said team captain Ciara Coleman.

"They were very strong, and no one ever really pulled far ahead. We're so proud we were able to pull it off."

To most people, dodgeball is a game that either conjures to mind the aforementioned Ben Stiller film or memories of primary school PE classes.

However, according to Ryan Hollinger, who will be making his debut with the men's international team this weekend, it is a growing sport locally.

"It started in Northern Ireland about eight years ago," said the 22-year-old, from Dundonald, County Antrim.

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption Dodgeball may seem frenetic - but it's also a tactical sport, said Ryan Hollinger

"Originally, the sport started out more recreational, but as time went on it's developed into a more competitive league," he said.

"In the last three years, it has really blossomed. The Northern Ireland's men team went to Birmingham for a competition in 2014 and came away with a bronze medal.

"We saw what the competition was like in England and Wales and we wanted to have a league like that."

Dodgeball's profile locally was boosted even further last year, when Queens University Belfast hosted the European Championships, with the men's team coming third.

According to Ryan, the game is not as frenetic as many people perceive.

It is basically about getting an opponent out by hitting them with a well-aimed throw but, Ryan added, there are also a lot of tactics involved.

Despite being set to make his debut on the international stage, Ryan said he isn't a "sporty person", which is what attracted him to dodgeball in the first place.

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption Dodgeball is a 'dynamic game' says women's team captain Ciara Coleman

"I joined at Queens University because I was interested in doing something fun and social," he said.

"I was hooked straight away - it's something to keep you fit, be involved in. Really, it changed my life."

His words are echoed by women's captain Ciara Coleman, who went along to her first dodgeball session with workmates.

"I wanted to try something strange and fun, and I just fell in love with it.

"Initially, the biggest thing is playing indoors," she added, laughing. "Playing sport in Northern Ireland outside can be a bit hit and miss.

"But it's a dynamic game, and there are so many different roles. You can be a strong thrower, or good at catching or agile.

"Whatever your skills are, you can find a role in the game."

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption Northern Ireland's teams will take on opponents from outside of Europe for the first time

Despite such inauspicious beginnings, Ciara, who is originally from Mullingar, County Westmeath, has risen to national captain in just three years.

It is a feat that would, no doubt, impress Patches O'Houlihan himself.

"Every so often it hits you, we've come so far it's incredible," said Ciara.

"In the beginning, there were just a few of us and since then there's been massive amounts of interest.

"I'm bowled over when I think about it and we're very excited for the weekend."

This weekend's Dodgeball World Cup represents a new level of competition for Northern Ireland's ducking and diving hopefuls and an opportunity to play opponents from beyond Europe.

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption Will Northern Ireland be celebrating victory at the Dodgeball World Cup?

It is the first competition of its kind and, according to Ryan, an attempt to codify the sport ahead of an attempt to enter the Olympics in 2030.

But how do Ryan and Ciara foresee the weekend panning out?

The men's squad face the United States, Scotland and Malaysia - and the team are eyeing up a quarter-final berth.

"We're realistically hoping for second place," said Ryan. "We want to get into the quarter-finals and then see how we go.

Image copyright Rob Pickering
Image caption The women's team face the United States, England and Italy in the tournament group stages

"It's hard to know how things are going to go, because it's a level playing field. This is the first time we're playing new world rules, so everyone will have to adjust."

The women's side will take on the United States, England and Italy.

"It's going to be very tough," said Ciara. "England are a force to be reckoned with, Italy are a strong team.

"Our biggest goal was just to qualify, so anything above that would be an absolute bonus.

"But it would be nice to get a trophy," she added.

So, plenty of dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge coming up for Northern Ireland - but hopefully no defeats.

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