Galway flyers seek World Cup glory

Aine Kilbane and Rebecca O'Connor (back row) hold the Irish flag high ahead of Quidditch World Cup tournament in Frankfurt, Germany.

Aine Kilbane and Rebecca O'Connor (back row) hold the Irish flag high ahead of Quidditch World Cup tournament in Frankfurt, Germany.

Two Galway girls are 'flying high' having been chosen to represent Ireland at a competitive international tournament later this summer.

The duo have been working their 'magic' all season, and have now been asked to don the Irish jersey and line out for the green, white, and gold army.

At the end of July, the pair will jet off to Frankfurt, Germany, where they will join 19 other Irish athletes hoping to bring home the golden snitch, having been drawn against heavy-hitters Australia, Belgium, and Slovakia in the group stages at the Global Quidditch Games.

And, 'Granger' things have happened.

"We have a strong group of players going, who have experience playing with several teams before, and we have a good sized team this year which will allow for substitutions when players get tired," said Aine Kilbane of Galway Grindylows.

"The team will go over with the aim of winning."

She will partner another of Galway Grindylows' top performers Rebecca O'Connor on the flight to Germany as Ireland make their debut appearance at the Quidditch World Cup.

The Global Quidditch Games take place every two years, and hosted four teams in 2012.

Two years later, the games featured seven teams, and this year 25 teams from all over the world will compete, including favourites USA, France, Uganda, and South Korea.

It is up in the air whether the sport will take off or not, but at the minute support for the game is at an all time high.

Story of origin

"It started in America and Canada about 10 years ago, but Europe is still a bit behind," said O'Connor.

"I was a member of the Harry Potter society in NUI Galway, and I started playing because it was just really fun. It grew from there, and the more you play, the more you enjoy it."

Both girls initially got involved through the Potter society in NUI Galway, and like so many others, just fell in love with quidditch as a sport.

"I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a fanatic," said Kilbane, "though I would consider myself a fan of the series, and have been involved with the Harry Potter society."

"There are plenty of established sports out there, but developing sports have a wonderful sense of community, and a genuine sense of working for better recognition of the sport in general, as well as helping other members of the community to develop their teams and skill set," she added.

This year, the competition, now called the IQA (International Quidditch Association ) World Cup, takes place in Frankfurt on July 23 and 24.

Having competed at only one competition previous to this, and only managing to bring eight players, the Irish team will be hoping to 'Slytherin' to the lead with a strong first game.

Brooms up

The gameplay is based directly on the description provided by the Harry Potter novels.

Each squad has 21 athletes, but only seven are allowed on the field at one time.

To start the game, the referee will shout "brooms up" and players must then race to gain possession of the quaffle, which sits on the centre circle.

The quaffle is a semi-deflated volleyball, and the aim is to throw this ball through the opposition's hoops to score points.

There are three of these hoops at either end of the oval shaped pitch, worth 10 points each, and they are guarded by a keeper.

Two beaters, or "bludgers", are charged with breaking up the play, and do so by throwing dodgeballs, or "bludgers", at the opposition.

If hit by a bludger, players must drop the quaffle, dismount their broom, and return to their hoops, where they can then begin to play again.

The objective of the game is to score as many points as possible before the snitch is released, around the 17 minute mark.

The snitch is worth 120 points, and is a tennis ball inside a sock that is hung from the shorts of an unaffiliated runner, dressed from head-to-toe in yellow.

The snitch's job is to avoid capture by running, skipping, jumping, and hiding.

Typically, this duty falls at the feet of an off-season cross country runner, who is not bound to the confines of the oval shaped pitch, which makes catching the snitch all the more entertaining for spectators.

The seeker is then released after 18 minutes, think Harry Potter, and has to catch the snitch. Not the player, but the actual tennis ball sock.

Sticky situations

Every sport has a vice.

In soccer, the use of hands is strictly forbidden. With rugby, only passes going backwards are allowed, and in gaelic, hopping or soloing the ball must happen after every five or so steps.

Quidditch is no different.

"The first question is always 'so, how do you deal with the flying?' followed up by a lot of questions about how to play, as it is so different from what most people's image of the sport is," said Kilbane.

However, like the films depict, all team members must hold a broom between their legs at all times, or face a penalty.

Most players struggle with this notion in the early stages but after a few games, it becomes second nature.

Some have admitted that there is still plenty of broom for improvement, however, to avoid a serious injury.

There is also a gender maximum rule which "allows each team to have a maximum of four players who identify as the same gender in active play on the field at the same time".

This accommodates both boys and girls in a full contact, fast paced, and competitive match environment.

JK Rowling

There is some contention, however, over JK Rowling's position regarding real-life quidditch.

Rumours suggest that the Harry Potter novelist, of which quidditch is a brain child, has never attended a game.

"An invitation to the world cup was actually sent to JK Rowling this year, by one of the tournament organisers, but it was declined," said Kilbane.

"I assume she just doesn't really see how it connects to her work."

Commenting on Rowling's no show on the sidelines, O'Connor said, "I would love for her to come along and see it, but I think she's only acknowledged quidditch once online."

Although somewhat disappointing, fans would still greet her with the utmost respect, according to the Irish team mates.

"It would be amazing to see her reaction because she created quidditch for Harry Potter fans, and now its being played all over the world," said O'Connor.

If the opportunity ever presented itself, Kilbane would say thanks.

"Thanks, for being the reason some mad people came up with the 'muggle quidditch' rule set which led to a bunch of fun experiences and meeting great people."

JK Rowling was contacted, but failed to comment.

For more information, search Quidditch Ireland on Facebook.

 

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