Slowpitch Ireland Stuns at Manchester First Ball

Slowpitch Ireland joined the Gold tier of Manchester First Ball two weeks ago. A subsection of the international squad, the team surprised our comp regulars with only one loss all weekend. MSL talks to head coach Peter Mullen about the squad.

Welcome to Manchester Peter. It’s good to see Slowpitch Ireland at Manchester First Ball. Where in Ireland are your team based?

“So there’s people who come from Roscommon, people who come from Limerick, from Cork, from Tipperary, some people from Belfast as well, up in Ulster. The majority of the players are from the Dublin area. But yeah, all over the country.”

So there’s leagues in all those places?

“There is a league in Galway, there’s a league in Belfast and there is a Leinster League as well. So it’s growing in popularity now. It used to be far more popular in the 90s. There were loads of teams but that changed when tag Rugby came along as they took a lot of our player base.

We don’t have the same pool of players that you have here [in the UK]. It’s a smaller population. But softball is getting more popular again. More people playing, and more younger people playing, which is great. This team in particular, the squad that we have now, is a good representation of younger people who want to play more softball and play it more often.”

Slowpitch Ireland's third base
Slowpitch Ireland’s third base runs for the catch.

You’ve decided to form a travelling tournament team and this is your first outing I’m told?

“Yeah, that’s right. We had trials at the start of March and we selected an extended men’s and co-ed squads to build for the two European championships. We want to bring players into the squad programme and help them achieve high performance. Part of that involves going to tournaments like this. We take a selection from the extended squad for a weekend blitz, and we can also select a roster for the longer tournaments, like the official European ones. 

So yeah, that’s the plan. Keep competing, training and be able to have a group of players that learn at the same time all together, and then select rosters for different tournaments. We have selected the roster for the European Championships in July. We were going to do it for the men’s as well, then the men’s tournament was cancelled*, but they continue to train together.”

There’s a lot of experience already in the Euros with your team?

“Yeah, Ken McCarthy, played in one of the first tournaments back in 2000. And he’s pitching for us today. Several other players in the squad have a lot of experience at the top level. But as I said, we now have some younger players coming in and I guess we just try to build on that. We are trying to encourage the younger players to play the sport and compete at this level.”

How have you found it in Manchester this weekend?

“It’s good, we were thrilled that the organisers managed to fit us in at short notice. Yesterday was great as the weather was better than expected. We were all wrecked though at the end because we played hard in every game. The facilities are fantastic and the amount of space is just great. The competition’s been good as well. We’ve got to meet new people, which is always good. And our players are learning, seeing new teams, how they hit, how they field. The big thing for me is players coming over are learning to play together and play more softball as a unit.”

Slowpitch Ireland fielder
A Slowpitch Ireland fielder makes the catch.

Are there any other tournaments in the UK that you’re looking at for this season?

“Yeah, we’re scheduled to go to Bristol at the end of June, and that would be our last trip before going over to the Czech Republic for the co-ed tournament.

We did look at a couple of others but you need to be selective as well. It takes a good bit of work to organise. We are lucky to have Aideen, the team manager. It’s great to have someone to focus on the logistics, so the coaches can think about the players more.

We’ve got the World Series in September as well, we’ll be going to that. It’s a busy schedule. We’re training every weekend. So the team gets together for three hours every Sunday and then also we put in sessions during the week. And the appetite is there. They want to play, they want to learn. So hopefully, as a coaching crew, we’re facilitating that – helping them get better, to look at the game a different way. Maybe change things to improve their play, always developing and progressing. I think that’s key.”

You need two things to run softball, people with the motivation to play and people to give up their own time.

“That’s it. If you’re passionate about it you’ll find ways to play. But the combination of being passionate about the sport, and also about seeing potential and helping people develop, from a coaching perspective, that’s what I enjoy. That’s what I get out of it now that I don’t play as much.”

It’s been good to speak to you Peter.

“Yeah, thanks for having me. We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Firstball, we’ll be back – if you’ll have us.”

Slowpitch Ireland team
Slowpitch Ireland celebrate a victory at Manchester First Ball.

Watch out Bristol Somerball, Slowpitch Ireland are coming!

Softball Ireland:

* The Men’s Slowpitch European Championship 2024 was cancelled after receiving no bids to host the event.