A History of College Football in Ireland

College Football makes its long-awaited return to Dublin this August, with the University of Notre Dame squaring off against old rivals Navy. This will be the third time that these sides meet on Irish soil and Notre Dame will be going for the Hat Trick.  Back in 1996, Notre Dame cruised to a 50-24 victory over the midshipmen in Croke Park.  The Sailors didn’t fare much better the second time around either, suffering a 50-10-point defeat to the Fighting Irish in 2012 at The Aviva Stadium.

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Notre Dame wore Tricolor gloves and cleats to mark the occasion.

But did you know that College Football’s history in Ireland goes as far back as the 1980’s?  The first ever college football teams to play here were the Boston College Golden Eagles and the Army Black Knights. The year was 1988, the venue was Lansdowne Road (the Aviva to you Millennials) and Boston College emerged victorious.  Just over a year later, there was a second college football game here as The University of Pittsburgh rolled over Rutgers on a score line of 46-29. Both games were known as the Emerald Isle Classic. The men behind these matches were Aidan Prendergast and Jim O’Brien, who were involved with the Irish American Football scene at the time.

The Golden Eagles and The Black Knights at Lansdowne Road.
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A young fan poses with The Pitt Panthers in Dublin, 1989.

The Emerald Isle series was reborn in 2012, as thousands of Americans descended on Dublin. Despite concerns over the time difference, the game was a huge success in terms of ticket sales and viewership back in the States. The third emerald isle classic provided a massive boost to the following of American football in Ireland.  People who would have had a passing knowledge or interest in the sport got to watch a game up close and live for the first time. And not just any old game but two of Americans top college football programmes. The positive effects of the 2012 game (including of course the massive cash influx to Dublin from tourism) inspired two further college football games in Dublin, taking place in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

2 years after Notre Dame sank Navy on Dublin’s South Side, Penn State University took on the University of Central Florida at GAA headquarters in what was dubbed the “Croke Park Classic”.  Despite the lack of an Irish connection, there was still a fantastic hype and atmosphere to the proceedings.  Penn State emerged victorious on the day, stealing the win from UCF with a last second field goal. The overall reception to the match up was positive, with the Penn State cheerleaders being a high point.

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Penn State with the Win!

The most recent iteration of a college football game in Ireland took place in 2016, with two lesser known teams taking the stage. Boston College returned to Irish shores to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Without the name recognition of Notre Dame or Penn State, the “Aer Lingus College Football Classic” suffered a poorer attendance than its predecessors. It also suffered inclement weather, resulting in a low scoring 17-14 victory for BC.

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Ireland’s status as the official home of college football in Europe was cemented in October of 2018, when it was announced that there would be no less than five games taking place here over 5 years beginning in 2020. Two of those slots have already been determined: Notre Dame and Navy in 6 months’ time, followed by the University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois a year later. The latter is an interesting fixture. Neither of these teams boast a huge following outside of their home states, so we could potentially have another low attended game on our hands. A repeat of 2016 is unlikely however, as American Football’s fanbase has increased significantly here in the last 4 years.  Regardless of what teams fill the last three spots, a 5-year commitment is sure to put Ireland on the map as College Football’s home from home.

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Superbowl Sunday

The 54th Superbowl is almost upon us, and for the first year in recent memory neither Tommy 12 or Bad Bill Bellichick will be making an appearance. Instead, this year’s tilt is going to feature some new blood – with either Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs or Derrick Henry and the resurgent Titans squaring off against the NFC Champion. American Football has never been as popular in Ireland, and almost every pub in the capital city will be opening late to ensure uninterrupted coverage of the greatest sporting event in the world! 

So where exactly are the best places to watch the Superbowl in Dublin?  There are some great spots for American football on either side of the Liffey so you won’t be stuck for choice

1.The Woolshed

The Woolshed is undoubtedly one of the best sporting pubs in the city, and every year they throw the biggest Superbowl party in Dublin. You can expect wings, hotdogs and pitchers of beer until the final whistle. But you can also expect a massive crowd so make sure you get in nice and early! The Woolshed is also home to the West Dublin Rhinos so keep an eye out for some real life American Footballers!

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2. The Camden

Formerly known as The Palace Nightclub, The Camden has been given a huge face lift and is rapidly becoming  one of the premier establishments in the city for food, drinks and watching sport. It even boasts a cinema room, which is going to be pretty sweet for watching this years Superbowl. 

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3.The Odeon

Fancy watching the Superbowl in the company of cheerleaders and big burly American Football players? Then The Odeon is the place for you. Located at the top of Harcourt St, The Odeon throws one of the best Superbowl nights in Dublin and has hosted the official Superbowl party of the Dublin Rebels for a number years now, so you know you’ll be guaranteed a great night! Oh and apparently they’re giving away 2 tickets to next years Superbowl?!

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4. McGowans

           A staple of northside nightlife, McGowans is an ideal location for watching this years Superbowl. It’s got food, beer, big screens AND it’s open late! Sure what more could you want? However, it’s going to be absolutely jammers on the night so make sure you get in nice and early to get a good view of a TV!

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Honourable Mentions

Outside of our top 4 Superbowl nights, there are a good few other decent spots to watch the game, such as McSorley’s in Ranelagh and Sinnott’s on Stephen’s Green. So no matter where you are in the city, you’re guaranteed a great night for this years Superbowl!

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Hanging it Up?

By Jimmy English

I always knew that my days playing football would come to an end. I just didn’t think it would be this soon. I was absolutely plagued with injuries last season. Before game one even kicked off, I took a knock to the side of my knee that resulted in the lower half of my left leg turning into one gigantic bruise. (I have pictures somewhere it’s actually kinda cool) What wasn’t cool however, was not being able to walk properly for three weeks.

That injury had a butterfly effect and from then on, every game seemed to result in a new or recurring niggle. It was like my body was telling me that it was time to hang it up.

And so, I did. I played in a few flag games for the craic, and then for the first time in god knows how long I had nothing to do on Sundays. And it was unreal.  No more cold winter mornings, extra sleep, and no more waking up on Mondays feeling like I’d been run over by a car (or a D Lineman).

I’d lost my passion for playing. I’d lost the fire and desire and the willingness to put myself through contact sessions. Maybe it was self-preservation finally kicking in, or maybe ten years of playing had finally caught up with me. Either way, I knew it was time to take a break from football.

But now I’m not so sure. Both the NFL and College seasons are drawing to a close, and in less than two months there’s going to be a massive football shaped hole in my life. It’s all well and good having an extra couple of hours to myself every weekend but what the hell am I going to do on Sundays when there’s no football to watch on TV?

So TLDR: I’m conflicted. For ten years I lived and breathed football. And I still do, maybe just to a lesser extent. I know that with time the lingering injuries that are holding me back mentally will heal and I’ll physically be ready to play again. But I just don’t know If I want to.  Is that desire to kit up still there? I feel like I have at least a few years left in me, but maybe it’s better to get out now with minimal wear and tear. And if my hearts not in it then what’s the point?

I guess I’ll wait and see.

The Scariest Players in Football

A year ago, we put together a list of the most terrifying players in the NFL, and a lot of people were not happy with our choices. So, this spooky season we decided to take another crack at it. But this time around, we’re going to include players from all eras of the NFL. It’s no coincidence that this list is dominated by defenders, as they are usually the ones doing the scaring!  Read on if you dare…

  1. The Purple People Eaters

The name says it all really, doesn’t it?  Minnesota’s Defensive Line of the 1960’s/1970’s was notorious for terrorizing the Quarterback, and just causing carnage in general. In 1969, the People Eaters contributed to 49 sacks! Offenses today should be thankful that these monsters are no longer haunting the NFL!

2. The Steel Curtain

Featuring the notorious “Mean” Joe Greene, the Steel Curtain was the dominate defensive force in football during the 70’s. Quarterbacks these days would run in terror if they saw the Steel Curtain coming after them!

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3. JJ Watt

We couldn’t write about the scariest players in football without mentioning this beast! I mean just look at that face. Who in their right mind wouldn’t scream and run in fear if they saw that coming from them. The man is literally covered in his own blood but is still hellbent on wreaking havoc.

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4. Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis makes the list again this year. Lewis is arguably one of the most threatening players to ever take the field.  Despite being on the short side for a Linebacker, Lewis took tremendous pleasure in tracking down Running Backs and making them pay.

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5. Spider Facemask

Okay so this isn’t technically a player but it’s still pretty spooky! I have a dee rooted fear of spiders, and I’m sure there are more than a few NFL players who share my fear and wouldn’t be too pleased to see this Halloween themed helmet coming at them!

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Big 10 Football is coming to Dublin

B1G 10 Football is coming to Dublin

Yesterday it was announced that Big 10 conference rivals University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and University of Illinois Fighting Illini will face off in Dublin in 2021, as the second of five college football games taking place in Ireland over 5 years. For college football aficionados here, this revelation may be slightly lacking in the firepower we expected. While both teams boast historically successful football programs, they do not boast the recent success that previous visitors such as Penn State and Notre Dame do. However, I will say this; When Boston College and Georgia Tech were announced as the 2016 game, I was a little bit underwhelmed. Two fairly average ACC teams didn’t offer a lot to get excited about. But boy was I wrong. Both sides put on a highly competitive performance in subpar conditions and gave native spectators and travelling fans alike a decent show.  (still glad I didn’t pay for my tickets though!) So, while the more hardcore Irish college football fan may have been a bit ‘meh’ about yesterday’s announcement, this matchup will be more than satisfactory for the newly initiated and of course, the fans making the trip.

My own blatant college football snobbery aside, this showdown does have the potential to be a half decent game. Nebraska are currently third in the Big 10 West with a record of 4-3, with 2 of those losses coming against ranked opponents Minnesota and Ohio State.  Their 2019 meeting with Illinois ended in a 42-38 victory for the ‘Huskers and pending the result of next years game, the 2021 edition could be a particularly fiery addition to the series!

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The Fighting Illini have not faired as well so far this season, and currently sit at 2-4 overall. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Fighting Illini program is the man at the helm: none other than Lovie Smith. The former NFL head coach took over in 2016, and now in his 3rd season has given the Illinois football program a much needed boost. If Smith can continue to improve the previously beleaguered football team then this 2021 encounter could just be one of the Big 10’s Games of the Season!

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College Football star power aside, the 2021 College Football Classic features two decent enough teams to inspire faith that the plan to bring 5 games to Ireland in 5 years hasn’t overreached it’s ambition. These are two sides that have never played here, who will bring with them two sets of fans and alumni that quite likely have never set foot on our little island before. And that is the real goal of this game and all the games to come. To put Ireland on the map as an International home for College Football.

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The Pats & The Dubs; How New England and Dublin GAA are basically the same team.

On Saturday September 14th, Dublin saw off a brave Kerry effort to claim their 5th All Ireland title in a row. The display of total dominance and self belief put on by the Dubs is hard not to compare to a certain NFL franchise.  Yes that’s right folks, I’m talking about the New England Patriots.  New England have become annual favorites to raise the Lombardi, and rightfully so. Since 2008, the Pats have appeared in 6 championship games, claiming 3 of those.  It’s gotten so ridiculous at this stage that even 2 weeks into the 2019 season, and another Patriots Super Bowl appearance is already being predicted. And unless something drastic happens with the structure of the GAA, (or if another county can find some sort of Dean Rock Kryptonite) the boys in blue are almost a shoe in for a 6th Sam Maguire in a years time.

Dublin GAA claimed a historic 5 All Ireland’s in a row.

Perhaps the most common trait that these two storied organizations share is being absolutely despised outside of their own fan bases. It could be that I’m biased, but whenever either team is playing, I almost always side with their opponent.  And I think the reason for this is that most  (not all mind you) supporters display a certain type of arrogance whenever either team is playing.  Now maybe they’ve earned this right – both teams are after all the undisputed best in their respective codes, but there is no need to be downright cocky about it. Patriots and Dublin fans alike show a blind belief and refuse to accept that there is even the smallest chance they will lose.  Additionally, they both seem to have attracted an awful lot of bandwagon supporters over recent years. I don’t know about you, but I have definitely noticed an influx of Dublin GAA and Tom Brady jerseys about the place. 

Patriots fans seem to be everywhere these days.

The Dublin footballers and the Patriots both happen to have wiley coach at the helm, undoubtedly a major factor in their joint success. Bill Belichick and Jim Gavin are renowned for their methodical preparation and “no bullshit’ approach.  Belichick is famous for refusing to allow a blizzard to interfere with his practice schedule, informing players they would be expected to train regardless of the snow. Gavin, a former Air Corps Pilot and Flight Instructor, applies his military expertise and precision to his training sessions. And it shows. Dublin’s playing style under him has been almost surgical, patiently picking apart their opponents with precision passing and waiting for just the right moment to launch a strike.

Jim and Bill also share somewhat of a dispassionate relationship with the media.  Bill’s responses to questions from members of the press are typically terse and god help you if you ask him something not directly related to the game at hand.  And let’s not forget when Jim refused to speak to RTE in retaliation to not being provided with video footage of his footballers. Taking no prisoners whatsoever.

By the way, have you ever seen either of them smile during a game? Didn’t think so. In fact, the only time the two men smile is when they win big. Like Super Bowl or Sam Maguire big.

Bill’s trademark scowl

We can complain all want about the unrelenting supremacy of both teams, but we must acquiesce to the fact that they are the standard to which all challengers must reach before even dreaming of taking their place. Some have come close – The LA rams stilted the Patriots offense to a 13-3 victory in February, but ultimately they couldn’t find the firepower to finish the job. Similarly, Dublin needed two go’s to kill off Kerry in this years All Ireland. While the would be de-throners fell short, it can only be a matter of time before either sport becomes competitive once more.

How to watch College Football in Ireland

College Ball is finally back! With 5 college football games taking place in Ireland from 2020 onwards, now is the time to immerse yourself in NCAA action. It  is now easier than ever to watch college football in Ireland, and we’ve complied a list of how you can get your college ball fix every weekend!

  1. BT Sports ESPN

Remember the good old days of ESPN America on Sky Sports? 12 glorious hours of uninterrupted College Football, book ended by College Game Day. Well those days are sadly over and now if you want to watch football on your TV, you’re going to have to pay up. Fortunately, BT Sports college football offering is quite decent and they will normally have the marquee match ups, as well as Bowl games, Playoffs and the National Championship Game!

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2.ESPN Player

The official ESPN player is essentially the College Football Version of Game Pass and gives you access to pretty much any game that ESPN has the broadcast rights for.  With the ESPN player you can stream all kinds of American College sports as well as watching highlights and getting full game recaps. The ESPN player is better value if you are a fan of College Football rather than one team in particular, as your teams game mightn’t always be shown.

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3. Streaming sites

Let me begin here by saying that in no shape or form do we condone illegal streaming sites. However, needs must and when it comes to getting your fill of college football, you gotta do what you gotta do! First Row Sports is our go to for streaming college football games, and if you have an Android device, apps such as Mobdro should do the trick as well. Streams can be a bit hit or miss in terms of quality and speed and your patience will probably be tested.

If you’ve been an American football for one year or ten, then College Football is definitely worth getting in to.  Its popularity is growing exponentially both here in Ireland and all over Europe. There’s more passion, more atmosphere and more to lose in College games than there is in the pro’s, and with Ireland becoming the home of College Football on this side of the Atlantic, there really isn’t a better time than now to get involved!

Alternative American Football Movies

With the return of real life football only a matter of weeks away we thought it would be an appropriate time to pick some of our favourite alternative football movies. These flicks mightn’t have been as commercially successful as the likes of The Longest Yard & Co but there are some gems in here that are definitely worth a watch! What are your favourite football movies? Let us know in the comments!

My All American

My All American tells the true story of a high school Safety who’s wish to play for the legendary Coach Darrell Royal was temporarily granted, only to be cruelly cut short. Such was the impression that Freddy Steinmark made on his Coach that he was remembered even in the Coaches later days. A combination of great storytelling and plenty of action scenes make this a must see for any football fan.

Greater

Another true story, this time of the remarkable success of Brandon Burlsworth who despite being told he had no chance of playing D1 Football, walked on at the University of Arkansas and was eventually named an All American and a 3rd round draft pick. The movie is primarily set during his memorial service, with flashbacks to his life and career. It’s unique in the fact that the protagonist is in fact his brother, dealing with the grief of his loss.

Varsity Blues

If you loved Friday Night Lights, then chances are you’re going to enjoy Varsity Blues as well. A classic coming of age tale set in small town America, Varsity Blues depicts the trials and tribulations of the West Canaan Coyotes Football Team and how they deal with a threating  head coach. The ultimate message is that there is more to life than football and as important as the sport may seem right now, it’s not going to be forever!

Draft Day

Despite being a complete Box office bust, Draft Day has become something of a cult classic. Set during the run up to and throughout the NFL Draft, this movie presents a (heavily fictionalized) scenario where the Cleveland Browns are successful and are plotting how to spend the top draft picks they control. If you’re comfortable with the complete suspension of disbelief and with the notion of Kevin Costner as the GM of a football franchise then there’s no harm in giving this one a whirl. And remember: “Vontae Mack no matter what!”

The College Football Conundrum

The College Football season is just around the corner and with 5 games taking place in Ireland over the next few years, now is the perfect time to choose a college football team to follow!

The question is, what college team is the best one to follow? Well, that depends. There are a number of important factors to consider when selecting your college football team. Firstly and most importantly, can they win? Let’s face it, there’s no point in staying up till 3 am every Sunday morning to watch your team lose. If you’re going to sacrifice sleep to watch football, it has to be worth it. Secondly, does that team have a good reputation? If the coach is being investigated for something sketchy or underhand then maybe it isn’t the best idea to start supporting them. And finally – is their jersey nice? As shallow as it might sound, if your going buy their merch, you have to like how it looks.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best college football teams to jump onboard with right now.

  1. Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide are without a doubt the best pound for pound college football team over the past 10 years. In the past 5 years alone they have appeared in 4 National Championship games, winning two of those. They always recruit the top players and have an evil genius as their coach. So if you want a team that wins, go with Bama! Although everyone will probably hate you for it.

2. Clemson

Clemson football are destined to be the next number one team in America, a fate they sealed by hammering their rivals Alabama in this years Championship game. The Tigers have a cool Coach, a monstrous Defensive Line and a Quarterback that will be playing on Sundays in the next two years. This is a bandwagon you definitely want to jump on!

3. Notre Dame

I’ll try to be as unbiased here as possible – but for me when I first got into college football, following the “Fighting Irish” was a no brainer! Not only are they once again emerging as a perennial contender for the national championship, but their mascot is a fecking Leprechaun! And if you find the Irish shtick to be offensive, then you don’t have any sense of humour. Notre Dame are on the come up in a big way and once their recruiting improves, expect them to be in the final on a regular basis.

4. Oregon

While they mightn’t have won much in recent years, the combination of ever changing uniforms and their adorable Duck mascot makes Oregon a solid team to support. Oregon’s jersey’s are produced by Nike and are usually pretty slick. They also occasionally produce talented footballers. For example, you may have heard of a guy called Marcus Mariota? The Ducks have been down on their luck in recent years but don’t be surprised if they splash back onto the scene this season.

NFL Academy comes to London

History was made in London on July 2nd as 150 kids battled it out to become part of the first class at the NFL’s London Academy.  The ground-breaking institute is the first of its kind outside of the US and will give select student athletes the opportunity to combine life skills with intensive sport training under full time coaches. Upon graduation, the students will not only have the chance to pursue pathways into employment and further education but also the chance to play for an NCAA college team in the USA. The players will be coached by British American Football legend Tony Allen who previously coached the London Warriors.

  

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   The try-out took place in Tottenham Hotspurs new stadium (which has been recently fitted specifically for NFL games) and was attended by current NFL players JuJu Smith Schuster and London native Efe Obada. Obada and Smith Schuster were both very impressed with the “Stadium Showcase” particularly by the talent and passion for the sport that was on display. Obada especially, knows how valuable any opportunity to play in the NFL can be. Obada played for the London Warriors before getting his shot to make the jump to the pro’s. He didn’t have this resource at his disposal.

So who can join the NFL’s London Academy? Well, according to their website they are looking for “16-18 year old talented American Football players, cross over athletes or those who have yet to play the sport”. Basically, if you haven’t turned 18 yet and are athletically inclined with an interest in the NFL you have what they’re looking for.  Unfortunately, the age limit rules myself and probably all of our readers out as well!  It seems that I’ll have to keep waiting for my chance to finally make it in the NFL.

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Despite my disappointment at being ruled out, I think the launch of a dedicated NFL UK education centre is major indication of the growth of the game in Europe. It also presents a huge chance for young talented Irish players. At the moment the furthest you can go in Ireland is the National Team, which in itself a huge honour. But imagine being able to take your skills and love for the game to another level altogether. Imagine playing College Football.

If you think you have what it takes then head over to www.nflacademy.com/whowerelookingfor and register. And who knows, you could be the next Irish man to be playing College Football!

Playing with the Big Boys

In any aspect of life, taking a step up is always tough. A new challenge will always add to the physical and mental strains being put on you. This is particularly true in sport. When a team is promoted to a higher division it can take a while for the players to adjust to all aspects of playing at that higher level. If you’re going to be playing with the big boys, then you’re going to have to put in the work.

It starts in the gym. Like it or not, strength and conditioning are going to play an integral part in your success at the next level. You don’t need to be jacked, but you need to have the durability and explosiveness to compete with the guys you’ll be playing against. Becoming stronger should also help you to avoid the unfortunate injuries that are part and parcel of playing American Football.

But playing American football out of your comfort zone is more than big muscles and fast 40’s. It’s as much a mental thing as it is physical. You need to have faith and belief like never before. If a game isn’t going the way you had hoped the worst thing you can do is let your head drop. Becoming a student of the game will also help immensely. Get your head into game tape and learn about your opponent. What are their tendencies? How often to they blitz?  Having even the slightest advantage over the other guy will go a long way.  When you line up and you already know what the guy across from you is going to do, your chances of beating him have doubled.

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Both the talent of players and the standard of play in a higher division is naturally going to be higher, so It’s up to you to put in the necessary work that will be required to compete.  I’ve played at all levels of competitive American Football in Ireland and in a lot of cases there is a massive gulf between teams playing in the top division and those in the lower leagues. And realistically, it should not be that hard for teams playing in IAFL1 or 2 to make the jump. It will take consistency, it will take dedication and it will take sacrifice. But if you love this sport as much as I do, it will be worth it.

If you want to win trophies and you want to play with the big boys then you better up your game.

The Fighting Irishman

The Notre Dame mascot is one of the most iconic in sport. On game day, the spirit of the ‘Fighting Irish” is brought to life by the Cheer Squad, in particular those select few who don the green blazer and bowler to become the Leprechaun. Notre Dame recently announced three new mascots and one of those fortunate enough to have earned this honour, is Conal Fagan. Conal hails from Derry, in the North of Ireland and is the first native Irishman to take on the mantle of the Notre Dame Leprechaun.  But how does a kid from Ireland end up as Notre Dame’s most recognisable representative? We caught up with Conal and he told us all about his amazing journey from St Columb’s College in Derry to a scholarship studying Political Science and Peace Studies in South Bend.

So how just did Conal end up at Notre Dame?

“Two kids from my school had gone to study in the US before me, so they really inspired me to look into it. “ While still in school, Conal began applying for the Sutton Trust, a program which helps youngsters from low and middle income families apply to Colleges in the states. “The process for applying to US colleges is a lot more holistic and denser than applying in the UK or Ireland so it’s not really something you do half-heartedly. As soon as I put my mind to it, I knew that the US was where I needed to be.” As part of the Sutton Trust program, Conal was flown to the US to experience first-hand what college life was like in the States. After months of research and preparation, Conal’s decision came down to either Notre Dame or University of North Carolina. “I’m confident I made the right choice!”

What was the draw of Notre Dame?

For Conal, it was vital that he ended up in a place where he would feel right at home, and where he would be part of a community. “A word that really resonates with people here is ‘family’ – no matter when you graduated, if you meet a fellow alum there’s an instant connection.” The Notre Dame family has a global reach, even as far as South Africa, which Conal found out while coaching soccer in the townships as a volunteer last summer. A family of Notre Dame Fans spotted the ND hoodie he was wearing and instantly recognised him as one of their own. It was then that it really hit home for Conal how powerful and influential the ND brand is around the world. “One of the hardest things to explain back home is just how influential and integral Alumni are.”  

           In addition to being a lifelong member of such a powerful graduate network, the opportunities offered to students at Notre Dame is absolutely “crazy”. From getting to travel around the world for research to meeting some of the most promising young athletes, there’s so much to do. The driving factor for moving abroad to study is summed up by Conal as a desire for self-growth, and to defy the norm. “One of the biggest reasons why I decided to move to the US was that I wanted to push myself outside of what was comfortable. And I really haven’t looked back since”.

Now to the burning question we all have, how the hell did Conal end up on the Notre Dame Cheerleading squad? Well, it all started with a Notre Dame Onesie. That onesie became his attire for every basketball game he attended, and at every game Conal would be courtside leading the fans in their chants. “ Going to the Brandywell ( the home ground of Derry City FC) to see Derry play, I used to sit in the ‘Jungle’ – so I had good experience of being noisy!”  But Conal wanted to do more at games than just sit in the crowd. He wanted to be a bigger part of the experience. And joining the cheer squad was the best way to do this.  “I honestly think the cheerleaders were confused as to how I was so energetic at the games! I had a friend on the squad and when she heard me discussing the possibility of joining, she gave me the push that I needed. It’s been such an incredible experience so far!”

What’s it like being the mascot and representing the Notre Dame spirit? “I can’t emphasise enough how amazing the experience has been”  Conal’s friends initially thought it would be hilarious if someone from Ireland auditioned for the role of the leprechaun, but once he began to realise what exactly the position meant and the opportunities that came with it, it was simply too good for him to turn down. Because mascots aren’t really a thing in Ireland, at first it was quite difficult for Conal to convey the significance of the role, but one he started to appear on TV and on social media people began to grasp the idea a little better.

“Putting on the suit honestly makes you feel like a superhero. When you adopt this persona, it represents more than you can ever imagine.”

The first few weeks of being the mascot were quite overwhelming for Conal as he adjusted to being bombarded for photograph requests as well as being constantly on the go to events, games and other appearances. But no matter how hectic the schedule, for Conal “..The benefits will always outweigh the drawbacks.”

“Pulling on that jersey (in my case a suit) is one of the best feelings. It’s the stuff dreams are made of”.

As Cheerleading isn’t really a thing here in Ireland, can you tell us how big part of University sports culture it is in the States?

“A lot of people’s perceptions of cheerleading are based on what they see in movies, and to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think most people imagine that cheerleading involves running around in a leotard waving pom- poms! In reality, I get to throw people in the air and do some really insane stunts, none of which I ever thought I could do! It’s a super dangerous sport that requires a huge amount of strength, technique and focus.” Cheerleaders in America are full time athletes, who have to train four times a week as well as lifting twice a week. But the reward for all the hard work is getting to run out in front of 80,000 people at home football games as well as the millions watching on TV at home. “I don’t think I could have ever pictured this as a kid back home!”

Becoming the face of the Fighting Irish cheer squad wasn’t Fagan’s first brush with Athletics. In fact, he had previously been part of the Notre Dame Men’s Soccer programme! Before he came to South Bend, he was already playing soccer at a high level having made appearances for both the Northern Ireland U15/16 team as well as Derry City’s U17/19 team.  Fagan had already considered playing in a US college, but didn’t want soccer to define his university experience. An email from a highly respected coach encouraging him to give it a shot, however, made his decision a lot more straightforward. And although he did not ultimately make an appearance for the team, working with some of the best players and coaches in the country undoubtedly gave him a strong start and a competitive edge to his time in Notre Dame.

As Conal gears up for the 2019/2020 season, his main goal on the field is to learn how to do a flip! “It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but never really been able to focus the time on so I feel that it’s the perfect time to take advantage.” Off the field, a summer internship in Australia awaits where he’ll be working with Paralympians and Disabled Athletes.  A flat out but very rewarding year awaits him! Best of luck Conal and thanks for taking the time to talk to Gaelic Gridiron!

Injury Prone

American football is a contact sport, and chances are that if you play at some stage you’re going to get injured. Bumps and bruises are part and parcel of the game and normally won’t impact on your playing time. But twisted ankles, sprained wrists and cracked ribs all pose a bigger challenge! There’s a distinct difference between playing hurt and playing injured. In the ten or so years I’ve been playing American football in Ireland, I’ve almost lost count of the number of injuries that I’ve picked up.

In fact, this year alone I’ve been injured 7 (yes 7 ) times since January. I’m what you might call injury prone”.

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But the point of this article isn’t to focus on the negative aspects of being injured. Quite the opposite in fact. Oftentimes when players get injured, their heads will drop and they’ll get disheartened. The worst thing you can do is wallow. This will only make things worse. Recovering from an injury is just as much a mental thing as it is physical.  So what exactly can you do to make sure you get back on the field as soon as possible?

  1. Keep working out.

The most important thing you can do to aid your recovery from a football injury is to stay as active as possible. Not only will working out keep you in game shape, it will keep the blood pumping and flowing which is vital in promoting healing. One of the biggest benefits of exercise is the release of endorphins; that magic happy hormone too boost your mood and overall productivity. It goes without saying that you should only push yourself as much as you feel comfortable with, doing your best not to re-injure yourself.

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  1. Stay involved.

Just because you’re injured, doesn’t mean you’re no longer part of the team.  Get yourself to training – you can learn just as much from watching and listening as you can from actually playing. Watching from the sideline will give you a different perspective and a different viewpoint from which to improve. Staying involved will keep you sharp and make your return to the field a lot easier.

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  1. Be Positive

You won’t be injured forever.  Keep your head up and keep working towards getting back to playing. Tracking your rehabilitation will help you to see how you are progressing and how close you are to returning to play.

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Injuries happen in our sport, and if you’ve been fortunate enough to never experience one then you are truly one of the lucky ones. But if you’re like me then you know just how demoralizing it can be to have to sit and look on as your team play. But trust me when I say that if you rehab properly and have the right attitude then you will be recovered and ready to play in no time.

The Growth of the Game

On Saturday afternoon, the 2019 SBC Season will kick off with the South Dublin Panthers hosting last year’s runners up, the Dublin Rebels. This season there are 22 teams competing in kitted football, the most that we can ever remember being active at the one time. It is without a doubt a time of great growth for the league and indeed the sport on the Island of Ireland. With one brand new team coming on board and one team returning to the fold, there will be a lot of football played in Ireland over the next 5 months.

There are changes afoot in the IAFL, and after years of poor management and shenanigans, the league finally seems to be moving in the right direction.

We recently sat down with IAFA Commissioner Brian Cleary to get his take on this growth and what is in store for the Irish American Football League during 2019 and beyond.

GG: What are your thoughts on the recent growth of the game in Ireland?

BC: I think everyone will agree that growth in any sport is a positive thing and it’s brilliant to see new teams expressing an interest and joining the association every year. This year we have a brand new team with the Causeway Giants and we welcome the return of the Waterford Wolves. We already have interest from two brand new teams for next season in parts of the country that has never had a team so we are definitely heading in the right direction. It’s important though that we manage our growth responsibly to ensure that all the clubs are sustainable and that we have the resources within the association to meet the growing demand for football in Ireland. While it’s great to have new adult kitted clubs coming on board each year, I feel it’s important we don’t neglect the need focus on the growth potential of flag football, youth football and indeed women in sport. Those are the areas that I feel will take our association to the next level and plans are underway to ensure we experience growth in those areas in the coming years.

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GG: What, if any, challenges are presented by new teams coming on board?

BC: New teams means more football, which is great but the challenge is then scheduling all those games to take place within the 5-6 months of our season. We are somewhat limited with the amount of games we can facilitate every Sunday and it’s pretty much dictated by the availability of home grounds and number of qualified full-time officials. We have started scheduling some games on Saturday’s and/or having double headers and I’m hoping that going forward more teams are willing to play on days other than a Sunday. We have recently restructured our officiating department and we now have a dedicated officiating development manager so we hope to see more full time officials coming on board to meet the growing demand. 

 

GG: How have the league been working to promote the sport and support the creation of new teams?

 BC: In late 2018 the board appointed a Director of Development – Niall O’Connor. This is a position that has been vacant for a number of years within our association and probably one of the positions we needed the most to develop and promote the sport. Niall brings in a wealth of experience and spent the last few months learning about the association and identifying our needs. I think we will start to see the benefit of his work and input in the months to come. 

 

In relation to new teams we are currently in the process of developing a handbook. The aim of this handbook is to help brand new or developing teams identify everything they need to successfully set up and run a club. A very rough version of this was actually supplied to the two new teams that joined us this year and indeed to the teams that are hoping to join us next season. It included a basic checklist on what was required to set up a club, a sample budget, constitution bylaws and general pointers on what is expected of a club. To my knowledge this was the first time the association has issued such a document to clubs and the feedback has been very positive. We hope to have the final version complete before the years end, which should be a big support for new clubs. 

 

GG: How will the announcement of more college games to be played here impact the growth of the game?

 BC: The college games present an amazing opportunity to promote our sport and raise awareness that American Football actually exists in Ireland. We have developed a good working relationship with organizer of these events and there will be most certainly opportunities for IAFA to benefit from these games. While I can’t go into great detail on it at the moment the focus will be on education and exposure for IAFA and its members.

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IAFA Commissioner Brian Cleary (right) at the launch of the 2020 College Classic

GG: What advice would you have for someone thinking about playing American football in Ireland for the first time? 

BC: I would say just get down to your local club and give it a go. If you’re thinking about it then you must have at least a small interest in it, so just do it. The American Football community are very welcoming to new players and all our coaches our certified by Coaching Ireland so you’ll be sure to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Be careful though, once you start playing it you’ll be hooked and never look back. It’s a great sport to be part of and you’re sure to meet a great bunch of people who will become friends for life.

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GG: Where do you see the league in 5 years’ time?

 BC: How long have you got? I would like to see growth and development across all areas of the association.  I would like to have maintained a consistent and competitive league structure not just for our adult kitted league but also for youth football. I can see our national team the Irish Wolfhounds participating in International competitions and our full time officials participating in such tournaments. I can see a massive growth in flag football particularly within schools and this is currently being supported by the NFL UK, which we are very fortunate to have working with us. Our Director of Coaching, Emma Burrows has already commenced a five year plan to raise the standard of coaching in Ireland. This is currently on track and I would be very hopeful that it will result in a very clear path, for new and existing coaches to develop their skills. I would like to see IAFA’s first all-female kitted game of football within five years with the ultimate goal of an all-female league being set up soon after. 

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I could literally talk forever on what I would like to see for our future but finally I think it’s important that IAFA improves its reputation both nationally and internationally, with the aim of securing sponsorship and commercial opportunities that can be used to further develop the association. 

 

 

Getting Football Fit

In a little over a month, the 2019 Irish American football season will kick off and players up and down the country are busy preparing for what promises to be the best set of fixtures yet.  And while knowing the playbook inside out is a critical part of a player’s success, being physically prepared for the inevitable toil is just as important.  Anyone who has played the sport knows just how sore you can be on a Monday after hitting and getting hit repeatedly the day before.  So what can you do to get your body ready for the upcoming season?

 

  1. Train

Strength and condition is a critical part of being an American football player. Unless you’re naturally strong enough, chances are you’re going to have to lift. Even lifting twice a week will give you an edge. The key exercises for football players are: bench press, squats, dead-lifts and cleans. Physical strength and explosiveness are essential qualities to succeed on the field.  But it’s not all about pumping iron.  In order to keep up with the fast paced, stop start nature of the game, you’re going to need to run. A lot. A mix of sprints and longer runs should give you the speed and endurance required to play.

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  1. Eat

Depending on what position you’re playing, you’re going to have to retain a certain weight and size. For example, anyone playing a high contact positon like Linebacker, Running Back or anywhere on the line will need to be heavier and bulkier than someone playing WR or DB. Getting enough protein in your diet can often be challenging. Instead of just having toast for breakfast, try to include some eggs or even chicken. For dinner, adding red meat or fish will make a significant difference to your muscle mass. And remember: If you’re trying to get lean by cutting carbs, you’re going to lose strength and size too!

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  1. Rest

Rest days are just as important, if not even more so, than working out. Rest is invaluable to your body’s recovery – allowing for muscle growth and retention. If you’ve had a particularly tough training session or game, the best thing you can do after is rest! Those aches and pains will only get worse if you do an intense workout the day after a game. If you absolutely have to exercise, a quick walk to get the blood flowing will do the trick.

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It’s important to remember though that every player is different and will have their own fitness ideology.  This article is only intended as a guide, for new players and for veterans looking to get a few tips on how to become a better competitor and athlete! We are by no means qualified experts!

Do you have a workout or meal plan that you swear by for football? Let us know in the comments!

The Gaelic Gridiron Superbowl Guide

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us and the entire nation is getting in on the act. What was once a niche event on the Irish sporting calendar has grown to become a nationwide celebration of all things USA. As American Football continues to grow in popularity here, pubs up and down the country are stocking up on hot dogs as they prepare to feed fans until the wee hours of Monday morning. It’s a far cry from a few years ago when you’d be hard pushed to find even one place that would invest in a late licence in order to stay open to show it.

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Superbowl Sunday in Dublin

Whether this Is your first Super Bowl, or your tenth (god I’m old) it’s essential that you find the right spot to settle in and cheer on whoever is playing against Tom Brady. For the ultimate Super Bowl atmosphere and experience, nowhere beats The Woolshed. Dublin’s best sports bar transforms into NFL world with every screen in the place (that’s a lot) showing the game. 3 bars across two floors ensures that you’re never waiting too long for a drink. And if you’re feeling peckish during the game, you can literally get a bucket of wings delivered to your table. What more could you want?

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If you don’t fancy the trek down Parnell Street then have no fear because the south side of the city also has plenty of options to watch the Super Bowl! An old favorite of mine is Sinnotts, beside St.Stephen’s Green.  Sinnotts has a huge cinema style screen as well as several smaller screens so you’re guaranteed to have a good view from wherever you’re sitting. Although if you do want to be sitting I’d recommend getting in early as both The Woolshed and Sinnotts will be packed by 9pm at the latest. Grub wise, Sinnotts does some pretty savage platters, perfect for picking on throughout the night. The burgers are also decent. Wherever you end up, there’ll be no shortage of soakage options, ensuring that you can keep the pints up till the 4th quarter!

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Sinnotts is an absolute gem.

*If you do hit The Woolshed, make sure to keep an eye out for the West Dublin Rhinos American Football team!

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Once you’ve decided where to watch the game and sorted yourself out with some wings – it’s time to play NFL jersey bingo! Ireland has a huge sleeper NFL fan base, and Super Bowl Sunday brings them all out of the woodwork. While it’s a given that there will be an unbearable amount of Patriots jerseys with ‘Brady’ or ‘Gronkowski’ on the back, you’re guaranteed to also see a few gems. Will you spot an ill-fated Browns Johnny Manziel jersey? Or perhaps an orange crush Denver broncos top. Those are pretty sweet.

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Whatever the outcome of Super Bowl 53, the important thing is to have the craic. Sunday will literally see the forces of Good and Evil battling it out for a year of bragging rights, and the city of Dublin is bound to be buzzing.

 

 

Back Up Ballers

Being a Backup QB in the NFL is a handy gig. You earn a shitload of money to sit on the sideline drinking Gatorade and having the craic. Every once in a while you might be called in to close out a game or hold a snap. But things are changing. Backup QB’s are fast becoming the saviors of NFL franchises. Nick Foles is the prime example of this tectonic shift. Foles cemented his place in NFL history last season, when he came off the bench to lead the Eagles to Superbowl glory, earning MVP honors for his trouble. Foles also gained the adulation of Philadelphia. Philly sports fans are notoriously tough to please, and by bestowing him with the title of “Big Dick Nick” they have made him one of theirs forever. The underdog QB nearly repeated his heroics this season but suffered an unfortunate stumble at the Divisional round hurdle.

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Philly’s favorite son will forever live on in NFL history.

Nick Foles isn’t the only backup QB to be unexpectedly thrust into action in recent times. 49ers 3rd stringer Nick Mullens went from zero to hero this year when he was forced to replace both Jimmy G and CJ Beathard. Mullens more than stepped up to the plate and in 8 games threw for 2,277 yards and 13 touchdowns. He formed a strong connection with Tight End George Kittle, which will certainly benefit them both when the roster is being set next Summer. Mullens’ real triumph however, came off the field, when his Twitter profile became verified. You know you’ve made it in life when that little blue tick appears next to your name. Now that’s validation.

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Big Dick Nick Jr?

While this trend of the number two signal caller riding in to save the day may seem relatively new, we must remember that the greatest QB of our generation was once a back up himself. Yes, as much as it pains me, I am in fact talking about Tom Brady. When he was drafted out of Michigan in 2000, no one thought that he would ever amount to much. But Mr. Irrelevant took his chance to usurp the incumbent New England Passer and never once relinquished his grip. Over the course of almost 20 years, Brady went from scrawny understudy to NFL golden boy. And love him or loathe him, you have to admit that he has done so much for the game of American Football, especially serving as an inspiration for young QB’s who want to one day lead a franchise.

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Brady always knew that he’d be a star.

September 2019 will almost certainly see Wentz and Garoppolo back at their respective helms, there will always be hope for the back up. Your day will come.

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It could be you. 

(Shout out to Matt Saracen, possibly the greatest back up turned starter ever)

Regular Season Review

And then there were twelve. The dust has settled on the regular season, and tonight 4 teams will do battle in the Wildcard Round. The top prize is on the line: a trip to the Superbowl.

It’s been a weird 4 months of football.  Pass defense seemed to fall by the wayside as high octane offenses dueled to outscore each other. It was only down the stretch that teams remembered that they had secondary’s. The emergence of rookie gunslingers like Mahomes and Goff and the resurgence of the legendary Drew Brees were the main factors behind the apparent redundancy of defending against the pass.

But it wasn’t just defensive backs who became villains. Pass rushers, Clay Matthews in particular seemed to become persona non grata with the league. In the early part of the season, defenders who even breathed aggressive were penalized for roughing the passer. It became so farcical that Ndamukong Suh created his own PSA demonstration video on how to safely tackle the Quarterback.

Disastrous defense aside, there were a number of other notable events that marred the season.

Le’veon Bell’s holdout at the start of the season cast a shroud over the Steelers. Bell’s absence was a massive distraction for the team and is undoubtedly the reason they got off to such a rocky start. But Bell’s holdout also revealed the true nature of professional football, the side we don’t like to acknowledge. Money. The league is a business, and these men are assets. Bell has every right as an employee to demand more money, but because we like to ignore this facet of football, he was portrayed as the bad guy, greedy and gutless for holding out on his teammates and his fans.

You could write a whole thesis on the ins and outs of professional athletes and their rights vis a vis payment. All we’ll say for now is that by taking the above action, Bell has guaranteed two things. 1: He has played his last game for Pittsburgh and 2. Other Running Backs are going to follow in his lead.

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The NFL has a checkered history of players committing physical assault. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and more recently Reuben Foster have all been accused of violence against women. In some cases the league will pay lip-service and then sweep it under the carpet. But occasionally, they’ll make an example. 2018’s perpetrator was Kareem Hunt, the electric Chiefs Running Back. Within an hour of a video of him appearing to hit someone surfaced, his former time cut ties. There message was loud and clear: “We don’t want anything to do with him.” And you can’t blame them. In order to maintain some sort of a good reputation, the NFL has to be tougher on this issue. Zero tolerance. Zero excuses.

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It has indeed been an up and down year in the NFL. I haven’t even enjoyed watching games as much as I used to. Hopefully the 2019 season will be better. As for the Post Season Finale in February: The Chiefs and the Rams will battle it out in Atlanta for a chance to lift the Lombardi. And ultimately, Patrick Mahomes will win his first world championship.

Walking in a Christmas Football Land

The festive football period is finally upon us. December is when The NFL is at its best. Teams that have been trailing make a sudden playoff push, games are played in the snow and sometimes even Santa makes an appearance! Read on to find out what we think are some of the essential aspects of Football in December.

 

  1. Christmas day football.

The Christmas day game is always a must watch! On December 25th 2016 the Steelers got the best Christmas present of all – a last gasp win over the Ravens. Pittsburgh were down 27-24 with a minute to go in the 4th quarter. They then drove the field and on 2nd and goal with 14 seconds left in the game, delivered one of the most memorable plays in recent Steelers history. Big Ben stood in the pocket and delivered a strike to AB who was immediately hit at the 1 yard line before somehow extending the ball across the chalk for the winning score. This stunning play came as time expired and sealed the Christmas miracle win for the Steelers. Dubbed by fans as “The Stretch” it will go down in Steelers lore. They couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present than the Steelers beating the ravens on Christmas day.

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The Stretch 

 

  1. Santa in the Stands

I can’t be the only one who was caught by surprise while playing Madden over Christmas, when suddenly St. Nick would appear on my screen decked out in team colours?! The games’ seasonal changes added some enjoyable realism to playing and brought you closer to actually being there. And while I haven’t played Madden in a couple of years, I’m sure Santa still makes an appearance every year to cheer on his side.

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No way Santa is really a Giants fan…

  1. Snow Games!

Let’s all admit it – watching a game being played in heavy snow is way more fun than watching any old ordinary game. It’s hard to run the ball and even harder to pass owing to poor visibility and a slippy football. So when a big play is made, it’s extra special. Nothing says December football like a Snowbowl. And what better way to celebrate a touchdown in a Snowbowl than making a snow angel or engaging in a friendly snowball fight with your team mates?

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Who wears white during a snow game?!

 

  1. Santa’s little Cheerleaders.

This one needs no explanation at all…Santa baby 😉

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All I want for Christmas

 

Christmas is a special time of year in the NFL and with the season coming to its business end, teams have limited time to seal their post season fate. Who will be on the naughty list come playoff time? And who will get the best present of all, the Lombardi Trophy?

These are just some of the best things about Christmas football. What’s your favorite festive football tradition? Let us know in the comments!

 

Here Come the Irish: My day in Notre Dame

“And there’s a magic in the sound of their name…Here come the Irish of Notre Dame…”

As these words rang out around Notre Dame Stadium and segued into “Shipping up to Boston”, a wave of chills ran through me. I was finally here. From the first time I watched Notre Dame play in their home stadium on TV, I had set my sights on making it to a game.  And there was the band, there was the leprechaun, and there were the players. They were even wearing green to welcome their biggest Irish fan! (Not really, but still a cool coincidence) Justin Yoon sent the kickoff flying and Notre Dame stadium echoed with the roar of “GO! IRISH!” But how the hell did I end up here?

I had arrived on the South Bend campus earlier that day and caught my first glimpse of the Golden Dome glinting in the distance. As I wandered around the grounds of the university, jaw ajar in sheer awe of the place, the craziness of the past two days began to pay off. On Wednesday evening of last week, I got a message from Notre Dame Athletics on Facebook telling me I’d won two tickets to the game that weekend. I had previously entered their competitions and had  claimed that if I ever won tickets I’d fly out for the game…and now they were calling my bluff. My hands were shaking so hard that I could barely type as I furiously searched for the cheapest possible flight. It did strike me that what I was about to do was insane. I also realised that if I didn’t go, I would always regret it. Life comes down to a few moments. This was one of them.

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The Golden Dome

I was initially greeted in South Bend by sub zero temperatures and more than enough snow. Luckily I had been forewarned of the inclement weather and was well wrapped up… apart from my feet which were beginning to feel like blocks of ice. The solution? Head to the Irish bar! This is exactly what I did, and after asking a local for directions, I ended up getting a lift in his golf cart. Happy days! The patrons in  the bar got a great kick out of the fact that I had traveled three and half thousand miles on less than forty eight hours notice to see Notre Dame play at home. I was later greeted by a great friend of mine, James O’Toole. I hadn’t seen James since the last time I went to game three years previously, and when I found out I’d won he was the first person I called. It was fantastic to catch up.

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As evening fell we made our way back to the campus to collect the tickets, and I got to meet legendary Coach Knute Rockne(In statue form, anyway) There was a buzz in the air as tailgaters took their revelry from the the parking lot into the stadium. It was somehow even colder in there than it had been outside. But once the ball was kicked off, I forgot all about being cold. The Irish dominated all game. I had flown across the Atlantic to witness potential national champions at work, and they did not disappoint.

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Just chilling with Knute

 

As I write this I am still having trouble accepting that it happened. It was like being in a dream. A dream that came true. And I will definitely be back.

 

NFL Hall of Horrors

Halloween is upon us and to celebrate the spooky season  we decided to take a look at some of the scariest players to haunt the NFL. Now as you can imagine, most of these fellas are demons of defense and spent their careers terrorizing opposing offenses. You can only imagine the pure terror felt by Quarterbacks when they realized they were about to be hit by one of these beasts. Of course, Offensive players can be scary as well and this list would not be complete without one particular Running Back. Read on to find out who makes the cut…

  1. Ray Lewis

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Ray Lewis was the scourge of many a backfield for almost 2 decades. Famous for his old school, brutal hits, he was once infamously involved in a murder trial. Not a man to be trifled with.

2. JJ Watt

Since he entered the league, JJ has made a name for himself as one of, if not the best Defensive player. Although being an absolute gent on the field, once he enters combat he will not stop until your soul is his.

3. Gilbert Brown

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I didn’t even know about this guy until I googled ‘Scary NFL players’ and boy did Google deliver! Just look at him! He’s terrifying!

4. “Mean” Joe Greene

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I think the name says it all really. Greene spent the 70’s bullying Offensive Lines as part of the legendary ”Steel Curtain”.

5. Beast Mode

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God help you if you went high on this man. He would make you PAY!

 

Who’s your scariest NFL player? Let us know in the comments!

College Football is coming back to Ireland

Yes you read that right! For the first time since 2016, big time NCAA football will be played in Ireland’s capital city. It was announced today  that Notre Dame will face off against their longest standing rivals Navy in the Aviva Stadium on August 29th 2020!

This will be the first of 5 College Football games taking place in Dublin between 2020 and 2024.

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Notre Dame last played in Dublin in 2012 in the Emerald Isle Classic, and on that occasion they absolutely dominated Navy. The final score was 50-10 to the Irish. Over 35,000 Americans travelled to Ireland for this rivalry game, generating approximately €60 billion for the Irish economy.

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For many Irish people that game was their first taste of live American Football, and inspired two further games to be played here; Penn State and UCF in 2014 followed by Georgia and Boston College in 2016.

Notre Dame are a perennial contender for the National Championship and their 2020 season opener in Dublin is guaranteed to be an explosive affair. We will have updates on tickets and pre game festivities closer to the game (so in like a year)

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The McGregor Effect: Notorious in the NFL

Twice in the space of one week I have seen Conor McGregor and American Football mentioned in the same headline. Once is coincidence. Twice is a trend. I suppose it was only a matter of time before Mystic Mac’s Macho Mania was supplanted to pump ups and pep talks in the huddle. And while I was initially surprised, it makes complete sense. Conor McGregor is an international sports star. And a consummate competitor. In fact, how have teams not gone to him sooner for some motivational mojo?

In a recent interview with ESPN University of Michigan Defensive End Chase Winovich cited the Dublin UFC Star as an inspiration for his rise to success. Winovich underwent a transformation from an average Tight End to a dominating force on the Defensive Line.  He drew parallels between McGregor’s ascension from Dublin plumber to top of the sports entertainment world, to his own journey from a blue collar small town family to Primetime D1 Football. He then did whatever it took to excel at his position while maintaining an unrelenting belief that he would succeed. Sound familiar?

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UM Defensive End Chase Winovich says he is inspired by Conor McGregor

Winovich and McGregors paths may once cross again if the college standout makes it to the pros. Conor was a guest of the Dallas Cowboys this weekend gone by as they finally rose from their funk and dominated the Jaguars at home. The key to Dallas’s rejuvenated performance? Conor McGregor. The Dublin native was a colourful figure full of bravado on the sideline and even delivered some brief pre game words of encouragement. It seems that Conor’s cocksureness lit the spark that the Cowboys were missing.  Dak and Zeke even busted out McGregor’s pre fight swagger when celebrating their touchdowns, truly illustrating how big an influence the Irishman had on the Cowboys mentality that Sunday evening. (Dak Prescott should really teach McGregor how to throw a spiral though, this effort is awful.)

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Dak got that swagger

Could McGregor’s recent American football cameo be a foray into an as yet untapped market? Is the Notorious plotting a post UFC gig as a professional pump upper? Or was it just a once off. After the reception from the Dallas players he would surely at least consider motivational speaker as a potential new business venture. Such was the talismanic effect of McGregor’s presence that it would not be at all surprising if we start seeing more of the bearded brawler on the sidelines of professional sports teams.

As for McGregor – this piece of mostly positive media could not have come at a better time. After his recent defeat, his mortality as a fighter looms even larger. And while the clouds of bad publicity have mostly cleared, his future in the UFC has most definitely been called into question. But this is a football blog and not an MMA one. So will we be seeing Conor on the gridiron again soon? You can count on it.

 

A Cotton Bowl Classic: The Red River Showdown

As I do every week, I have a look over the fixtures to see what stands out and this week there is only 1 game that deserves to be game of the week.  This week there is only one place to be and that is the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas for the ‘Red River Rivalry Game’.

The No.7 Oklahoma Sooners will meet the No.19 Texas Longhorns in the 113th fixture between these two historical football programmes, as it stands Texas has more victories on the board with a game score of 61-46 with 5 draws.

But as with many teams that Texas have a history with, Texas have the better past but have been left wanting in the present. Since the turn of the millennium the Sooners have a 12-6 record against the Longhorns including the last two meetings and this season they have looked extremely formidable and look like a team that are determined to go further than last year’s playoff place.

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Even with the loss of Heisman trophy winning Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who last year set the NCAA on fire with what many considered the best statistical passing season in college football history with the highest passer rating ever recorded, this year’s Sooners Junior Quarterback Kyler Murray is unbelievably on track to beat that record breaking statistic and is currently sitting 30+ points higher than Mayfield at the same point last year.

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Murray was suspended for the start of last weekend’s game against Baylor and still managed to account for seven touchdowns against the Bears. He’s now completing more than 70 percent of his passes through five games, with 17 touchdowns through the air and only two interceptions. He’s added four touchdowns and 285 yards rushing. He is a true dual threat.

But two weeks ago I brought up the same dual threat problem with the TCU offence, and the Texas defense were able to overcome a very good TCU team on that occasion with 3 interceptions and limited the run game to win by 15 points, so this will be  a very interesting battle. Texas Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando is confident that his players are up for the challenge and has said they know what needs to be done to stop a very good Sooners offence and that the team is getting better as time goes on.

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On the other side of the coin Sam Ehlinger seems to be going from strength to strength and having a very productive season so far with has pass completion improving. He had an 80.6% passer rating last week against Kansas and hasn’t had an interception since week 1 and also gives a rushing option to the Texas offence. He is sure to cause the Sooners Defence problems, but the Texas offense statistically is pulling its weight in every position as the scoring has been well spread out and they don’t seem to be reliant on any single player to carry the team which can only be a good thing.

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I feel that this is going to be a very good game on Saturday evening and I honestly couldn’t tell you who is going to win, the Sooners are undefeated but haven’t really had a real test yet, whereas Texas got off to a bad start with a loss against Maryland in week 1 but have now won 4 on the spin with very good victories against USC & TCU.

In Austin their talking about ‘Texas football is back!!’ On Saturday that will be put to the test to see are the Longhorns truly ready to compete again for a Big 12 title or will the Sooners prove to be too big of an ask on their mission to this year reach the college football playoff final.

 

Oklahoma vs Texas kicks off at 17.00 Irish Time on Saturday 6th of October.

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The “INFL”? International American Football is back

Well it’s that time of year again on the football calendar: The NFL International series is almost upon us. Now in its 11th season, this year’s slate of games in the UK sees a total of 6 teams making the trip across the pond. Historically, the NFL games have been a bit of a snooze fest.  Marquee teams and match ups have been few and far between, and yet European fans can’t get enough.

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However, this year’s program may actually be somewhat entertaining.  The Jaguars, whom the NFL won’t stop trying to foist on London, face off against the reigning Superbowl Champion Eagles. The Jags made it as far as the AFC championship game last year and are slowly shrugging off their label as perennial losers.  The Jaguars are locked in for basically every upcoming International Series. While this previously wouldn’t have raised much interest or even a few eyebrows, their recent success has guaranteed a massive increase in their trips to the UK.  As for the other games, both the Titans and Chargers have had solid seasons so far, while the Raiders are a loss away from full on panic mode and the Seahawks defense has all but disintegrated.

And with the arrival of the International Series arises the years old debate that every NFL fan this side of the Atlantic has an opinion on: Should there be a Football Franchise in London?

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Will the Jaguars eventually become a permanent London resident?

By and large there are two schools of thought on this matter. Those for will argue that both the international series and a possible European team will be a huge boost to the promotion of the NFL to audiences outside of the US. A permanent team in London, presumably based out of Wembley Stadium would allow for a solid fan base to develop around one franchise. The sport of American Football already has a significant market share in those who both play and watch the sport in the UK and Ireland. Our ‘own’ professional football team would surely serve to expand and solidify that market share.

On the flip side, a ‘European’ (Brexit pending) team could be an absolute disaster. Before the Jaguars got hot, the only reason they were being pegged as the franchise that would move here is because they were probably the only team the NFL could convince. And while their recent success has possibly sweetened that deal for UK fans, there are still numerous pitfalls. The time difference is a major one. Americans don’t like to get up early on a Sunday. Nor are UK fans fond of staying up to the wee hours to watch Primetime games that start at 1am.  The other glaring factor is the Atlantic Ocean. West Coast teams would have to allow almost a week for travel and acclimatization when coming to play this London franchise.  Let’s also not forget that this has happened before, albeit in a slightly different form.

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The erstwhile NFL Europe league ran from 1991 to 2007.  NFL Europe largely served as a farm system for NFL proper teams and ultimately went bust. But if a franchise is to be supplanted to London, there are probably some lessons to be learned from this predecessor.

The official verdict from Gaelic Gridiron: The NFL International Series is grand as it is in its current format. Don’t feck it up.

Temporary Heroes

On February 4th 2018 Nick Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to an improbable Super Bowl victory over the incumbent New England Patriots.  Foles had the game of his life, including the now Immortal ‘Philly Special’ play which saw him catch a touchdown pass.  The backup QB, on his second stint with the Eagles even won MVP for his effort.  Throughout the ensuing offseason, Foles was in high demand, but the Eagles fended off all offers for a trade and locked him up as insurance for a still injured Carson Wentz.

But of course, what goes up must come down. Before their week 3 tilt against the Colts, Wentz was cleared for contact and was immediately slotted in ahead of a struggling Nick Foles. The “Big Dick Nick (god bless Philly) era has officially come to an end in Wentzadelphia.  But this was also going to be the case. Carson Wentz is the present and future franchise signal caller. And Foles knows that. Foles was only ever going to be a stop gap. The Temporary Hero.  It’s likely that Foles will forever be a backup unless a franchise decides to take a chance on him. Whatever happens for him, he can be proud of the fact that when his team called on him to be a hero, he put in a perfect shift.

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Perhaps the biggest story of the season so far is the rise of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a text book temporary hero. Stepping in the starting role for a suspended Jameis Winston, Fitzpatrick has had three games with over 400 yards passing. The QB’s red hot performance sparked conversation that he might take over permanently for an inconsistent Winston.  Fitzpatrick’s unlikely heroics gave life to ‘Fitzmagic’ mania and a host of glorious, bearded memes.  Some of the magic wore off in Week 3 against the Steelers when the Harvard grad had 3 turnovers and was sacked twice.  Despite the hot play cooling off a little, Fitzpatrick is likely to get one more opportunity to prove that he can be more than just a temporary hero for Tampa.  The aforementioned stats he put up as well as the resulting internet fodder have served to boost his profile, and even if he doesn’t keep the starting job, Ryan Fitzpatrick is finally relevant again.

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All hail the bearded one. 

Foles and Fitpatrick aren’t the only fill in saviors that have gained prominence in recent times. Both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brisset both massively increased their stock as starters while subbing for Tom Brady. Jimmy G will eventually go on to be a true franchise QB in how own right.  While being a backup QB suddenly thrown into the spotlight and expected to perform is certainly a tough spot to be in, it undoubtedly has its benefits as well. Stepping up and becoming the Temporary Hero for your team might just turn you into the Permanent Hero.

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College Game of the Week: A Texas Shootout

By Niall O’Hara

This week’s game of the week is the Texas Longhorns Hosting the No.17 TCU Horned Frogs in their Big 12 Conference opener, with both teams 2-1 in their opening 3 games.

 

The Longhorns are in the middle of a rebuilding process and after last week’s impressive win against the No.22 USC Trojans, which was the 1st win for Texas against a ranked opponent since November 2016, the Longhorns will be looking to keep progressing under coach Tom Herman with a victory over TCU this coming Saturday.

But for that to happen Texas are going to have to be at their absolute best, after TCU proved that they can compete with anyone after a fantastic display against the Ohio State Buckeyes last week where they kept it a very close and exciting affair. TCU have dominated this fixture recently and this weekend will be looking to make it a school record 5th victory in a row over the Longhorns.

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TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson is known for being an exceptional defensive coach and that has shown to be a huge factor between these two teams in recent seasons with Texas failing to score more than 10 points in the last four meetings.

 

Texas Quarterback Sam Ehlinger has looked good so far this season with 723 yards for 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions but both came in the 1st game against Maryland and he has protected the football very well in his last 2 appearances. He also has 116 yards rushing with 2 touchdowns.  He will be looking to test the TCU defensive resolve but will need a bit more help from his run game which hasn’t put up great numbers so far this season.

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TCU on the other hand will be relying on their run game to cause a lot of damage to the Texas defensive lines. Darrius Anderson will be leading the line for the Horned Frogs and last week showed just how explosive he can be with a 93 yard running touchdown. Add that to the dual threat of quarterback Shawn Robinson who has 3 rushing touchdowns this season and you can see that the ground game will be key for TCU.  Texas have given up and average of 3.3 yards per rushing attempt this season they must try to cut that down if they are to prevail this weekend. TCU will view this game as a good way to get their season back on track after last week’s loss to Ohio State and will feel they can still make the playoffs as Big 12 champions.

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This fixture has been running since 1897 and in the 120-year history the Longhorns hold the best record with 62 wins compared to TCU’s 25 and a single draw but the last 10 results have seen the teams win 5 each with TCU winning the last four games very convincingly.

 

ESPN power index has Texas as favourites for this weekend’s fixture but I disagree, I think it has the makings of a fantastic game but I believe that TCU will be too strong for the Longhorns.

 

With over 100,000 crazed Texas Football fans expected to pack out Texas memorial stadium, you can beat there will be a great atmosphere for the game.

 

TCU@Texas kicks off at 21.30 BST!

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Fan Frustration

Call me old fashioned, but I like when my teams win. And not just win, but win easily. Comfortably.  And call me spoiled, but I expect the football teams that I follow (Notre Dame in College Football and the Steelers in the NFL) to win. A lot.  When you support two teams of this caliber, you become accustomed to winning. Granted, there is the occasional blip or two but for the most part you can generally bank on the likes of the Steelers to be in the hunt for a championship when the playoffs roll around (maybe not so much Notre Dame)

In Notre Dame’s case, their campaign to date has been underwhelming. An electric home win over arch rival Michigan aside, Notre Dame have been flat. And as much as I love them, I don’t think they deserve to be ranked at #8 nationally. Back to back games against unranked opponents that should have been easy wins were a lot closer than desired. The Defense has been stout, creating key turnovers whereas offense the offense has been far from impressive, save for a few big plays. The Irish will be tested in 2 weeks’ time when the 7th ranked Stanford come to South Bend. If they want to have any hope of being considered in the same sentence as Clemson and Alabama.  From a fans perspective, we should have blown out Ball State and Vanderbilt. We showed have buried them. But instead we had to watch a Quarterback consistently miss throws and act exasperated about it. Just imagine how we feel watching you buddy.

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Me too Brian, Me too.

As for the Steelers, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in Pittsburgh but it is not good.  All I know is that they have aged me immeasurably after the past two weeks. After an antagonizing week one display in a wet and windy Cleveland we all expected a drastic improvement in their home opener. That never materialized. A shell-shocked secondary gave up 3 passing touchdowns in the 1st quarter and wasn’t much better from then on.  Mahomes had receivers open all day. The Steelers pulled it back through Big Ben’s fantastic play and grit, but ultimately fell short. The fans weren’t the only ones frustrated by the subpar performance. Star receiver Antonio Brown was seen heatedly expressing himself to his Offensive Coordinator on the side-line, clearly unhappy with either the play calling or the teams overall performance. Browns absence from the team facilities on Monday only served to further reveal that all is not well within the Steelers.  The Steelers are one of the league’s most reliable and rocksteady team, but one or two more losses and the season could be over before it really even got a chance to begin.

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Every Steelers fan last Sunday

As a diehard fan I’ll still watch and support my teams, even if they continue to play average to poor football. Even though I’m frustrated, I’m still a fan. And that’s what real fans do.

 

 

College Football Game of the Week: LSU@Auburn

By Niall O’Hara

So this week when I looked at the fixtures, there is only one game that could be the game of the week: the clash of two SEC powerhouses as No.7 ranked Auburn host No.12 ranked LSU in the ‘Tiger Bowl’.

For Auburn and coach Gus Malzahn this weekend’s home game is seen as a must win if they are to really challenge for the SEC title and playoff place this season.With road trips to Mississippi State and Alabama still to come a loss at home to LSU would put huge pressure on the war eagle to win out. After a good win against a good Washington team in week 1 and a blowout of Alabama State last week Auburn will be looking to build more momentum in week three against a very strong LSU team with a very fast and disruptive defence. Jared Stidham is going to have to be on his toes and the run game strong with Kam Martin leading the line for Auburn.

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LSU are looking to make a statement against Auburn that they are not to be overlooked this year. With a good win against the Miami hurricanes in Week 1 and an easy game against Southeastern Louisiana last week, The LSU tigers will be aware that they are perceived as underdogs with the bookmakers. Quarterback Joe Burrow will be looking to take this opportunity to show that he is the man to lead this LSU team after being overlooked for the starting job at Ohio State. With 290 yards and 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, Burrow will be looking to build on a solid start to the season.

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LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron will be looking to his run game to really help out his offence this week with a healthy 347 yards and 4 touchdowns so far this season. Nick Brossette has been the main man for the LSU run game and the fourth year running back will be looking to improve on his already impressive 262 yards and 2 touchdowns so far. With the history between these two teams a great atmosphere can be expected at Jordan-Hare stadium on Saturday. In the 117-year history between these teamsplaying 53 games the LSU tigers lead the football score 29-22 with only a single draw in the history of the fixture in 1941.

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In last season’s game Auburn jumped out to a 20–0 lead early in the second quarter by scoring on each of their first four possessions.  LSU cut Auburn’s lead to 23–21 at the start of the fourth quarter with a 75-yard punt return that brought the Tiger Stadium crowd into hysteria. LSU took its first lead of the game, 24–23, on a 42-yard field goal. LSU added on a 36-yard field goal to make it 27–23 with 38 seconds left. Auburn’s final drive ended with three straight incompletions and a sack, as LSU pulled off a fantastic comeback upset.

 

LSU @ Auburn kicks off at 8.30pm BST. Don’t take your eyes off this one as its sure to be a closely contested game right to the final play.

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Football is Back! NFL Sunday Round Up

Well folks, we made it! The first NFL Sunday of 2018 is in the books. And boy was it interesting. For some us it was a heart stopping, nerve wrecking affair while for others the drudgery of the previous season carried over to the new one. In many cases it wasn’t pretty, but the job got done. One thing is for sure, the highs and lows of any given Sunday are back in full swing. Here’s what stood out to us after Week 1:

 

Browns (sorta) snap their losing streak

Torrential rain made for a sloppy affair for both sides as the Steelers opened their season away to the Browns for the second year in a row. And this matchup was a lot tighter than a year ago. The Browns much improved Defense forced 6 turnovers( causing steelers fans to go a little bit greyer in the process) and Tryod Taylor did just enough to claw back in the fourth quarter and force Overtime. The browns squandered the first possession, but dodged a bullet when the Steelers missed a potentially game winning field goal. Despite stand out performances from TJ Watt and James Conner for the Steelers, they ultimately shot themselves in the foot. Both sets of fans will be feeling a bit “meh” after this one and will look to improve in Week 2

James Conner had strong game in his first start 

Aaron Rodgers rallies

When Aaron Rodgers went down under a wave of Chicago Bears and started clutching his hamstring, Packers fans thought their season was over. Rodgers cut a forlorn figure as  he was carted off and backup QB Kizer took over. Kizer performed well initially. But then he met Khalil Mack. The new Bear turned the second year pro out of Notre Dame over twice in 2 series, scoring a pick 6 in the process. But then Aaron Rodgers rallied, and really earned his money. He brought the Packers back from the dead and snatched victory from the jaws of the reinvigorated Chicago Bears. Rodgers threw a couple of absolute dimes, including a ridiculous 50 yard bomb to the back of the endzone for a spectacular catch. Now that the bears are finally competitive again, the NFC North just got interesting.

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Aaron Rodgers gets mauled by the Bears ( Get it?) 

Gambling on football is risky business

When I joined my team’s last man standing league, paid my entry fee and picked the Steelers as my week 1 team. I was quietly confident. Roethlisberger has more wins at First Energy Stadium  than any Browns QB since 1999. So you can imagine why I presumed that I’d sail through week 1 without a care. This was not the case. As I stated above ( the Steelers really got to me this week) they turned the ball over 6 times. 6! My nerves were absolutely shot. Putting money on a game certainly gives it more weight. If the Steelers had lost and I hadn’t bet on them, I’d be mildly miffed. But now I’m ticked off! Ladies and gents if you’re going to bet on American football, professional or otherwise, do yourself a favour and make sure that it’s an absolute given. Otherwise you’ll end up like me: out after week one.

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College Football Game of the Week:UCLA @ Oklahoma

By Niall O’Hara

 

Having a scan across this weekend’s College football fixtures and the one that pops out is UCLA @ Oklahoma.  These are two household names and excellent programs in college football.

The Sooners last year narrowly lost in double overtime to Georgia in the College football playoff semi-final and this year will be looking to go a step further and make it to the playoff final. The Bruins on the other hand, are in transition with New Head Coach Chip Kelly after finishing 6-7 last season and they will be looking to improve on that record.

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After a disappointing start to the Chip Kelly era at The Rose Bowl this past weekend against Cincinnati, the Bruins will be looking to cause an upset this weekend when they travel to play The Oklahoma Sooners who have one of the best home records in college football. The biggest issue is that the Bruins didn’t win a single game on the road last season.

Despite last week’s loss, Kazmeir Allen the 3-star recruit freshman got off to a flying start with 5 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown, picking up where he left off in high school where he scored 72 touchdowns in his senior year at Tulare Union HS setting a new California state record.  With new Head Coach Chip Kelly at the reigns at UCLA it will be very interesting to see the schemes that the former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles Head coach will come up with to best use the lighting quick running back.

 

A big problem for UCLA is the fitness of Quarterback Wilton Speight who had to leave last weekend’s game with a back injury and is “day to day” on whether he makes it back for the Oklahoma game, with Speight having missed a season previously with a back problem the coaches might not rush him back.

In stark contrast The Sooners coming off week 1 look like a very strong team who will challenge this season for the playoffs.  The number 6 ranked Sooners took on Florida Atlantic and their head coach Lane Kiffin but the Owls failed to test the Sooners in the 63-14 blowout. Perhaps this week UCLA will be able to give Oklahoma a much sterner test.

 

With Quarterback Kyler Murray looking very good in his season opener with 9/11 pass completions 209 yards and 2 touchdowns and the quality in depth of the running back core lead by Rodney Anderson who altogether ran up 319 yards and 5 touchdowns, they look a very dangerous outfit and if the Sooners get into a groove early it could end up being a long day for Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins.The Bruins defence managed to get 4 sacks against the Owls offence but gave up over 200 yards in rushing which could spell big trouble against this Sooners run game.

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I believe that the Sooners will get the win in this week’s match up and they are heavy favourites in the betting odds, but with the talent on show the game could well be very entertaining.  And with Chip Kelly being involved you just never know what could happen.

UCLA @ Oklahoma kicks off at 6pm(BST) on Saturday 8th of September. (Ideal for fans this side of the pond!)

 

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All the ways to watch college football in Ireland

Rivalry. Cheerleaders. Marching Bands. School Spirit. These are just some of the things that make college football great.  And week one of the CFP certainly did not disappoint. Penn State eked out an overtime win against an unranked opponent, while Notre Dame claimed a home win over their Rivals Michigan. With more and more Irish American football fans now opting to support a college team as well as an NFL one, there is growing demand for ways to watch. And while college games are not as widely available as the NFL, there are still ways and means. Read on to find out more…

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Penn State won in overtime 

BT Sports ESPN

Does anyone remember ESPN America?  Formally free with Sky Sports, ESPN America aired “College Gameday” (ESPN’s College Football Pregame show) followed by three choice matchups.  I have fond memories of being pasted to the couch for 12 hours straight on a Saturday, soaking up all the College football I could get. Those were heady days.  ESPN America is now BT Sports ESPN, and funnily enough, you need to pay an extra subscription to your Sky Sports package to watch. As irksome as this is, College Football is being broadcast in Ireland and that in itself is huge.

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College Gameday is one of the best pre game sports shows in America.

ESPN College Pass

If you’re more than a casual college fan then the ESPN Player may be for you. With the ESPN NCAA College pass you get access to every game that ESPN has the rights to broadcast. And according to their website, that’s over 700 per season.  The monthly pass start’s at €22 per month and you can get a 7 day free trial here.  The Annual pass also gives you access to the SEC Network, ESPN U, as well as a number of added benefits. And you won’t need a VPN  to watch

Streaming Sites

Let us preface this section by saying that in no way shape or form do we condone illegal streaming sites. Now that we’ve covered ourselves, we can unofficially recommend First Row Sports as the best of a fairly poor bunch. You really have to get lucky to get a decent stream, and you can be sure that it will cut out several times. We’d also recommend having a pop up blocker installed, otherwise you’ll be plagued.  Streaming anything can be a bit hit or miss, so if you’re serious about your college football it is most definitely worthwhile investing in Sky or ESPN online.

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College football is for the diehards 

Not such a Classic: No College Ball for Ireland in 2018

In recent years, American football fans in Ireland have grown accustomed to hosting college football games on our shores. Since 2012, there have been 3 high profile regular season tilts held in Dublin. In 2012, the Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish spanked Navy in the Aviva stadium in front of an adoring crowd in the Aviva stadium. Despite technically being the away team in that instance, Notre Dame very much felt like the home side and the reception of the few Irish people who actually managed to obtain tickets was hugely positive.  2014’s matchup between Penn State and UCF was a much closer affair, with Penn State needing a last second field goal to claim the Croke Park Classic Trophy.  And then in 2016, a damp crowd in the Aviva watched as Georgia Tech slipped and slid to a lack lustre victory over a dispirited Boston College side.

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With the pattern of a game every 2 years firmly established, we eagerly awaited the announcement for 2018’s permutation of an “Irish College Football Classic. Alas, no such announcement ever came. And now with the 2018 college football season almost in full swing, it seems increasingly unlikely that Irish soil will see a game this year.  But given the success of past games, both commercially tourism wise and in boosting the profile of college football here, you have to wonder why?

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Notre Dame players rocking tri colour cleats and gloves for the special occasion.

In the run up to the 2016 edition, a rumour began that the game was in jeopardy. How come? The governing body for Irish American Football were allegedly refusing to sanction, or sign off, on the game taking place. The word was that the Irish league wanted recognition from the organisers and would not give their blessing for the game to go ahead unless they were acknowledged (and probably paid a slice of the revenue.) The fact that such a relatively small organisation had the potential to threaten a multi-million euro venture may have seemed laughable at the time, but those events likely left a sour taste. Why go to all the trouble of bringing sporting powerhouses all the way across the Atlantic to have it ruined over such a silly and petty row? It’s now highly likely that potential organisers will be put off simply because they don’t want the hassle.

Flies in the football ointment aside, college football programs have to make considerable sacrifices to come all the way to Ireland to play. The more canny fans will have copped that the home team is always the smaller of the two programs squaring off. Notre Dame or Penn State would never give up a home game to play on the other side of the pond, simply because it’s not worth it. Schools like these make billions off TV rights. In fact, the money that TV networks pay these programmes to exclusively air their football games is typically most of their income for the year, along with ticket sales.  Big time teams simply cannot afford to sacrifice a home game for something that to them is little more than a holiday.

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The Aviva stadium witnessed a thumping as ND put up 50 on Navy.

 

While we will never know for sure why the NCAA didn’t return to Eire in 2018, an educated guess would point to a number of internal and external factors such as the ones alluded to above.  All we can do as fans is hope that someday we will once again see College Football played in our capital, and that this time we won’t screw it up.

The point of the preseason.

For many fans, the NFL preseason is akin to an oasis in a barren dessert. For the die hards and fanatics it is the first sip of football after the long drought of the off season. And while many disregard off season football because it “doesn’t count”, these exhibition games serve a number of key purposes in the football universe.

First and foremost, the preseason is essential for the players to get re- acclimatized to the rigors of full contact football.  It’s one thing lifting in the off season, but once you put the pads on all bets are off. This rings especially true for rookies. There is a big difference between getting hit in college, and getting hit in the pros. The game is faster and harder. Preseason games enable new players to get used to the physical demands of professional football.  On the flip side, preseason is unfortunately a time when rookies are more prone to getting injured. Just this week, promising 1st year running back Derrius Guice tore his ACL. Guice was Leonard Fournette’s back up at LSU and is considered to be even better than his former teammate . Unfortunately, we probably won’t find out this season.

 

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Promising rookie back Derrius Guice will miss the season

 

The preseason equally essential for coaches and team management as it is for players.  The slate of ‘friendly’ games allows teams to evaluate their roster in a live action environment. Coaches can only learn so much about the players during practice and it often takes a couple of full games to fully find out what their rookies and new players are capable of and how they fit into the teams plans. The first few weeks of the football year are effectively a big,physical violent audition where close to 100 athletes compete to get a spot on the teams roster.  This competitiveness often leads to sparks flying in practice, which serves to add some excitement and entertainment to the preseason.

And finally, despite popular belief, the preseason is designed for you – the fan. Let’s be real, there’s no such thing as too much football. The NFL knows that by summers end we’re literally starving for football. The preseason gives us all an extra four opportunities to watch our favourite team in action. But the League’ motives behind the preseason are far from altruistic. More games means more money. So while the fans benefit from extra football, the league also benefits from extra revenue.

So why does the preseason exist? Players get to play. Coaches get to coach. Fans get to fan and the league gets paid.  That’s the point of the preseason.

Last Chance Review

Different City. Same Drama.

Last night I finally finished Season 3 of Last Chance U, and jaysus me bleeding Nuurves!! The last slow motion pass with half a second left on the clock was just not fair and gave me flashbacks to the season 1 finale of Friday Night Lights!

And while it was certainly refreshing to move away from Scooba and get the perspective of a different town and a different team, we couldn’t help but feel that the show has developed three noticeable themes that it uses to drive the story and the drama forward. These motifs were solidly established during the first two seasons, and in fairness you can’t really blame the show’s creators for keeping them for the third season. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” These elements are what makes the show so captivating.  The show gives us characters that we can relate to, empathise with, and root for. And that’s why we all love Last Chance U!

  1. The prickly but caring coach.

Buddy Stephens was no stranger to expletive laden rants or starting brawls with game officials. He took no shit from his players or his staff, and if he wasn’t happy with you he’d let you know. Jason Brown is no different, and is possible even fonder of swearing. He openly cusses out players during practice, and even more during games! But beneath their tough exterior, these men are big softies. They care deeply about their players and want to see them exceed. Their number one priority is graduating these young men and getting them ready for life after football.  The ultimate proof that Jason Brown is a big softie? He got himself a puppy!

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JB on one of his epic rants.

  1. The concerned teacher.

Since she left Scooba after Season 2, Brittany Wagner has rocketed to international fame. “Do you have a Pencil?” has become a household phrase, and Brittany has successfully launched her own education consulting company. Miss Wagner was essentially a mother to the players in East Mississippi. She made sure they got to class, that they ate, and that they kept out of trouble. Her relationship with Ronald Ollie was particularly heart-warming and it was clear to see how he grew under her care. In the latest season, LaTonya Pinkard the English teacher takes on this role. She makes it her business to get the players to see that they are more than just football players, that they have the potential to go further. In her unofficial role as counsellor, she forces the athletes to think past football. She forces them to take their academics seriously and does her best to motivate them. She may not be Brittany Wagner, but she’s not a bad replacement!

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Ms Pinkard cared about her students

  1. The guy who just can’t get out of his own way.

Within 3 days of Season 2 being released, talented running back Isaiah Wright was arrested on the suspicion of being involved in a murder. He had being hanging out with some friends in his hometown and had gotten caught up in something he could have easily avoided. Outside the structure that college life provided and away from watchful eyes, he had fallen back into old habits. And those old habits got him locked up. Now I’m not saying he would have gone pro, but he could have easily gone to a better school and gotten a degree.  Bobby Bruce was the tragic figure of Season 3. From a tough environment, he saw the NFL as his only escape. Resistant at the start, he eventually put his head down and showed some potential as a student. But just like Isaiah, once Bobby was away from the structure of college, he got into trouble. And who knows if he’ll get another  last chance? We’ll have to wait for Season 4 to find out.

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Ah Bobby, what will we do with ya?!

Getting away with it.

Jameis Winston has been officially suspended by the NFL for three games. His ban comes on the heels of a sexual assault claim made against him by a female uber driver. In 2016, she alleged that Winston groped her while she was driving him in Arizona. This is not the first time that the star QB has been accused of sexual assault. It is, however, the first time that he’s been held accountable and punished. In 2012, a Florida State student accused the Seminoles signal caller of raping her.  The University “investigated” her claims. No charges were ever brought against him, and he remained a starter. In fact, the only time that Winston was reprimanded during his career was two years later when he was suspended for one game. One single game. Why? He cursed in public. Apparently cursing in public is more cause for punishment than assaulting a fellow student.

Unfortunately, instances like this are pretty common in big time college programs. Football players like Winston are valuable assets to the team and to the university. Both financially and sportingly. In cases where accusations are levelled, the first thing the university will do is bring in its own high powered and well payed lawyers. Then, along with local police, they’ll conduct an investigation. In Winston’s case, the university felt that their code of behaviour had not been broken, and thus he went unscathed. It is also likely that his accuser faced huge pressure from the university to back down and drop her claims. Maybe she was threatened.  By failing to punish Winston, they set a precedent: that it’s okay to do this to women and get away with it. And now he’s done it again. Only this time he’s a professional football player, employed by the NFL. And the NFL had no choice but to suspend him. Their image is already so tarnished that to not punish him would have caused uproar on a Ray Rice level. Remember him? He was caught on tape KO’ing his fiancee and now he’s unemployed. And rightfully so.

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Winston was the star QB at Florida State

Dede Westbrook is another, if not as high profile, example of talented and valuable players getting away with it. In 2012 before he became and Oaklahome State Cowboy, Westbrook was twice accused by his ex girlfriend of assault and battery. These are felony charges. But did face charges? Of course not. His accuser refused to cooperate with the investigators, likely under duress. OSU claimed to have had no idea about his past, but who doesn’t do a background check? The likelihood is that they wanted to recruit him, and so were the ones pulling the strings to have him avoid charges.

Maybe the NFL’s punishment of a high profile player will make younger college players stop and think before they act. Maybe this is wishful thinking because as long as Universities enable football players and refuse to hold them accountable, the toxic cycle will remain unbroken.

Taking a Knee

At the NFL Spring meeting in May, owners unanimously passed a new national Anthem rule: Stand or pay. If you want to be on the side-line with your teammates for the anthem, then you better be standing. Otherwise, you’ll be penalised, both in fines and in yards.

The 2017 season was a tumultuous one for the NFL. The “kneel for justice” movement sparked by the 49ers erstwhile QB Kaepernick turned into a league wide wildfire, with high profile players such as Malcolm Jenkins and Marshawn Lynch abstaining from standing for the anthem. Their goal, and the goal of all the players who knelt: to make people aware of the rife social injustices (particularly police brutality against African Americans) occurring across the country. These individual displays of altruism soon led to a more unified approach from teams. Players were joined by coaches, executives and in some cases even owners, in a display of solidarity.  The Pittsburgh Steelers even went as far as to remain off the field entirely until the anthem was over.

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Protesting quickly became a team effort

As to be expected, the paying fans and general public alike were not pleased. Boo’s rained down and millions took to social media to voice their disdain. Twitter aficionado Donald Trump was personally affronted, citing the peaceful protest as an attack on the flag and what it represented. He claimed that by kneeling, the athletes were disrespecting members of the US military and their hard work and sacrifice. He publicly called for any players who knelt or otherwise during the national anthem to be fired.  Trumps borderline dictatorial blustering was set up as a smokescreen to distract from the very issues that these players were trying to highlight. By labeling them as unpatriotic he turned the majority of the population against them. The leagues TV revenue suffered as a result. This dip in profit, more than anything likely tipped the owners hand in making the anthem compulsory.

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What the players were doing was in fact the exact opposite of unpatriotic. They were using their platform as public figures to draw attention to the fact that America isn’t perfect, despite the commonly held belief to the contrary. They were disrupting the American dream of football on a Sunday and forcing their countrymen to acknowledge that their society was a fractured one. But football is meant to unite, not divide. And so the country turned on them.

One thing is clear: This issue is not going away. Only recently, Trump dis-invited the entire Philadelphia Eagles organisation from their Superbowl victory visit to the Whitehouse. By doing so, he stoked the flames of this highly incendiary issue. Granted, certain players had already stated that they would not attend due to the president’s lack of action taken on social reform. Trump decided to throw his own celebration out of spite, and you can imagine how that went down in Philly. But that’s a different story.  Kaepernick may be currently out of the league, but his actions off the field are having more impact than they ever did on it. He has truly become a philanthropist and is using his highly visible position to help those in need. That’s all the protests were ever about.

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These Eagles have long been proponents of social reform

The League can fine and penalize all it wants, but you can bet that the players that want to help and fight for justice will find a way to do just that.

The Comeback Kids

Sporting comebacks come in many shapes and sizes, as the result of different factors and forces. The necessity to forge a comeback is often born of circumstances outside of one’s control: the main culprit being injury. Many promising NFL careers have been gravely derailed as the result of injury, some before they even managed to take off.  On the other hand, being shut out and having to fight your way back in can also come down to a player’s performance and actions on and off the field. Let’s take a look at the most high profile players hoping for their shot at restitution this season.

(Note: I had a whole paragraph written on Johnny Manziel until I realized he had recently signed for the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL. It may not be the NFL, but it still counts. Good job Johnny.)

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Johnny is finally back on the field.

 

  1. Colin Kaepernick

I’m probably one of the few people that actually rate Colin as a starting quarterback. He’s ridiculously athletic and has a better arm than some quaterbacks who currently have a job. Colin’s downfall (aside from his best Marouane Fellaini hair impression) was his decision to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. His protest in the name of social justice combined with a subpar streak of play ultimately became his ticket out of the bay area. Now it has become obvious, though yet unproven, that NFL owners are colluding to keep him out of a job. The only way that Kaepernick makes it back to even a backup role is if one brave team exec decides to break rank and sign him. That’s a big if. Kaepernick’s days may not be completely numbered, but odds on him playing this year are slim.

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Colin’s protests isolated him from the League

 

  1. Andrew Luck

Luck missed the entire 2017 with a shoulder injury, and has yet to throw a football post surgery. You can’t help but feel that, if he returns, that this is a make or break year for Luck. Having being selected 1st overall in 2012, Luck is far from a bust. However, he has yet to bring Lombardi to Indy. Luck’s biggest comeback obstacle is being in uniform for the season opener, and staying in uniform for the whole season.  The Colts have not had a playoff appearance since 2014, but they might be inclined to be more patient with Luck given the circumstances. According to Peyton Manning, who is unquestionably qualified  on the topic of making a comeback, the key to Luck’s successful return is reps. To throw as early and often as possible and to get back into the rhythm of the position. Hopefully Andrew will take the Sheriff’s advice.

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Will Andrew be lucky enough to make it back on the field?

 

  1. Colour Rush Uniforms.

Opinions are mixed on this one. The Jets v Bills Red on Green jersey debacle was undoubtedly a nightmare for color-blind spectators, but the color rush uniforms add an extra level of fun to games. Initially trialed as a method of making Thursday night football bearable, the jerseys were slowly rolled out to more games.  There was talk a while back of scrapping them altogether. That would be a mistake. Not only do they increase engagement with fans, they act as an additional layer of revenue for teams and the league, which they shouldn’t be complaining about. Although I’d happily have them scrap the truly atrocious mustard yellow outfit the Redskins wore 2 seasons ago!

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These were truly awful.

Making the Cut

“Faith and perseverance always pay off” Weslye Saunders.

Draft Day has come and gone and while some NFL prospects were lucky enough to hear their names called, others will have to take the harder path to making a roster as undrafted free agents. The Draft, however, was just the beginning. The real competition starts now and rookies and vets alike compete for a coveted spot on a team’s final 53 man roster.

One player who knows better than maybe anyone just how tough it is to make a roster is Tight End Wes Saunders. Wes was primed as a high pick in the 2011 draft, but suffered an unfortunate injury just weeks beforehand. He was ultimately forced to take the tougher path to the NFL. Wes has played for two teams in his career and continues to work relentlessly to keep his playing career alive.

We sat down with Wes to gain a first-hand perspective into the journey of making the cut, from pre-draft preparation right through to currently fighting and grinding for the opportunity to make a team.

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Wes in action for the Steelers

GG: Tell us about your pre-draft process? How did you prepare for the draft to put yourself in the best position to be drafted?

WS: Well, upon entering the draft in 2011, I was predicted to be a high pick. So NIKE sponsored my NFL combine training in Dallas, TX at the Michael Johnson Performance Center. Under their awesome tutelage, I turned my body into a machine! But unfortunately, I overdid my training just a bit, and suffered a fracture in my foot just weeks before the combine. I tried to ‘tough it out’ during a few events but the pain was too unbearable. 

 

GG: Did you expect to be drafted?

WS: I fully expected to be drafted! But in the back of my mind, I knew what I was up against. I had just missed my entire senior season, I had recently broken my foot, and I was not able to showcase my physical gifts at the NFL combine…it was a ‘perfect storm’ so to speak.

 

GG: After going undrafted, how did it feel when you finally got picked up by a team?

WS: Once the NFL lockout was over and I was picked up by the Steelers, I was overcome with emotion. Feelings of joy, of course, but also of intense desire. As an undrafted player, I knew I had to TAKE my spot on the roster. But ‘undrafted’ was just a word to me. It didn’t mean sh*t. I knew I was the man. Still that 1st round talent. I just had to make sure the world saw it!

GG: How hard was it to make the final 53 man roster? 

WS: Making the roster in 2011 was one of the tougher obstacles I’ve faced. Following a +3 month lockout, teams and players were put in a precarious situation. We were essentially forced to have a full training camp/preseason in only 14 days. Unheard of! But thankfully, I had Heath Miller and a plethora of other Steeler veterans to turn to. In a matter of 2 weeks, I elevated my game from that of a rookie, to a seasoned NFL player.  Teammates such a Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward, helped me hone in, prepare my body, and execute my job in ways I hadn’t known before! I was really blessed to have those guys around me.

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Wes looking good in white!

GG: What did it feel like when you found out you had made the final roster?

WS: When I found out I made the roster, I felt slight relief. For about 2 seconds. Then my attention turned to the season

GG: You’ve spent time with both the Steelers and the Colts. What major differences did you find between the two teams?

WS: When I arrived to the Steelers, we were the ‘oldest’ team in the NFL. Guys like James Farrior, Brett Kiesel and a slew of other veterans stacked out roster. But when I got to the Colts in 2012, we were literally the youngest team in the NFL! It was Andrew Luck’s first season, and the club’s 1st without the great Peyton Manning. So we were really trying to find our identity. Then Coach Pagano got sick, and we instantly rallied together and found our purpose. Made the playoffs after being picked to finish LAST in the NFL!

 GG: For you, what was the hardest part to making an NFL Roster?

WS: The hardest part for me about making an NFL roster was the predicament I put myself in prior to the draft. Had I fulfilled my obligations in college, I would have been a 1st round selection, and the road would have been ‘paved,’ figuratively speaking. Being an undrafted player makes the road that much tougher for you! When an NFL team has no real money invested in you,that makes you disposable. So there’s much more to prove. But I wouldn’t trade the path I took for anything! I seem to thrive under that kind of pressure. And I truly believe that everything happens exactly the way it’s supposed to.

 

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Saunders as a Steeler, being tackled by a future Colt teammate. 

 

GG: Now that you’re a free agent, how do you put yourself in the best position to get signed by an NFL Team?

WS:Well, I was hoping you might have some insight on that? Haha But seriously, just staying in shape and staying on the phone with teams is the best way to stay relevant. Being ready when my time comes is the most important thing. 

 GG: Is it hard to stay motivated?

WS: It’s not hard to stay motivated because of my passion for football. If I wasn’t an elite player, or if I didn’t absolutely love the game, I don’t think I could remain this dedicated. But faith and perseverance always pay off!

GG: If you could pick any team to play for in the league, who would it be and why?

WS: I’d pick the team who puts their best players on the field!

 

Talking with Wes really gives you a sense of how everything needs to align perfectly for you to make it as pro football player. There are no guarantees, no matter how good you are. From everyone at Gaelic Gridiron, we wish Wes all the best in chasing his NFL dream and we hope a team sees his potential!

Life After Football

This week, legendary Linebacker James Harrison hung up his cleats for the last time. And while Quarterbacks everywhere blew a collective sigh of relief, we can’t help but wonder what’s next for ol’ Deebo. Harrison hinted in an Instagram post that he was done with football for good, citing “missing too much” family life as his main motivator.  This may well be true, but more often than not players of Harrison’s vaunted calibre can never really truly leave the game.

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Offensive Lines can breathe easy as James Harrison Retires

 

There are three paths that recent NFL retiree’s typically take. These are: Commentating, Coaching or Creating.

Commentate.

Recently retired NFL players often make the best commentators and analysts on the sport. They are fresh off the field and bring with them a wealth of football knowledge. Troy Aikman, Ray Lewis and most recently Tony Romo have all successfully transitioned to the broadcast booth.  In fact, broadcast journalism seems to be the most popular post playing path for new retirees of the NFL. Most television networks, particularly the NFL’s own will have a number of high profile former players on their roster. Even the likes of NFL bust Tim Tebow managed to land himself a TV gig and is now a side-line analyst on the SEC College Football Network!

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Tony Romo has proven to be popular and successful in the booth!

Coach.

For erstwhile players who are a little more camera shy, an opportunity to join the coaching ranks is often presented.  New coaches will usually start at lower positional levels and progress up the chain. Players who were plain average in their careers such as Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh developed into championship winning head coaches. Harbaugh in particular has had success at all three of his head coaching stops, and is considered to be one of the most passionate and motivated head coaches in college football.  Players looking to take the step into coaching often start out with their old team.  For example former Steelers Linebackers Joey Porter and Jerry Oslavsky now serve as positional Linebacker coaches with the team.  New retirees bring playing experience and knowledge as well as being able to relate to players on the team, making them the perfect candidates for coaching positions.

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Jim Harbaugh is one of the most successful former players to Coach in the NFL

Create.

There are more budding entrepreneurs in the NFL than you might think! Competition for a roster spot is fierce, and you’ll never know when you’ll need to rely on yourself to generate an income. A prime example is Chris Gronkowski (yes, that Gronkowski family). Chris bounced around four NFL teams before finally leaving the league. His NFL pension wasn’t cutting it so he took his fortune in his own hands and founded a sports nutrition company. Many players will also invest in businesses while still playing. These investments give them a cushion against eventual retirement. For instance, Peyton Manning previously owned a large stake in the Papa John pizza chain. In fact, when he was traded to the Broncos, he bought every Papa Johns store in the Denver area! Smart (and tasty) move!

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Peyton Manning and Papa John

 

Whatever path is taken by ex players, there most definitely is life after football!

Draft Day: Bust or Boom?

 

In just 3 weeks time, the top College Football prospects will gather in Arlington Texas for what will be a defining moment in their prospective professional careers. Mock Drafts and speculation have been rife for weeks in the build up to draft day. And while some of this years prospects are expected to be instant successes in the pro football league, there are simply no guarantees and no way of knowing.  Out of the top 10 players available in this year’s draft there is going to be at least one in the category of ‘boom’ and another that is firmly designated as a ‘bust’.

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There have been quite a few notable draft busts in recent years. For the unitiated, a draft bust is a college player who had an outstanding college career but subsequesntly struggled and eventually burned out once hitting the pro ranks.  In the past ten years, big names such as Robert Griffin, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon (remember him?) have all tried their hand at professional football. All have since fallen by the wayside.

For me, the two biggest busts in Draft history come at the QB position. Can anyone guess who? That’s right. Johnny Manziel ( I know I keep picking on you buddy, I’m sorry)  and Ryan Leaf.  In many ways, the path taken by Ryan leaf foreshadowed the fate of Johnny Manziel. A hotshot college Quarterback who suffered with many issues, mainly of the substance variety.  Both contended for the Heisman. Both came out of college highly recruited only to succumb to the pressures of professional football. In fact, Ryan Leaf is still ranked as the “Number 1 Draft Bust in NFL History”.

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Manziel seems to have cleaned up his act and is on the slow road back to redemption. But even if he does stop drinking and the party lifestyle,  is his skill set enough to compete at the upper level?

On the flip side of the “bust” comes the “boom!” and this years boom player in the draft is none other than Saquon Barkley out of Penn State.  Barkley can run the ball hard, catch like a receiver and even return kicks. He’s a true threat in all three phases. He deserves to be drafted before any Quarterback in this class. But this is the NFL and it’s a Quarterback market.  Barkley reminds me a lot of Fournette, a powerful runner and another recent “draft boom”.

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No matter who go’s first overall, in the second round or even as the infamous “Mr Irrelevant” the 2018 Draft Class has a tonne of potential. We can’t wait to see Mayfield, Barkley and Co take the field in September, no matter where they land.

 

Free Agency Frenzy

Words: Patrick Flanagan Twitter:@padjoeflanagan

NFL Free Agency is well under way, and we’re all thinking the same thing – from fresh faced fanboys to seasoned veterans – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?
Like with most sports, the Free Agency period marks the conclusion of many players’ contracts who then become eligible to sign with a different team of their choice. As with most NFL institutions, Free Agency is guided by established practices and values that are often obsolete or nonsensical (Sometimes both!). We’re then left dazed and confused by the whirlwind of news, moves and dollar signs, wondering HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? Here we’ll try and explain some of the myths of Free Agency to make better sense of the madness.

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Free Agency is silly season in the NFL

Best Teams (Don’t) Get the Best Players

Unlike most other major sports, the majority of best players rarely sign with the best teams. There will be exceptions – Top FA Kirk Cousins will sign with the No. 4 ranked Vikings – however established contenders such as the Patriots, Steelers, and Superbowl Champs the Eagles, are unlikely to pursue the top players with top salaries. While the sporting incentives are high, the financial limitations and restrictions make it unlikely that the best Free Agents will join the best teams. There are a few reasons for this:

Firstly, the best teams usually have better players than those available through Free Agency. They are the best because they already have the talent to win, and continue to do so by ensuring their best players never become free agents in the first place. See: Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Fletcher Cox et. al.

The NFL Salary Cap is also a factor, as it regulates the total salary bill for each team meaning that each year the fifty three players on each squad can only be paid so much. In 2018 this will be approx. $177 million. Teams will always ensure that their own best players are signed first, ensuring quality, consistency and stability in the roster. This means, however, that Free Agency signings are more likely going to be low cost and unappealing to top free agents.

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Kirk Cousins is getting PAID

 

 

On the flip side, weaker teams are more likely to have less quality players and therefor more money to offer players. This presents the debate around the ‘Business’ side of the NFL and whether players should play for Superbowls or Supersized bank accounts. Players may decide that they can be the player to help a team become a contender – see Brock Osweiller to the Texans or Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins – but that rarely pans out. Ultimately however there are only so many roster spots on any given team and players will ultimately want to play somewhere where they are wanted.

 

Best Players Get the Most Money (Kinda)

Supply and Demand is one of the basic tenets of Economics, and is never proven more true than during NFL Free Agency. Every year we see players ‘Set the Market’, meaning that what they get paid establishes a precedent for what their peers can expect to be paid both this year and in the future. So when a backup Quarterback gets paid $16 million to start for a team, more decorated QBs will demand $25 million plus. This year it looks like the top options at O-Line, Wide Receiver and Cornerback will earn $12-$15 million meaning this will now be the baseline for any player of reasonable talent. Reasonable Talent is not The Best Talent, however in Free Agency it is often The Best Talent Available and therefore command premium prices. As mentioned above, the best players often do not reach free agency as their teams do everything they can to keep them. The more in demand a player is, the more likely an interested team is to offer more money than expected in order to land their target.

As a result, players who are not regarded anywhere near the best at their position sometimes become the best paid. Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo are now the two best paid players in the NFL. They combine for a playoff record of one game, one defeat, and will earn nearly $65 million between them in 2018. For context, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger will earn around the same amount combined, and have eight Superbowl victories between them.
Despite this abnormality, Rodgers is expected to become the highest paid player when his contract is renewed and other elite players point to these bloated contracts to ensure their own pay-days when the time comes and they become the highest paid player. This only lasts however until the next guy is available.

 

Guaranteed to Pay Off?

Without doubt, the most confusing part of Free Agency is the numbers. The millions of dollars players are paid, or are supposed to be paid. Because there are catches, lots of them.

The NFL is the only major league sport in the world where player contracts are not fully guaranteed, meaning that teams can prematurely terminate a player’s contract without having to meet the full financial commitment of the deal. As a result, teams will often cut/sack players to make financial savings, or when the player is not performing well, or after a player gets injured and cannot play for a longer period of time. Or when a player is playing on a non-guaranteed contract, the team can essentially force them to agree to a lesser contract or get cut for nothing. This has helped to create a cut-throat culture that fuels the intensity and desperation at which the game is often played.

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Some of the big names that have found a new home in Free Agency

Conditional payments like Signing Bonuses, Roster Bonuses, Performance Bonuses all serve to simultaneously give teams and players an opportunity to make the most of a contract, and also to make it appear more valuable to fans. Ultimately though if the money isn’t guaranteed, it likely won’t be paid before a contract is renegotiated or cut. To counter this, players negotiate guaranteed amounts in their contract which they will receive irrespective of their status on a roster. This is the best way to look at NFL contracts to determine their value. So if a player signs a four year contract for $60 million with $40 million guaranteed, what looks like a $15 million/year deal is actually a $10 million/year deal. If only three years are guaranteed then it works out more like $13 million/year.
2018 Free Agency however threatens to bring about a new era of contracts, as Kirk Cousins is expected to sign one of the first ever fully guaranteed contracts. Though shorter in length, it gives him security and control of his future which are premium assets to an NFL player. If that trend continues, we could see a very different NFL landscape in a very short space of time.

 

 

 

A Football Fan’s Guide to Surviving the NFL Off Season

The Superbowl Champions are heading to Disneyland, Johnny Manziel is making another comeback and two players have already been arrested for various misdeeds. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the NFL Offseason. The football drought is set to last until early August and NFL fans around the world are going to have to find another way to fill their Sundays. But fear not!  For those of you who just can’t stand to let go, there are some notable events taking place in Football land in the next few months which will hopefully hold you over.

The Combine

In a few days, Americas top college players will converge on Indianapolis for a week long showcase of their football abilities. Contesting a coveted spot on an NFL roster, these young men will be prodded, quizzed and tested in all matter of physical and mental tests. The highlights of the combine are undoubtedly the 40 yard dash and 100kg bench press.  The NFL combine kicks off on the 27th of February and you can watch it live on the NFL website.

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The Draft

Undoubtedly the highlight of the offseason, this year’s NFL Draft will take place from April 26th to 28th in the swanky surrounds of Cowboy Stadium.  Many hopeful NFL prospects will learn their fate in the first round, while some will have to wait until day 2 or 3. There have been some surprises in recent history, most notably future Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers falling to the midpoint of the first round. There have also been some huge busts. (Sorry Johnny, I really need to stop picking on you in my articles!) This year’s Draft class has some huge QB prospects as well as Penn States own Saquon Barkley. If you’re used to staying up to watch the late game on Sunday nights/Monday mornings then you can watch the Draft live on the NFL website.

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Training Camp

After a flurry of preseason activity and free agent moves, teams finally settle down and start playing football again. Training camps usually start in late June/early July and typically last about three weeks. The fresh faced rookies will attempt to make their case for a spot on the team and the established veterans will strive to keep theirs.  Although contact is limited in training camp, real football (well, preseason football) is by now just around the corner.

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How do you fill the dreaded NFL Off season and the long months of watching domestic sports? Let us know in the comments!

Super Bowl Island

On the night of February 4th, the underdog Eagles toppled the ever dominant Patriots to claim their first ever super bowl championship.  One of the most exciting Finals in recent history came right down to the wire and fully justified staying up until 4 in the morning.

Typically a handful of the same Dublin Pubs would open till the wee hours to show the whole game. But this year, Super Bowl viewership reached a whole new level in Dublin, and indeed across the Island of Ireland. Lured in with the promise of hotdogs, cheerleaders and beer punters both casual and hard-core alike were treated to a game that came right down to the final ill-fated pass.

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One of my favourite spots to watch the ‘big dance’ is the Woolshed on Parnell Street. And while the beer and hotdogs on offer here were on point, the cheerleaders were a major let down.

Most Irish teams have developed relationships with local venues and partnered up to bring Super Bowl parties to their local area. As well as the free promotion this offers clubs, it is a fantastic way of recruiting new players

Counting myself among the aforementioned hard core fan base, it was absolutely fantastic to see pubs and clubs up and down the country cash in on the growing popularity of American football in Ireland. Not only does increased hype of the super bowl raise the overall profile of the sport in Ireland( which is always helpful) it also leads to new players looking to take up the game.

Since it first kicked off in Ireland, American football has been in the distinct minority of sports played here. This minority status has often been reflected in the general lack of awareness and investment committed to its development. For a while it looked like football would always be stuck in rut and would never really take off. But this year’s coverage of the super bowl gave me hope. If football can continue to gain popularity as a mainstream sport then it can continue to grow and reach the huge potential that it has. Until that a certain level of popularity and acceptance is reached then American Football will never be taken seriously in this country.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots

Until that day comes, I’ll continue to find joy in watching Tom Brady getting sacked, losing the football and sitting forlornly as he realises that he’s lost the Superbowl.