It’s been a tough 18 months or so for American football in Ireland. Restrictions on gatherings and activities along with the cancellation of the kitted league for the second year running have really put a damper on teams development and momentum. We caught up with Meath Bulldogs Head Coach Michael Zito to get a first hand account of the difficulties his team have been facing recently.
GG:How have you been keeping your team united and motivated over the past 18 months?
MZ: It’s been extremely difficult as a coach who leads through motivation to keep spirits up when there hasn’t been much to look forward to.We had a big scrimmage lined up, but very disappointingly the night before we were told we had to have a full ambulance crew. So it was effectively cancelled the night before, which was very disappointing.
GG:Has the cancellation of the league for the second year in a row had a negative affect on your players and organization?
MZ: Certainly, we used to have a decent amount of money coming in from both players and our sponsor – Yeahburgr. But that faucet has been turned off.Our QB Mark actually went on a radio show and won and as a result we were able to buy new jerseys and pants. So yes, when there’s no money coming in there’s no money to do things.
GG: Has fitness and conditioning been an issue at all?
MZ: Yes – absolutely. Overall, the lads weren’t in football shape when they came back.
GG:When you came on board as head coach, what were your goals for the team?
MZ: Really just to have this team prepared and compete, and compete the right way. I wanted to have these guys accountable to their communities. If you are going to be a good man off the field then I can help you become better on it. Just to get them better on and off the pitch and just have them do great things.
GG: Tell us about your football philosophy and what you try to instill in your players.
MZ: Be prepared and be ready to play fitness wise and mentally. Go out there and play your heart out.
GG: What is your vision for the bulldogs for 2021 and beyond?
MZ: For me the vision is to start getting some younger guys into the club and to keep that motivation and interest. To have my vets become mentors and leaders. The vision for me now is to get these young men fit and prepared and coach them to compete every time we walk onto the field. We surprised the league two years ago but we’re not gonna sneak up on anyone this year. To just stay together and really put a great product together on the field.
Despite losing their momentum and facing a long road back, Coach Zito is optimistic about the Bulldogs odds. He speaks very highly about his “core group of guys” and is determined to drive his team back to success.
We wish the Bulldogs and all teams competing in the 2021 “season” the best of luck, and with a bit of luck American football in Ireland can more or less get back to normal in 2022.