After an abridged season in 2021, the only way is up for american football in ireland. While teams certainly made the most of what opportunities they were given, it is vital for the survival of the sport here that it is business as usual next year.
To get a better picture on what’s to come, we caught up with the President of American Football Ireland, the one and only Aidan Maguire.
GG: How has covid 19 affected American football in Ireland, from an operational point of view and also from a team/player point of view?
AM: Everything has been up in the air really since last March. We are an all island sport, so we haven’t really been able to structure anything properly with different restrictions. But we’ve been looking at it from a positive aspect. It’s given us the time to do an overall assessment of how we run the association as a national governing body. We’ve also been able to really push the recruitment outside of the sport in order to help it grow. As far as teams go then, all teams are returning which is great to see. Numbers are down, but that is to be expected.
GG: A number of new teams have formed recently, which is great to see. How fast is the sport growing across the country?
AM: Well, we’ve had the likes of WIT training throughout 2020 with the hope of joining in 2021. The biggest increase is in flag football teams joining up which is great. There’s always room for growth. What I’d like to see is flag teams that aren’t club specific, so you could have a team representing a company or a town, and grow the sport that way.
GG: What are the factors behind these clubs forming and how can they be successful?
AM: From what I’ve noticed in the past it’s been an expansion from players who have to travel far to play, so they will start up a team in their area. There’s been a massive increase in the number of flag football teams – it’s easier to get your ducks in a row for flag. Off the field work is just as important as on the field. If off the field isn’t right it’s not going to last. This is how clubs remain viable and keep going. It’s just as important to have this correct before the on the field stuff.
GG: What plans do AFI have to continually grow and promote American football in Ireland in the future?
AM: One of the things the league hasn’t had is a director of development. We’re lucky to have one on board now as a volunteer. His vision and ideas of how to grow the sport is something we haven’t had before. We’re hoping the ideas he has will be of benefit to the league and to our members. We’re also hoping to get funding for a games promotion officer to go out to speak to schools and build a base for youth football and women’s flag football. These are roles we have never had filled before. The future’s looking good. We have been running recruitment campaigns over the last while, looking for highly qualified experts in their own fields. Now it’s just a matter of getting everyone together.
GG: Are there currently any plans to expand the kitted season from 8 games?
AM: It was mentioned at the AGM in 2019, expanding the SBC to 10 games. That fell along the wayside as there was not enough interest. I cannot see it happening in the tackle code in 2022 until we see how clubs come through pandemic. If there is interest in the future it’s something clubs can bring to the board and we will look at the viability.
GG:What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the sport over the past couple of years?
AM: SInce I joined the sport , flag football has really took off very fast, especially over the last number of years. 21 teams played flag football this year. Youth football is gaining a lot of traction as well. The Director of Youth football deserves a lot of credit for that. . Off the field – it’s all governance and compliance. It’s never ending, and we’re really focussing on obtaining funding to run the sport as a NGB.
GG:How important are the upcoming college football games here for growing the sport in Ireland?
AM: It’ll be great as it’ll give us Increased exposure internationally – I still speak to people who don’t know there’s American football in ireland. There’ll also be increased exposure nationally as well for people who don’t know about the sport here. The more people who know about us the more opportunities we have.
It sounds like there are exciting times ahead for Irish American Football. A massive thanks to Aidan for taking the time to speak with us.