The Kick of the Irish

 A fascinating trend has emerged in college football in recent times: Irish kickers. In the past 6 years, no less than 3 young Irishmen have been recruited for their pigskin booting abilities. And we’re not talking about obscure Division 2 schools here either, oh no. These are legitimate D1 programs, with a serious amount of prestige.  

With the increasing popularity of the sport here and the fact that we are a nation of soccer and GAA players, it’s not really that surprising to see players swapping codes. Especially when they emigrate and are immersed in the native sport. 

The most recent to be recruited is David Shanahan. The Kerry youngster caused quite a stir in the Irish and international media last year when it emerged that he had been recruited to punt at Georgia Tech. Shanahan grew up watching American football, and upon turning 18, signed with an Australian based kicking academy from where he was signed by the Yellowjackets. And although the pandemic prevented him from suiting up last season, he is bound to get a shot this time around as it will be more or less business as usual when the 2021 season kicks off in August. 

The widespread coverage of Shanahan’s achievement shone a spotlight on other irish born college football players; Daniel Whelan and James McCourt respectively. Daniel Whelan is currently punting at  UC Davis. How good is he? Well, he was just named to the FCS All America Team. And he declined an invitation to this year’s draft in order to play one more year of college football.  Whelan grew up in Enniskerry before moving with his family to California at the age of 13. There, he was recruited to play high school football. Now, he is on the verge of becoming Ireland’s first NFL player in 36 years. But more on that later.

Dan Whelan UC Davis

For McCourt, his  time as a college kicker has unfortunately come to a close. But during his tenure at the University of Illinois, he famously kicked a game winning 39 yard field goal against Wisconsin. Having waited patiently in line to become the starter, McCourt didn’t waste any time – also hitting a record tying 57 yarder. Originally hailing from Dublin 6, James would have loved to play in front of a home crowd when the Fighting Illini took the field at the Aviva Stadium as part of the Aer Lingus College Football series.. But even if the game had gone ahead, McCourt would have already graduated and would not have been eligible to play.

Illinois kicker James McCourt
McCourt celebrates with his teammates.

 

The last Irishman to play in the NFL was Neil O’Donoghue, who was also a kicker. Are you seeing a pattern yet? O’Donoghue grew up playing GAA and soccer and later went on to win a scholarship at the University of Auburn. During his time there, he kicked a school record 57 yard field goal and was awarded All American Honours. Kind of like our boy Daniel Whelan right?  By all accounts it’s a matter of when, not if Whelan is drafted. It would be absolutely fantastic to have an Irishman playing in the NFL during our lifetime and I’m sure we’d never shut up about it. 

Neil O'Donoghue

Everyone at Gaelic Gridiron would like to wish all of the gentlemen mentioned above the very best in their future endeavors on and off the field.

My Favourite Football Memory

I’ve been playing American football for a long time. Over 11 years in fact. I’ve been on some great teams, acquainted myself with some fantastic lads and made tonnes of great memories along the way. But the one that stands out the most actually comes from early on in my playing days.

The Drogheda Lightning were about to play the Meath Bulldogs at home for the first time. It was the Lightning’s inaugural season, in the old DV8’s division. (For the uninitiated, an 8 a side development league). I remember sitting in the dressing room with my 9 other team mates, dreading the prospect of facing a 20 something strong Bulldog side. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge. We were completely outnumbered and there was already a sombre mood hanging over us. 

Coach Russell Kerley walks in and lays it all out for us: ‘Yes there are more of them. No it doesn’t look good. Just go out there and play your fucking arse off” ( I’m paraphrasing a bit, it was 9 years ago.) But I just remember sitting there and thinking to myself: “Fuck it, what do we have to lose?”

We ended up winning by over 40 points.

10 players went up against a squad double their size and recorded the most memorable victory in Lightning history.

I don’t remember much else from that game, but I do remember the feeling of absolute elation.

Things with the Lightning went to the dogs a season later, so it’s nice to have some positive memories of a team I had a hand in creating to look back on.

Winning the IAFL 1 championship in 2019 is a close second as my favourite footballing memory. The fact I won some hardware in what was likely my last kitted season, makes it slightly bittersweet though.

Now that I’ve moved on to competing in flag football and coaching, I’m sure there are plenty more amazing football memories to come! What’s your favourite football memory? Let us know in the comments

Free Agency Frenzy II

NFL free agency 2021 is only about 10 days old, but it has been absolutely wild! The Patriots splashed the cash adding weapons for Cam, the Steelers lost some key starters, and more than a few big-name players have found new homes. We take a look at the biggest signings and swaps that have happened so far!

The Patriots made waves early on in free agency by signing not one, but two tight ends. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith will serve as much needed targets for Cam Newton. New England re-signed Newton in the off season and are clearly in rebuild mode after losing Brady and Gronk to the Buccaneers. Landing Henry is an absolute coup for the Patriots, and as one of the top TE’s in the league he is bound to help them become relevant again in 2021.

As a Steelers fan, the free agency period has been a tough watch. Pittsburgh have lost several key defensive starters, most notably Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton. Both were salary cap casualties and will be sorely missed for their big play ability. Hilton signed with Bengals, meaning the Steelers will have to contend with his blitzing capabilities at least twice a year. There was good news at least on the offensive side of the ball with the retention of WR Juju Smith – Schuster. Juju apparently turned down big money from the Ravens and the Chiefs, and was rewarded with a one year “prove it” deal. The Steelers are in win now mode but will need to add some new pieces through the draft.

There have been a couple of other noteworthy departures this offseason, both before and during the free agency period. Perhaps the biggest story is JJ Watt effectively forcing the Texans to release him. Watt was highly courted, but eventually landed with Arizona in what was one of the most exciting shakeups in the league this year. While the Cardinals may have gained one of the greatest defensive players in history, they also lost another in Patrick Peterson. The All-Pro Cornerback signed with the Vikings on the first day of the free agency period. Peterson will leave a sizeable hole in the Cardinals’ defensive backfield.

With trades and rumours abound, the next few weeks in the NFL are going to be very interesting to watch. And with an absolutely stacked draft taking place in April, we get the feeling that there is no end in sight to the madness we have witnessed over the past few weeks.

NFL in Europe is back!

Professional American football is back in Europe! The newly formed European League of Football announced yesterday that it had agreed to terms with the NFL for the naming rights of two former NFL Europe teams.

NFL Europe ran until 2007 and essentially served as a farm league where NFL Franchises could send players who were not quite ready for the big leagues.  One notable NFL Europe Alumnus is Kurt Warner, who played for the Amsterdam Admirals.

European League of Football

The inaugural European League of Football season is scheduled to kick off this summer, and will initially have 8 teams with more to be added in seasons to come. These are the Hamburg Sea Devils, Frankfurt Galaxy, Wroclaw Panthers of Poland, the Barcelona Gladiators, Stuttgart Scorpions, German Knights 1367 Niedersachsen, Ingolsatdt Praetorians and an as yet unnamed Berlin franchise. It is expected that the number of franchises will be expanded depending on the success of the league.

French national team head coach Patrick Esume has been tapped as the Commissioner of the league.

If the league flourishes, then it is only a matter of time before teams outside of mainland Europe are added as franchises. The UK is an American football stronghold, and was previously home to the London Monarchs of NFL Europe. And while it is unlikely that our wee island is awarded a team, there are plenty of players here who could more than hold their own in a professional setting!

For more on the new European League of Football, check out the official site at www.europeanleague.football/

Stay tuned to Gaelic Gridiron for updates!

2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic moved from Dublin.

Late yesterday 17th of February 2021 it was announced that the Aer Lingus College Football game between Illinois & Nebraska set for Dublin in August, will not be taking place in the Aviva Stadium as planned.

Instead, the game will take place at Memorial Stadium in Champagne, Illinois. The decision to move the game comes as a result of coronavirus concerns.

This is the second fixture in the five game College Football Classic slate to be adversely affected by the pandemic. Last years marquee matchup between Notre Dame and Navy was also postponed due to public health measures.

While organisers are still committed to the original 5 game plan, there are additional costs and risks post covid that may affect this model.

All four Universities scheduled to play in the cancelled fixtures also remain committed to fulfilling these fixtures.

The most disappointing outcome of the news is that it will be at least another year before Corso and Co. of College Gameday grace these shores.

Stay tuned to Gaelic Gridiron for more College Football news.

2021 Irish American Football Preview

2020 was not a good year for anything, Irish American football included. Various restrictions and lockdowns resulted in all competitive games being cancelled. For the most part, teams couldn’t even officially hold training sessions. That’s how bad things were.  Now that vaccines are being rolled out and there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the burning question is:  Are we finally gonna get some football this year? We spoke to AFI Commissioner Brian Cleary to find out more.

GG: Do the league anticipate kitted and flag seasons going ahead in 2021?

BC: I think it’s safe to say that everyone is itching to get back to participating in the sport. We are hopeful that we can get football played and we are looking at a provisional kick off date in June. Despite our hope we are unfortunately at the mercy of the Pandemic and the welfare of our members has to come first. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer but all we can do is have the plans in place and be ready to go when it’s safe to do so. 

GG: Are you considering running blitz style tournaments as an alternative to reduce travel/contact?

BC: All our clubs were canvassed over the last few weeks for their feedback on how this season should run. We are looking at regional Divisions, two North, two Dublin and a South. The aim is to reduce travel as much as possible while ensuring there isn’t a huge mismatch between teams. We are looking at between 6 to 8 games all going well. 

GG: Have any new teams joined the league for the season ahead?

BC: Two new flag team have applied to join the AFI and a vote will take place at the AGM in February. The Thomastown Tigers and the Belfast Lions. 

GG: If the season goes ahead, do you have a venue in mind for the Shamrock Bowl?

BC: I don’t foresee a Shamrock Bowl taking place this year. If football gets played we will have 5 Divisional winners. 

GG: Are there any other exciting developments or announcements we can expect over the next year?

BC: There is an exciting announcement coming very soon. As you have probably seen from our social media teasers, the AFI have partnered with another organisation. This partnership will provide excellent opportunities for our members, you’ll just need to wait a little longer for the Offical announcement. 

We are also still working closely with Irish American Events who are bringing the College games to Dublin over the next few years and there is some exciting plans in place for the AFI in relation to those games. 

We’d like to thank Brian for his time and for his dedication to the sport. Subscribe to Gaelic Gridiron below for more Irish American Football updates!

How to (safely) watch this year’s Superbowl

 This year’s Superbowl party is going to be a little bit different. For one, we won’t all be jammed into the absolute sweatbox that is the Woolshed. That place would definitely count as a so called “superspreader”. Come the first week of February, it is all but guaranteed that any viewing of the NFL’s championship game will have to take place in the comfort of your own home.

With that, you’re going to need reliable coverage to ensure you don’t miss a minute of what will be a historic game. Did any of us really believe back in August that the league would even get this far? I certainly didn’t.  So, where should you watch this year’s Superbowl?

Sky Sports

Neill Reynolds and Co. generally put on a good show for the Superbowl and you can expect some special guest appearances as well. Typically, they broadcast live from the game although something tells me that won’t be the case this year.

NFL Game Pass

If you have a Game Pass account, then you’d be mad not to use it to watch this year’s Superbowl.  You’ll get the American broadcast, with the added bonus of the world famous ads! Game Pass itself is pricey, but you can sign up for a free trial and cancel before your card is charged, a handy way to watch the best version of this years Championship game.

BBC

Unless you have a weird obsession with Vernon Kay, the BBC’s Superbowl broadcast should be your absolute last resort.  It’s not that their coverage and analysis is bad per se, it’s just subpar compared to the other options available to you.  I mean if the biggest names you can attract are Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora, you’re definitely going to be bottom of the pile.

By the time next years Superbowl rolls around we will hopefully be once again allowed to fill the pubs, but for now we have to make do with what we have. Wherever you watch the game, we hope that you enjoy it!

Gaelic Gridiron Team of the Decade

As I sit down to put together this list, it strikes me that I have been involved in Irish American football for over ten years. Ten years of knowing and playing with some absolute ballers. The Gaelic Gridiron Team of the Decade recognises the best players the country has seen in recent times, many of whom will hopefully still be playing long into the future!

Note: This list is based off the author’s personal opinion, memory of past games etc. Your own opinions may vary. Don’t @ me.)

Offense

Quarterback: Andrew Dennehy (Dublin Rebels) Dennehy was at the heart of the Rebels Shamrock Bowl dynasty, and is arguably the best QB the country has produced. We were going to include another QB on the list but couldn’t think of anyone who even comes close.

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Running Back: Ben Arulogun (South Dublin Panthers) Ben Jamiing, as he’s more commonly known made the national squad as a rookie. A natural athlete who has a bright future in Irish football.

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Running Back: Gareth ‘Suntan’ Miller (Belfast Knights/Belfast Trojans) No explanation needed really. Don’t get in his way or he’ll run you over.

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Running Back: Rob McDowell (Trinity College) Someone once described Rob to me as a “human frog” in reference to his lower body strength. And if you’ve ever seen him juke or box jump you’ll know how accurate this is.  The wings on his lid were pretty bad ass as well.

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Wide Receiver: Marty Caskey (Belfast Knights) If you’ve seen this man go full stretch vertical for a high ball then you know that he deserves to be on this list.

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Wide Receiver: Sean Douglas (UCD (currently)) Dougie’s quick feet and natural athleticism lend themselves as attributes of being probably the best slot receiver in the country.

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Wide Receiver: Sean Devlin (South Dublin Panthers) In his rookie season, Sean Devlin became one of the best vertical deep threats, forming a formidable connection with his quarterback at the time.

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Offensive Line: Belfast Trojans. One of the most dominant and forceful units in the country, and a key reason that the Trojans have been so successful over the past few years.

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Offensive Line: Barry Bolton (Dublin Rhinos) I once saw this man block a would – be tackler so hard that his head snapped and his soul left his body. An absolutely cracking football player.

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Punter/Kicker: Paul Hosford(Dublin Rhinos) Can you say that you kicked the winning field goal in a national championship game? Well, this fella can. His other claim to fame has to do with a stray field goal. Ask him about it.

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Defense

Linebacker: Eoin Fox (DCU Saints / Dublin Rhinos) Foxy was the Field General for the Saints and if you got popped by him you knew all about it. In all likelihood if he was still playing today he’d be a lock for the Wolfhounds.

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Linebacker: Adam Skelly (DCU Saints / Dublin Rhinos) A ferocious tackler, excellent in both run and pass defense, Adam Skelly has been around the league for a long time and shows no signs of slowing down.

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Linebacker: Larry Doyle (UCD)  Defensive leader, Wolfhound and now Head Coach. Larry Doyle is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the country.

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Linebacker: Aidan Waters (Dublin Dragons) Before he retired to coach receivers in Cork, Aidan was arguably the best Linebacker in the country. I’ll never forget the sole occasion on which I bested him during a tackling drill. On the next rep he made me pay and put me in the ground. And that was the attitude that the brought to the defense; unrelenting and unforgiving.

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Linebacker / CB: Conrad Cook ( South Dublin Panthers / Dublin Rebels) Great closing speed, a high motor and aggressive tackling, the Florida native was a great asset to have on the defensive side of the ball. Conrad rightfully belongs on the team of the decade.

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Defensive Line: Augustus Zigmantavicius (Dublin Dragons / South Dublin Panthers) Gus was the quietest most unassuming man off the field, but once his helmet was on god help anyone who got in his way.

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Defensive Line: Neill Graham (Belfast Trojans) Not so average really, despite what his nickname alludes. In fact the complete opposite. An pure baller.

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Defensive Line: Niall Burke (Dublin Dragons / South Dublin Panthers) Niall Burke has been the heart and anchor of the Dragons/Panthers Defense for many years now and has proven to be a force to be reckoned with up the middle.

Safety: Oisin Dowling (Drogheda Ligthning/North Dublin Pirates) The rangy Dowling was a natural from Day 1 with the Drogheda outfit and has continued ball hawking with his current team.

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MVP: Fu Fa’aptio (Drogheda Lightning/Belfast Trojans)   The Samoan Smasher, all around legend and gentleman. Our team of the decade would not be complete without mentioning Fu. I’ll never forget a practice session where he sent one of his teammates flying with a block. Hailing from California, Fu changed the landscape of football here by forcing teams to prepare for him on all sides of the ball.

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Football is Cancelled

American Football in Ireland has officially been cancelled for the rest of the year. It had been hoped that at the least the flag football season could be completed, but after being delayed several times due to Covid 19 it was finally called off late last week. Some teams were fortunate enough to play a few games before their season was cut short, while others waited in vain for their chance show off an extended offseason of hard work. After the adult kitted season and subsequently it’s junior counterpart were nixed earlier in the year, the flag football season was the last hope for competitive American football to be played on the island of Ireland this year. But it wasn’t to be and now teams will look towards 2021 for the return of football. 

But will it even be feasible to have a season next year?  The full contact season usually kicks off around late March and, in most cases, preseason training would already be in full swing by now for the upcoming season. Realistically there is no way that teams will be allowed to resume any kind of contact training this side of Christmas, leaving them with very little time to prepare. One option is to delay games until the middle of summer.  It is hoped that by then we will be out the other side of this mess. Another option is to hold tournament style game days, similar to the flag football league format. Teams could play shortened games in a central location, minimising contact and travel risks. It’s not the best solution, but at least there would be football. And some football is better than no football.

In the meantime, teams from both codes need to stay sharp and focused. A long off season is about to get a whole lot longer and it can be easy to for players to lose their focus and motivation.  Coaches will need to figure out how to keep their athletes engaged, and one way of doing so is by holding intra – squad scrimmages. Proper games tend to bring out the best in players and a little competitive football will go a long way to raise team spirits, while also keeping skills sharp! Alternatively, mixing things up by holding a training session on the beach or even holding a different kind of training session will help ensure that your team doesn’t get jaded during this unprecedented football outage.

At the end of the day, American football in Ireland is kind of like a big family and we all need to pull together. The sooner we get through these strange times, the quicker we can all get back to playing football.