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!

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.

Last Chance Review – Laney College

The final football instalment of Last Chance U arrived on our screens this week, and like any self-respecting football fan I dedicated my evenings to getting acquainted with the latest bunch of misfit players striving to get recruited into a big time college programme.

My expectations for this season were high, perhaps unrealistically so. You can see why Netflix have decided to progress the show onto a different sport – there was just no oomhph. No Fireworks.

Real talk: There was no Buddy Stephens. The show has never been able to recapture the emotional turmoil inflicted by watching the fiery tempered coach go off on his team in Season 1. Yes, it was extreme, but It was effective. And it made for excellent television. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Coach Beam. He seemed to genuinely care about his players, and really wanted to see them succeed. He definitely ranks above Jason “JB” Brown in the hierarchy of LCU coaches.

I liked this season, but I didn’t love it. And I think the reason being is that Last Chance U has deteriorated into a pseudo reality TV show. This affliction started in part 2 of Independence College; players were signing up to play football there with the sole goal of getting on TV and getting noticed. You can’t blame them for this – some Division One coaches (cough Lane Kiffin cough) are notorious for picking up players who feature. But this trend has undoubtedly contributed to the overall feeling of “shtick” I get from the show. The football players are playing up to the camera, and playing down any mistakes they might make. Cornerback Rezjohn White is a prime example of this. While he is unquestionably talented and ended up with scholarship offer to Oregon State, he gave up a couple of big plays and ultimately sat out a large part of the season.

There was one redeeming quality to this season, well technically two. Dior Walker-Scott and Nu’u Taugavau. Honestly these two were the only reason I connected to the show and stuck it out.  I was really rooting for these boys to succeed and to make it. They overcame obstacles and adversity with grit and determination and I truly hope they do well at the next level. If you watched the show and weren’t quietly pulling for these two to get recruited then there’s something wrong with you inside.

(Honourable mention to another of the featured players, Wide Receiver RJ Stern. You can understand his frustration at not getting targeted with enough passes, but his constant whining began to grate after a while.)

Overall, it was a refreshing change of pace to get an insight into a substantially different program, in a vastly diverse environment. But having said that, I wouldn’t be in a rush back to Laney College.

American Football Charity Tournament set for October

Teams representing North America, Europe & Australia will converge upon Chester Country Club on October 17th this year, for the inaugural edition of the Schymder Cup. Players from different countries will come together and compete to raise funds for American Football mental health charity “Lifting the Lid”.

(Important Note: The players are primarily UK based, with some international players participating. Team Canada/USA/Australia were created to accommodate the number of players who signed up. These are not official international teams.)

The charity game is the brainchild of Razorbacks player and former Thundering Herd General Manager, Mike Ireland. Mike has had great success with charity matches in the past; previous iterations include the “East West Bowl” a “Comic Book Bowl” featuring Marvel vs DC and even a “Star Wars Bowl” with Team Jedi squaring off against Team Sith!

All funds raised will go to Lifting the Lid, who are doing amazing work in raising awareness around mental health in American football.

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Since announcing the tournament Mike has received a huge response, with over 150 players and coaches expressing an interest in being involved in some shape or form: “It turns out if you take football away from people, then there’s any sniff of a game they’ll jump all over it!”

Given the lack of football on at the moment it’s really no wonder that players are snapping at the chance to strap on a helmet and pads! Such has been the uptake that Mike has had to turn people away and even convert a few to coaches in order to get them involved: “I felt bad though – I’ve had to turn a lot of people away, or some have done, convert them to being coaches! So we have the likes of Nicholas Jones, Glen Toonga and Sam Astley, all top level ballers standing on the sidelines shouting at the poor souls doing the running around on the pitch!”

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Showing up for Ireland in the Schmyder Cup is none other than Tosan Memuduaghan! The former South Dublin & UCD signal caller will be representing Team Canada (don’t ask us how lol) alongside former Panthers teammate Ben Arulogun. Rounding out the Irish contingent are Euan Maclean, Carl Rugen, Liam McNally , Paddy Hart, Eamon McManus, Jamie Somers and Chrisie McKee, all of the NI Razorbacks!

The game will be streaming live on the official Scmyder Cup Facebook page, and presumably there will be various other streams available to watch. Keep an eye out as well for the slick jerseys being sported by the players! The official kit provider is none other than Ridge Sports and we all know they make some nice gear. All in all it sounds like it’ll be a great day out, raising funds for a great cause!

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Why you should be playing Flag Football

A few years ago, if you’d suggested flag football to me, I would have laughed. I didn’t rate it at all. I was still playing kitted football and honestly never gave it a second thought. But then I was asked to coach the inaugural flag team of the club I was with at the time. And it gave me a whole new perspective. 

Flag football is not just for the casual participant. In fact, playing flag can be of great benefit to kitted players and athletes of different codes alike.

First and foremost, are skills.  The flag version of American football is played in tighter confines, which means your route running will have to be on point if you want to get separation. 90% of flag football plays are passes, giving players plenty of opportunities to refine their footwork, balance, and hand – eye coordination.

A huge secondary perk of playing flag football is the fitness. Whether you’re on offense or defense you’re going to be running a lot. Flat out sprinting every play. As we all know, high intensity exercise is hugely beneficial for cardio and fat burning.  Playing flag will boost your physical fitness, your stamina and your speed. For QB’s , there won’t be as much running but the high tempo of the game will help enhance your mechanics.

For me, the biggest draw of flag football was the opportunity to continue to play competitively. Without the risk of getting seriously injured. Flag is (meant to be) non contact, and if you’re starting to feel the wear and tear of full contact, switching will definitely extend your playing career. Flag football is a hell of a lot safer than full contact!

The Irish flag football scene is coming on strong. There are currently 2 divisions & over 25 teams, and players of all genders and ability are welcome.   So whether you’ve played for years or are looking to try a new sport now is definitely the time to get to get involved!

The 2020 College Football Game in Ireland has been cancelled.

Today it was announced that the College Football game between Navy and Notre Dame due to take place in Ireland on August 29th, has officially been cancelled.

There was much speculation in recent weeks that the game would still go ahead despite restrictions on mass public gatherings.

In a statement, Chet Gladchuck, Naval Academy Director of Athletics said: “We are obviously disappointed not to be travelling to Ireland this August, but, as expected, our priority must be ensuring the health and safety of all involved.  I am expecting that we will still be able to play Notre Dame as our season opener, but there is still much to be determined by health officials and those that govern college football at large.”

The game is now slated to take place in Annapolis, the home city of the Naval Academy Midshipmen.

The college football game was due to set a new world record, with 40,000 Americans planning on travelling outside of the US for the game, the most to ever do so for a single sporting event.

The 5 Game Aer Lingus College Football Classic Series will now begin in 2021 when the Fighting Illini take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.