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?
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”.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
“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.
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.
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.
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!