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

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.

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!

Opinion: The College Football Game in Ireland should go ahead.

On Friday evening, Leo Varadkar announced his plan for “reopening Ireland”. From May 18th onwards, there will be the gradual relaxation of the harsh restrictons and the country will slowly return to normal. However, the mass ban on gatherings over 5,000 people still remains in place, until September at the earliest. With the college game here due to take place on August 29th, 2 days before the ban is set to be lifted the fate of the fixture is still very much up in the air.

In a press release sent out early last week, game organisers stated that that they were working hard to ensure the multi million dollar/euro fixture could go ahead with all possible precautions in place.

And you know what, it should one hundred percent still go ahead.

There are so many benefits to this game being played as planned. Let’s for a minute forget the fact that it’s worth millions in tourism and will provide a massive boost the an Irish economy that has suffered deeply as a result of the pandemic. This game is something to look forward to. It’s something to dream about. It’s like a big shining beacon at the end of a very dark tunnel. It gives us a glimmer of hope that one day everything will go back to normal. Or as normal as possible. And its not just American football fans here that are looking forward to it either. Sporting enthusiasts of all codes have embraced our American visitors soon to be annual trip across the pond to play a game of gridiron in the Aviva.

And then there’s the aforementioned issue of money. College football boils down to cold hard cash, and this game is worth a lot of it. Do you really think the event organisers are going to refund all those juicy VIP Travel packages they were selling at $5,000 a pop? No chance.  This game also worth several million in TV rights and viewership. There’s simply no way that the organisers, the Unversities and the NCAA ( who ultimately will make the final decision) walk away from that much profit. Even if the game is played elsewhere and not in Ireland, it won’t be anything of the gold mine it would be if it was played on these shores.

Now I hear what you’re all shouting at me through the screen – what about the 40 odd thousand Americans due to travel here for the occasion?  America has been one of the hardest hit countries by the pandemic, and letting people travel does seem like a ridiculous idea. But what if those coming here for the game were tested before they were allowed leave the country? In other words, sure you can go to Ireland ,but you have to be tested for coronavirus first. If you get the all clear then you can go. This would be a massive undertaking and would pose a huge logistical challenge. But it’s doable. And by August, I’m hopeful we’ll have the infrastructure in place to have test results back in less than a day which would make this process a whole lot easier.

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 Even if we have to wear masks and gloves to the game, then so what? It’s better than nothing. If this game proceeds as planned it will be a major indicator that life as we know it is not lost forever. It will give us hope. And hope is what we need most right now.

The Sport Shortage

The GAA, The NBA, The Premier League, and now American Football Ireland. Competitive American football in Ireland is the latest organised sport to be cancelled or postponed as a result of the Covid 19 outbreak. The decision came on April 4th with the proviso that if circumstances allowed, there would be a kitted tournament towards the end of the year. But for all intents and purposes, football as we know it will not be happening in Ireland in 2020. And while in the grand scheme of things this may seem relatively insignificant, it further highlights the importance and value of sport in our lives.

Sport isn’t a matter of life or death. It’s much more important than that. Sport unites us. It brings us together in pubs and in stadiums, on warm summer days and cold winter nights.  As players and athletes, sport drives us to become better versions of ourselves. It demands sacrifices and dedication. But it often results in rewards for our hard work, on and off the field. As friends and family, sport forms communities and special bonds. People who mightn’t have that much in common or who wouldn’t normally be friends off the field are required to work together for a shared goal.

Sport is also a very important tool for maintaining positive mental health. Regular physical activity and exercise are proven to be beneficial for our mindset. Being out on a pitch chasing a ball around allows us to forget about our worries and our troubles.  We’re focused on the game, and we’re too busy having a laugh with our mates to feel the weight of the world. We’re also able to subconsciously clear our heads of any noise. But in the time of Coronavirus, we have learned that sport is a luxury. A luxury that we could really do with having back to cope with the added stress and anxiety brought on by the great unknown we’re facing.

When all of this has passed and the NFL season is kicking off on time, we will never again take sport for granted.  During this crisis it has become glaringly apparent just how much we rely on organised sporting events. Sport provides such an important personal and social function in our lives. It brings us together. It helps us to communicate and to grow. And it often defines us as people. So once Ireland’s “lockdown” is lifted, kick a ball around with your mates or throw a Frisbee. Swing a hurl or shoot some hoops. And hope that sport is never taken away from us again.

Gaelic Gridiron’s Guide to Self Quarantine

Social Distancing is in full swing, and if you’re like us then you’re slowly running out of ways to keep yourself occupied. The absolute mayhem of NFL Free Agency has briefly disrupted the monotony and boredom, but with no end to self-isolation in sight we’re going to need some more solid options! Fortunately, there are many forms of American Football media that we can indulge in to stave off the boredom! We’ve compiled a list of the best ways that American Football can provide entertainment until the world goes back to normal.

  1. Play Madden

Let’s face it, you’re not really an American football fan unless you’ve played Madden. In fact, some of us probably first discovered the sport by throwing virtual touchdown passes.  I’ve personally spent hours taking my team all the way to the top, and that was before we were told to stay inside! Now that we’re actively being encouraged not to leave the house, there’s no better time to start career mode on Madden 20!

2. Watch old games on Game Pass

The NFL announced last week that they were making Game Pass free in order to raise fans spirits during these difficult times. There is some great quality content available on Game Pass including A Football Life, Peyton’s Places as well as an archive of your favorite teams’ games. In fact, NFL.com recently released a list of the best throwback games available to watch over on Game Pass. Game Pass has other cool features such as NFL Network, Coaches Film and much more. So, what are you waiting for?

3. Read American Football Books

Give your eyes a break from the increased screen time they’re probably experiencing and get reacquainted with a good old book. Over the years I’ve accumulated a number of really interesting reads on my favorite sport. In fact, my future man cave is going to have a full shelf dedicated to America’s Game. One of my personal favorites is “The Catch”.  The Catch tells the story surrounding the great San Francisco 49ers Dynasty of the 1970’s and 1980’s, and of one of the greatest plays in NFL history.  I’d also recommend “Tailgate to Heaven” which details one mans quest around the States to find the best Pre -game tailgate experience. 

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Now is the time for us as American Football fans to show solidarity and come together as a community. So if you have a favorite throwback game, book or other form of entertainment that you think others would enjoy then let us know. This too shall pass, and before we know if the NFL regular season will be kicking off again as if nothing ever happened!

Hanging it Up?

By Jimmy English

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?

I guess I’ll wait and see.

The Fighting Irishman

The Notre Dame mascot is one of the most iconic in sport. On game day, the spirit of the ‘Fighting Irish” is brought to life by the Cheer Squad, in particular those select few who don the green blazer and bowler to become the Leprechaun. Notre Dame recently announced three new mascots and one of those fortunate enough to have earned this honour, is Conal Fagan. Conal hails from Derry, in the North of Ireland and is the first native Irishman to take on the mantle of the Notre Dame Leprechaun.  But how does a kid from Ireland end up as Notre Dame’s most recognisable representative? We caught up with Conal and he told us all about his amazing journey from St Columb’s College in Derry to a scholarship studying Political Science and Peace Studies in South Bend.

So how just did Conal end up at Notre Dame?

“Two kids from my school had gone to study in the US before me, so they really inspired me to look into it. “ While still in school, Conal began applying for the Sutton Trust, a program which helps youngsters from low and middle income families apply to Colleges in the states. “The process for applying to US colleges is a lot more holistic and denser than applying in the UK or Ireland so it’s not really something you do half-heartedly. As soon as I put my mind to it, I knew that the US was where I needed to be.” As part of the Sutton Trust program, Conal was flown to the US to experience first-hand what college life was like in the States. After months of research and preparation, Conal’s decision came down to either Notre Dame or University of North Carolina. “I’m confident I made the right choice!”

What was the draw of Notre Dame?

For Conal, it was vital that he ended up in a place where he would feel right at home, and where he would be part of a community. “A word that really resonates with people here is ‘family’ – no matter when you graduated, if you meet a fellow alum there’s an instant connection.” The Notre Dame family has a global reach, even as far as South Africa, which Conal found out while coaching soccer in the townships as a volunteer last summer. A family of Notre Dame Fans spotted the ND hoodie he was wearing and instantly recognised him as one of their own. It was then that it really hit home for Conal how powerful and influential the ND brand is around the world. “One of the hardest things to explain back home is just how influential and integral Alumni are.”  

           In addition to being a lifelong member of such a powerful graduate network, the opportunities offered to students at Notre Dame is absolutely “crazy”. From getting to travel around the world for research to meeting some of the most promising young athletes, there’s so much to do. The driving factor for moving abroad to study is summed up by Conal as a desire for self-growth, and to defy the norm. “One of the biggest reasons why I decided to move to the US was that I wanted to push myself outside of what was comfortable. And I really haven’t looked back since”.

Now to the burning question we all have, how the hell did Conal end up on the Notre Dame Cheerleading squad? Well, it all started with a Notre Dame Onesie. That onesie became his attire for every basketball game he attended, and at every game Conal would be courtside leading the fans in their chants. “ Going to the Brandywell ( the home ground of Derry City FC) to see Derry play, I used to sit in the ‘Jungle’ – so I had good experience of being noisy!”  But Conal wanted to do more at games than just sit in the crowd. He wanted to be a bigger part of the experience. And joining the cheer squad was the best way to do this.  “I honestly think the cheerleaders were confused as to how I was so energetic at the games! I had a friend on the squad and when she heard me discussing the possibility of joining, she gave me the push that I needed. It’s been such an incredible experience so far!”

What’s it like being the mascot and representing the Notre Dame spirit? “I can’t emphasise enough how amazing the experience has been”  Conal’s friends initially thought it would be hilarious if someone from Ireland auditioned for the role of the leprechaun, but once he began to realise what exactly the position meant and the opportunities that came with it, it was simply too good for him to turn down. Because mascots aren’t really a thing in Ireland, at first it was quite difficult for Conal to convey the significance of the role, but one he started to appear on TV and on social media people began to grasp the idea a little better.

“Putting on the suit honestly makes you feel like a superhero. When you adopt this persona, it represents more than you can ever imagine.”

The first few weeks of being the mascot were quite overwhelming for Conal as he adjusted to being bombarded for photograph requests as well as being constantly on the go to events, games and other appearances. But no matter how hectic the schedule, for Conal “..The benefits will always outweigh the drawbacks.”

“Pulling on that jersey (in my case a suit) is one of the best feelings. It’s the stuff dreams are made of”.

As Cheerleading isn’t really a thing here in Ireland, can you tell us how big part of University sports culture it is in the States?

“A lot of people’s perceptions of cheerleading are based on what they see in movies, and to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think most people imagine that cheerleading involves running around in a leotard waving pom- poms! In reality, I get to throw people in the air and do some really insane stunts, none of which I ever thought I could do! It’s a super dangerous sport that requires a huge amount of strength, technique and focus.” Cheerleaders in America are full time athletes, who have to train four times a week as well as lifting twice a week. But the reward for all the hard work is getting to run out in front of 80,000 people at home football games as well as the millions watching on TV at home. “I don’t think I could have ever pictured this as a kid back home!”

Becoming the face of the Fighting Irish cheer squad wasn’t Fagan’s first brush with Athletics. In fact, he had previously been part of the Notre Dame Men’s Soccer programme! Before he came to South Bend, he was already playing soccer at a high level having made appearances for both the Northern Ireland U15/16 team as well as Derry City’s U17/19 team.  Fagan had already considered playing in a US college, but didn’t want soccer to define his university experience. An email from a highly respected coach encouraging him to give it a shot, however, made his decision a lot more straightforward. And although he did not ultimately make an appearance for the team, working with some of the best players and coaches in the country undoubtedly gave him a strong start and a competitive edge to his time in Notre Dame.

As Conal gears up for the 2019/2020 season, his main goal on the field is to learn how to do a flip! “It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but never really been able to focus the time on so I feel that it’s the perfect time to take advantage.” Off the field, a summer internship in Australia awaits where he’ll be working with Paralympians and Disabled Athletes.  A flat out but very rewarding year awaits him! Best of luck Conal and thanks for taking the time to talk to Gaelic Gridiron!

Injury Prone

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”.

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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?

  1. 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.

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  1. Stay involved.

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.

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  1. Be Positive

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.

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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.