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.
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.
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.
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.