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.

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!

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.

Are you coping without Football?

Are you starting to experience symptoms of football withdrawal? Good, so it’s not just us then! Under normal circumstances the Irish American football season would just be coming to a close after a long summer . The Shamrock Bowl  would have been contested, and teams up and down the country would already be plotting for next season. And with full contact American football in Ireland unlikely to happen until the new year, what ever are you going to do to get your football fix?

18,876 American Football Player Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty ...

Fortunately, we are less than 2 weeks away from football kicking off across the Atlantic! The 2020 college football season (albeit in a much-adapted format) gets underway on the first weekend in September, and despite 2 conferences already pulling out, some football is better than no football! There was a lot of uncertainty as to whether college football would even go ahead at all, and it could very well still come grinding to a halt mid season if there is a sudden spike in coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile in the professional ranks, the NFL seems content to adopt a wait and see approach. Teams are limiting the number of fans that will be in attendance at games, or in some cases are banning fans altogether for the start of the season.

Will the season be completed? Right now it’s impossible to predict, but the odds are definitely stacked against. But at least we’ll have some sort of football to watch soon!

Not content with just sitting and watching football? We get that. Being deprived of any sort of competitive football would  drive any player a bit crazy.  And while the kitted season may be postponed, flag football is still going strong with games due to start in mid to late September.  The non contact version of the sport is just as competitive and demanding, putting a heavy emphasis on skill, footwork and technique.  There are flag football teams all over the country, so if you’d like to give it shot get in touch with us and we’ll point you in the right direction!

American Football Ireland

Let’s be honest, with everything that’s going on in the world these days we’ll take any sort of football we can get our hands on! Football is probably something we all took for granted – not truly realising how important it was to our personal lives as an outlet for socialising and for fitness. I for one will never take anything, let alone football for granted again. So, when you’re sitting cheering for your favourite team on a wintery Saturday evening, or lining up to run routes on a chilly Sunday morning, savour the feeling. It’s more important than you realise!

2020 Irish American Football Preview

A new season of Irish American Football in Upon us. On March 8th at 1pm, UCD and UL will kick off the Inaugural season of American Football Ireland. The league has  recently undergone a pretty comprehensive rebrand, but new logos and names aside it’s pretty much business as usual. Last year’s finale was contested by perennial top dogs the Belfast Trojans and first time finalists the South Dublin Panthers. Despite a lopsided start to the game, the Panthers made a valiant comeback attempt. But they never really stood a chance and Belfast skipped to another victory.

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Unsurprisingly, the Trojans are already heavy favourites to claim this year’s title. In fact, there are only three teams (in our opinion, don’t @ us) who really have a shot. The Dublin Rebels along with the Trojans have held a monopoly on Shamrock Bowl titles over the past couple of years, while the reformed Cork Admirals have become a force in the south. Cork’s tilt against the Rebels in 2018 was a very close affair, with 2 points being the difference in the final score. The Admiral’s ship was sunk at the semi final stage last year by the ambitious Panthers. The Panthers will be looking to ride the momentum from last season and make a return to the American Football Ireland Championship game.

Outside of the “top 3” there are a couple of teams looking to make some noise this season. 

UCD  have gotten to a semi final several times now, but have yet to make it as far as a Championship game. The students had a strong campaign in 2019 including decisive wins over the eventual title contending Panthers, as well as the Dublin Rebels.But can they take the next step? The Rebels themselves didn’t have a great year at all. Defeats to the newly demoted Knights and southside rivals UCD saw them miss out on the playoffs for the first time in years. The championship record holders will be looking to put last season behind them and return to winning ways. 

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Can a new Challenger emerge this season and upset the status quo in Irish American Football’s top flight? The likes of the Craigavon Cowboys and the Dublin Rhinos are only a few plays away from being in the conversation. Both clubs enjoyed a fierce rivalry during their time in Division 1 which has shown no signs of slowing down. Our prediction is that one of these teams will make it to the wildcard round this season, and who knows – maybe even further. Personally, we wouldn’t mind seeing things being shaken up a little bit. For example, It’s been about ten years since the Vikings last lifted the trophy. That was back in the “good” old days of the Smith Brothers. The landscape of American Football here has changed significantly in the intervening years, thankfully becoming more progressive and forward thinking – and actually focusing on the development of the sport here. But that’s a whole different article altogether!

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Honestly, we’re just glad that football is back! 

A History of College Football in Ireland

College Football makes its long-awaited return to Dublin this August, with the University of Notre Dame squaring off against old rivals Navy. This will be the third time that these sides meet on Irish soil and Notre Dame will be going for the Hat Trick.  Back in 1996, Notre Dame cruised to a 50-24 victory over the midshipmen in Croke Park.  The Sailors didn’t fare much better the second time around either, suffering a 50-10-point defeat to the Fighting Irish in 2012 at The Aviva Stadium.

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Notre Dame wore Tricolor gloves and cleats to mark the occasion.

But did you know that College Football’s history in Ireland goes as far back as the 1980’s?  The first ever college football teams to play here were the Boston College Golden Eagles and the Army Black Knights. The year was 1988, the venue was Lansdowne Road (the Aviva to you Millennials) and Boston College emerged victorious.  Just over a year later, there was a second college football game here as The University of Pittsburgh rolled over Rutgers on a score line of 46-29. Both games were known as the Emerald Isle Classic. The men behind these matches were Aidan Prendergast and Jim O’Brien, who were involved with the Irish American Football scene at the time.

The Golden Eagles and The Black Knights at Lansdowne Road.
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A young fan poses with The Pitt Panthers in Dublin, 1989.

The Emerald Isle series was reborn in 2012, as thousands of Americans descended on Dublin. Despite concerns over the time difference, the game was a huge success in terms of ticket sales and viewership back in the States. The third emerald isle classic provided a massive boost to the following of American football in Ireland.  People who would have had a passing knowledge or interest in the sport got to watch a game up close and live for the first time. And not just any old game but two of Americans top college football programmes. The positive effects of the 2012 game (including of course the massive cash influx to Dublin from tourism) inspired two further college football games in Dublin, taking place in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

2 years after Notre Dame sank Navy on Dublin’s South Side, Penn State University took on the University of Central Florida at GAA headquarters in what was dubbed the “Croke Park Classic”.  Despite the lack of an Irish connection, there was still a fantastic hype and atmosphere to the proceedings.  Penn State emerged victorious on the day, stealing the win from UCF with a last second field goal. The overall reception to the match up was positive, with the Penn State cheerleaders being a high point.

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Penn State with the Win!

The most recent iteration of a college football game in Ireland took place in 2016, with two lesser known teams taking the stage. Boston College returned to Irish shores to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Without the name recognition of Notre Dame or Penn State, the “Aer Lingus College Football Classic” suffered a poorer attendance than its predecessors. It also suffered inclement weather, resulting in a low scoring 17-14 victory for BC.

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Ireland’s status as the official home of college football in Europe was cemented in October of 2018, when it was announced that there would be no less than five games taking place here over 5 years beginning in 2020. Two of those slots have already been determined: Notre Dame and Navy in 6 months’ time, followed by the University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois a year later. The latter is an interesting fixture. Neither of these teams boast a huge following outside of their home states, so we could potentially have another low attended game on our hands. A repeat of 2016 is unlikely however, as American Football’s fanbase has increased significantly here in the last 4 years.  Regardless of what teams fill the last three spots, a 5-year commitment is sure to put Ireland on the map as College Football’s home from home.

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The College Football Conundrum

The College Football season is just around the corner and with 5 games taking place in Ireland over the next few years, now is the perfect time to choose a college football team to follow!

The question is, what college team is the best one to follow? Well, that depends. There are a number of important factors to consider when selecting your college football team. Firstly and most importantly, can they win? Let’s face it, there’s no point in staying up till 3 am every Sunday morning to watch your team lose. If you’re going to sacrifice sleep to watch football, it has to be worth it. Secondly, does that team have a good reputation? If the coach is being investigated for something sketchy or underhand then maybe it isn’t the best idea to start supporting them. And finally – is their jersey nice? As shallow as it might sound, if your going buy their merch, you have to like how it looks.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best college football teams to jump onboard with right now.

  1. Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide are without a doubt the best pound for pound college football team over the past 10 years. In the past 5 years alone they have appeared in 4 National Championship games, winning two of those. They always recruit the top players and have an evil genius as their coach. So if you want a team that wins, go with Bama! Although everyone will probably hate you for it.

2. Clemson

Clemson football are destined to be the next number one team in America, a fate they sealed by hammering their rivals Alabama in this years Championship game. The Tigers have a cool Coach, a monstrous Defensive Line and a Quarterback that will be playing on Sundays in the next two years. This is a bandwagon you definitely want to jump on!

3. Notre Dame

I’ll try to be as unbiased here as possible – but for me when I first got into college football, following the “Fighting Irish” was a no brainer! Not only are they once again emerging as a perennial contender for the national championship, but their mascot is a fecking Leprechaun! And if you find the Irish shtick to be offensive, then you don’t have any sense of humour. Notre Dame are on the come up in a big way and once their recruiting improves, expect them to be in the final on a regular basis.

4. Oregon

While they mightn’t have won much in recent years, the combination of ever changing uniforms and their adorable Duck mascot makes Oregon a solid team to support. Oregon’s jersey’s are produced by Nike and are usually pretty slick. They also occasionally produce talented footballers. For example, you may have heard of a guy called Marcus Mariota? The Ducks have been down on their luck in recent years but don’t be surprised if they splash back onto the scene this season.

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.