NFL Dream becomes a reality for Irish American football players

By Jimmy English

History was made this week when it was revealed that no less than 4 Irish athletes had been selected as part of the 2024 NFL International Player Pathway program. The quartet features both Intercounty GAA and professional rugby players including Monaghan’s Rory Beggan, Wicklow’s Mark Jackson, Charlie Smyth of Down and former Connacht Fullback, Darragh Leader. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Darragh is the older brother of Tadgh, the man behind Leader Kicking. Tadgh’s elite kicking outfit has recently produced another gem in Ross Bolger, who is currently the placekicker for Idaho State University –  and now they have their sights set on the National Football League.

This particular group are the first specialists to join the International Player Pathway, and will be hoping to get signed by NFL teams as kickers and punters. The opportunity for these men materialized when it was mandated back in 2023 that every NFL club would be required to fill a practice squad spot with an international player for future seasons.

“We are thrilled to welcome the International Player Pathway program Class of 2024,” said Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president international, club business and major events at the NFL. “As we focus on the global growth of the game, expanding international talent within the NFL is critical — connecting our sport with fans across the world. The 2024 program participants are an elite, diverse group of athletes and we look forward to following their journeys in the months ahead.”

Preparations for the lads’ NFL adventure will shortly get underway at the IMG Academy in Florida, where they will continue training under the elder Leader brother, who has been appointed as the NFL International Kicking & Punting Coach. They will then have the opportunity to kick in front of NFL scouts and the combine in February. “I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been offered a position with the NFL International program.” Tadgh announced.

“I’ll be the lead coach for the Kicking/Punting group. Massive thanks to the NFL for trusting me to prepare the guys for the combine. What a day for the sport in Ireland.”

This is a seminal  moment for American football in Ireland, and a massive step towards opening up the professional American football ranks to Irish athletes. For anyone who has ever dreamed about playing in the NFL, it’s rapidly becoming more of a reality and the way things are going we can expect to have several Irishmen playing in the NFL in the near future! We look forward to seeing how these 4 men get on and to covering every step of their journey!

Read the original Gaelic Gridiron article.