The Irish NFL Takeover

By Jimmy English

10 out of 10. That was Rory Beggan’s record at the NFL International Player Pathway Pro Day in Florida last Wednesday. The Monaghan man put on an absolute clinic, including a 60 yard showstopper. The NFL has been put on notice, and as this incredible chapter comes to a close for our quartet of NFL hopefuls, you can’t help but feel that this is  only the beginning. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Beggan and his fellow compatriots. Charlie Smyth, Darragh Leader and Mark Jackson all performed exceptionally well at the NFL Combine, and now that they’ve signed with agents, could the next step be an NFL contract?  It certainly looks that way. But having an Irishman ( or indeed Irishmen) playing in the NFL is far from a novelty anymore. In fact, there is now a certain expectation that there will be several professional American football players from Ireland in the coming months and years.

Ever since Dan Whelan became the first Irishman to play in the NFL in over 40 years, the country has become enamored with the sport. Originally hailing from Wicklow, Whelan became the Packers starting punter at the beginning of the 2023 season in a move that firmly put NFL on the map in Ireland. It also set a precedent.  People were now realizing that this seemingly impossible dream is in fact very achievable. Ever since the great Ronan O’Gara flirted with joining the Miami Dolphins, my generation have yearned for an Irish NFL player. And now we’re on the cusp of having several. At the time of writing, we had just learned that Down’s Charlie Smyth had secured a workout with the New Orleans Saints – a very positive indication of what outcome we can expect in the not so distant future! This is a massive step in the right direction and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if Smyth got signed to the Saints practice squad.

The presence of one of our own on an NFL sideline has massively boosted the popularity of the sport here. American football is getting more mainstream media coverage than ever before. This in turn is growing the audience pool, creating new fans and slowly but surely establishing the game of gridiron as a commonplace thing to have an interest in and passion for. The fact that the current and future Irish NFL players come from the native sports of Gaelic Football and Rugby has also opened things up to a whole new cohort of athletes as well. It won’t be long before there’s a steady pipeline of Irish kickers and punters heading stateside to chase their own NFL dream.

Ireland is quickly becoming a force in the European NFL market, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the league. Almost a year after the Steelers and Jaguars officially launched their brand in the Emerald Isle, the New York Jets have now also called dibs. The powers that be have clearly identified Ireland as displaying massive potential for attracting and nurturing a new audience. That continued growth and all the investment and activities that come with will only serve to further fuel the rise of more and more Irish NFL players.

The Irish aren’t here to take part in the NFL, they’re here to take over.

Read the original Gaelic Gridiron article.