We’ve taken tag rugby to our hearts, we’ve even taken on cricket and now Galway could be set for a new sporting trend, as Connacht’s only American football team – the Galway Warriors – is seeking to fan out.
With more and more Irish people spending time living, working and studying in the States, American football has become increasingly popular in Ireland over the past few years.
Membership of the national governing body, the Irish American Football Association (IAFA), has increased eight fold over the past decade and now stands at over 2,100 regular participants.
Seventeen teams from around Ireland are to compete across two divisions, the elite Shamrock Bowl Conference and second tier IAFL-1, in the IAFA’s 2013 season, up from 11 this year, with the Galway Warriors hoping to compete in the league in 2014.
Established early last year, the team, which trains at The Swamp in The Claddagh, currently has around 30 members.
Galway Warriors PRO Michael Peyton says a lot of the lads initially became familiar with the sport through the movies, while Sky Sports now show a lot more American football.
While Galway Warriors range in age from 18 to their early 30s, around 70 per cent are students and many developed an interest in the sport while studying or on a J-1 Visa in the States, according to Michael.
“They would have spent summers in America and you couldn’t help but get roped in once you’re over there,” he says, adding that previous team recruitment drives at NUI Galway and GMIT have proven particularly successful.
While most people who join the team have some idea of the rules of the American football, no prior knowledge of the sport is required.
“You don’t actually have to have any idea, because essentially as a game it’s pretty simple: you just decide on a way that people are going to run and then you just throw the ball and try to catch it and that’s as simple as you can break it down.
“We’ve had guys that come down who have been watching it for years, we’ve had guys come down who have maybe seen five minutes of it and they just want to give it a try. It’s relatively easy to pick up,” says Michael.
Despite the growing popularity of American football in Ireland, Michael acknowledges that it’s not easy to source the sports equipment required in Ireland, with much of the team’s gear purchased online, where reconditioned equipment used by college football teams can be purchased “at a fraction” of the original price.
Protective equipment is particularly important, as, while American football may appear somewhat similar to rugby to the untrained eye, Michael points out that the tackling side of the full-contact game is “a lot harder than what you would see in rugby”.
“The guys, down to the fact that they are padded up, they do tend to hit each other pretty hard…It definitely hurts a lot more when you get hit; I’ve played both [rugby and American football] and the football definitely hurts a lot more even though you have protection on!”
The self-funded Galway Warriors has received support from local businesses, such as Fagan’s and Coyotes, which is hosting a fundraiser in aid of the team on Friday 21 December. For more details on joining the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or find Galway Warriors on Facebook or Twitter.