A cold, wet Saturday morning in Santry is not what many would call the typical setting for an American football training session. Uncropped grass, rugby jerseys, and GAA posts all seem out of place in the image of the flashy uniforms and painted AstroTurfs you might associate with the NFL. This, however, is where Trinity’s American football team adds its flavour to the growing international profile of the sport. As the season approaches, the team looks to hone its skills and develop as many new players as it can.
Any sports fan in the country will be able to tell you that American football has grown in the past few years. What may once have been no more than a background feature of Hollywood movies has become an international phenomenon, and a point of genuine interest for fans outside of its home country. While the NFL has looked to broaden its horizons in recent years, hosting games in Mexico and the UK, there has been a marked increase in grassroots involvement in the sport. Ireland is no exception to this, and Trinity American football has become a key player in the Irish American football sphere.
Being one of Trinity’s smaller sporting societies, it might fall under the radar of some student sports fans, but the team’s spirit would match that of any of the larger outfits in College. That’s according to captain Rory O’Dwyer, who is keen to attract new players to the team. Although he was first introduced to the game through his older brothers, Rory says that most of his teammates’ first exposure comes in Trinity, where they go straight into full contact games or ease themselves in by playing flag football.
“We’re a really close team. Everyone’s really good friends”
The main challenge the team faces is one that all smaller societies can relate to: “We have big problems with numbers” says O’Dwyer, grimacing as he recalls the team’s final game last year. He adds: “We were winning at half time but had to forfeit the game in the third quarter because we had a couple of injuries and didn’t have enough replacements.” This came as a bitter end to an otherwise very successful season, during which the team recorded several large victories and qualified for the playoffs. This can be frustrating at times, but the smaller size of the group also lends itself to a strong sense of community among the players: “We’re a really close team. Everyone’s really good friends and we go on nights out together all the time.” The team even adopts some classic American hyperbole into their vocabulary, referring to itself as a “family”.
Playing an American sport in Irish weather can be a challenge in itself, and O’Dwyer notes how the Irish style of play differs from what might be seen across the pond: “You get a lot of rain games in Ireland, so passing the ball is a lot more difficult.” This leads to a more “run-heavy league” as O’Dwyer calls it, although he is quick to point out that the Trinity team does pass the ball more than most of their opponents.
Is it difficult to get involved? Not at all, according to O’Dwyer. The team only trains one day a week, on Saturday mornings, so college doesn’t get in the way. Most importantly, O’Dwyer stresses that everyone is welcome and no experience is required whatsoever.
The American football team isn’t just a unique entity within Trinity sport. It’s also one of only three college teams in the country, with local clubs making up the rest of the league. This could easily change in the coming years however, as the sport grows around the country. There’s clearly a growing interest in American football within Ireland. This year there have been youth leagues set up with teams all around the country. The Irish youth league consists of eight teams, with two from Dublin, and is already underway, with players 16-18 year-old competing. This should form an even stronger base of young players that O’Dwyer will be eager to recruit in the coming years.
There’s clearly a growing interest in American football within Ireland.
As well as impressing in the league, Trinity American football has left its mark on the international stage. Former Trinity player, and O’Dwyer’s older brother, Conor O’Dwyer plays with the Irish national team. The Irish team travelled to Ostend in Belgium last month and recorded a win over the Belgian Barbarians.
Those wishing to ease themselves into the game or avoid the contact element entirely can get involved through the flag team, which plays a non-contact variation of the sport similar to tag rugby. This is used by many as an introduction to the game, but the team has a dedicated league and competes throughout the year. The team has already begun its season, kicking off with a convincing 66-6 victory against the Meath Trojans, and a narrow defeat to the Belfast Giants. The kitted season kicks off next February. Unfortunately, the team was demoted to the second division last year after forfeiting too many games, but Rory is confident that the team will use this to its advantage, and win a championship to springboard itself back to the top.
Out of Left Field is a new, recurring segment for the Sports section at Trinity News. We are hoping to shine a light on some of Trinity’s smaller sporting societies, highlighting the diverse and interesting make up of sport in Trinity. If you are a member of a small sporting society, please contact the Sports section by emailing us at [email protected]