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Yes, there is fully padded football in Ireland. Much the same as telling someone from the States there is baseball in Ireland, you get a kind of a surprised, shocked response when you tell them there is also American Football on the Emerald Isle.
My team, the DCU Saints, managed to make the semi finals this season. Personally my season ended after the second last regular season game in Cork, a serious mauling, through a combination of injury and civilian disasters. For some reason, who knows why, the season only ended in my head today. Probably because I found myself going over everything in my head in bed last night. I am a poet and I didn’t even know it. Anyway, some muddled, jumbled thoughts on the 2009 IAFL season that was.
First of all, DCU are in superb shape to be a serious team to reckon with for the next several years. A large proportion of the teams in the IAFL (Irish American Football League) are populated with grizzled 10-15 year veterans of the league. DCU have no such issue, and instead are largely built with college students grouped in the 20-25 year old range. The team is only four years old and has already qualified for the playoffs two years running, a growth chart way ahead of several of the veteran teams in the league. The best is yet to come though, with a dedicated and knowledgeable head coach and some serious athleticism, speed and talent on both sides of the ball.
The League itself is in good shape, run by people who are obsessed with the sport, something probably vital in running a league in a minority sports environment. Make no mistake, Football is a minority sport in Ireland, and yet the organisation is admirable. For every game there is an ambulance for safety and a full refereeing crew and chain gang. By way of comparison, the Irish Baseball League is currently struggling to get two umpires out for games. Sadly, from baseball’s point of view, the IAFL is absolutely streets ahead in terms of organisational effort. Baseball Ireland could learn a lot from studying the IAFL, most of all from trying to match the enthusiasm of the IAFL committee and regular members/players. That’s not a knock at baseball in Ireland, or the people trying to run it, it’s more of a call to arms, the people currently running baseball need help and more of a commitment from those who just turn up once a week to play. However, we have been saying that for years, and nothing changes.
Moving on in subject, what makes the commitment to football shown by those who play it in Ireland all the more amazing is the sheer violence of the sport. Having played Rugby in school, to a reasonably high level (Leinster trials) and having played two years of football, there is simply no comparison to how rough the two sports are. Football is vastly more violent and injury heavy. It is night and day, so next time a drunken Rugby player says to you that ‘football is Rugby for wimps’, tell them to shut up and try football. One training session and they will be drunkenly slurring out of the other side of their mouths.
The hitting is intense. It’s liberating but intense. Liberating? Yes, I went there. If you manage to get into the speed of a well played, tough game, there is a somewhat liberating feeling of physical satisfaction afterwards. Perhaps it’s a confirmation that you can do something hard, something challenging and physical.
There is definitely an element of Fight Club to it. The good players let everything go on the field and throw themselves into the line without any sort of trepidation.
One thing that pops up every now and then in baseball and football in Ireland is the ‘small pond big fish’ syndrome, something prevalent in minority sports all over the globe. There is a hilarious unintentional comedy element to it in football on these shores. The way some of the players carry themselves you would think they were big shots on a serious D1 team in the States, not scrub Sunday warriors on muddy fields in Ireland.
One particular clown, let’s call him ‘Douche Bag McGee’, playing for the Dublin Rebels, is well known through out the league for his enormous mouth and tiny brain. I first came across his act playing flag football close to three years ago. He was coaching the Rebels flag team and spent an entire game mouthing off, trash talking. Yes, trash talking during a flag football game, in Ireland. I know, seriously. So, during the game Douche Bag McGee was verbally riding the Dublin Sharks diminutive receiver Eric ‘Vegas’ Valkys hard (frequent readers of Boston Irish will note ‘Vegas’ is a veteran star for the Dublin Hurricanes in the Irish Baseball League also, the Deoin Sanders of Irish minority sports). With two minutes to go and the Sharks pinned in their own ten and facing fourth and long ‘Vegas’ lined up wide out right beside the Rebels sideline. Douche Bag McGee chose that moment to bawl ‘Let’s see what you got in your pocket little man!’ at ‘Vegas’. Eric ran a deep, deep post and caught a close-your-eyes-and-chuck-it Hail Mary, rolled over once, held on to the rock to score, ran down the sidelines and spiked the ball in front of Douche Bag McGee shouting, ‘THAT’S what I got in my pocket!’.
Fabulous stuff. Of course, no further comment from Douche Bag McGee after that. The Big fish in the little ponds don’t like to be challenged. They retreat into their shells. Further evidence of this came in the semi final between the DCU Saints and the Rebels. Near the end of the game, with the experience, veteran Rebels team winning a blow-out, Douche Bag McGee ran for a short gain. He jumped up and shouted at Saints players ‘You should be f-ing ashamed of yourselves!!’
Nobody is really sure why the Saints, a team in their fourth year, playing in their second consecutive playoffs, should be ashamed of themselves, however, that’s what he said.
One of the Saints players took umbrage, stood up to him and shoved Douche Bag McGee in the chest. How did the Big Fish respond? He folded like deck chair, backed off quickly, basically running away, and even apologised. Later on however, in the traditional hand shake at the end of the game, he pulled that seven year old trick of pretending to shake hands only to withdraw at the last second and swipe your hand through your hair. Class act to the end.
You get them everywhere of course, in all sports, at the end of the day they are there to be ridiculed.
And so we beat on, boats against the tide, the Saints will start rookie camp in October with the veterans coming back fresh as daises a few weeks later for another season of hits, bombs, shotguns and crack back blocks. Rihanna and TI were right, you have to live your life. Get some dirt on your knees, son.
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