American football in Ireland: slowly growing its influence

The Liberty explores the roots and gradual development of American football in Ireland and chats with the coaches, players and promoters of the game. 

The history of American Football in Ireland dates back to 1984, when the Irish American Football League (IAFL) was established. Today there are 20 ‘full contact’ sides now registered across the country – that’s the fully suited-up sport – along with the development of flag football and youth teams. 

With roots in the summer of 1995, the Dublin Rebels (mostly recently based at De La Salle Palmerston FC’s grounds in the Dublin mountains) are a dominant force in the Irish league, with nine national championships in the trophy cabinet – but Covid-19 has introduced new challenges to the club and its players. 

“You’ve got to be willing to put in the work and hopefully get a bit of luck along the way”

United Newland Crusaders Wide Receiver, Finn Kearns
Dubin Rebels head coach Ross McCoey. Photo Courtesy of

“Once lockdown hit, we couldn’t get together to throw the ball about, but thankfully we live in the digital age,” Rebels head coach Ross McCoey told the Liberty. “So guys got to study film and watch the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] and NFL [National Football League] clips. We’d prefer to be on the field but it’s something.

“As an amateur league, it’s a tough balance for a lot of guys with families, or tough jobs. There’s an understanding that it’s a difficult situation for everyone at the moment, and guys have to do what’s right for them given the circumstances,” McCoey added.   

Galway-born player Finn Kearns provided the game here with a needed spark in January, with the news that he had signed a contract with the United Newland Crusaders, a semi-professional team operating in Finland’s Maple League.  

Kearns, who spent some of his youth in the US, gave impressive performances for the University of Limerick Vikings in the IAFL.  Team Ireland, now known as the Irish Wolfhounds, invited Kearns to represent the nation in friendly matches against Team Holland in 2016 and Team Belgium in 2018. Kearns’ progression from the IAFL to the Maple League shows there are chances for progress from the Irish scene. 

Former UL Vikings wide receiver Finn Kearns, lifting a trophy with new team United Newland Crusaders. Photo courtesy of Finn Kearns

“The pathway is there. You need to be a pathfinder to get there. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work and hopefully get a bit of luck along the way,” Kearns told The Liberty. 

“If you really want to play American Football, get stuck into your local club. There’s also so many resources online that you can research and will help you improve your game. Get your name out there,” Kearns added. 

As well as coaches like McCooey and players like Kearns, Colum Cronin of the Irish NFL Show and fan groups such as Broncos Europe is doing his part to promote the game on our shores through the media.

Irish NFL Show host Colum Cronin pictured with Denver Broncos Safety Justin Simmons. Photo Courtesy of Colum Cronin

“I think the NFL is committed to growing the game and the interest is there amongst fans in Ireland to facilitate that growth,” Cronin told The Liberty. 

“The NFL and its teams appear to be open in terms of overseas games – more so than Premier League teams. So to me the expansion will continue,” Cronin said. “I’d love to see an NFL game in Ireland, but I think we’re 10 years away from that possibility.”