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Leader and Mayo: Meet the two Irishmen with the NFL in their sights

The Liberty catches up with Tadhg Leader and Kevin Mayo, two Irishmen hoping to break out onto the American football scene. 

In 1977, kicker Neil O’Donoghue was the first Irish-born player to play in the National Football League (NFL). The Buffalo Bills drafted O’Donoghue, where he built up an impressive nine-year kicking career. 

However, ever since O’Donoghue hung up his kicking boots, we’re yet to see another Irishman take the field – but that could all change very swiftly. 

Ex-Connacht rugby player Tadhg Leader is trying to kick his way to the NFL.  

“About a year ago, I was all signed up and ready to go back to playing rugby. I went kicking some American footballs for a bit of fun one day. It went pretty well and then people started advising me to pursue a career in American football,” Leader told The Liberty. 

It wasn’t long before Leader was thrust into the big leagues as he was kicking and training alongside Super Bowl-winning athletes. 

“I spent about a week with the lads kicking in San Diego. A lot of people aren’t very self-aware of their ability. So I wasn’t sure if it was just me thinking that I was good. I went and spoke to John Carney who has 23 years of kicking experience, and asked him ‘where do I stand?’ 

“He said: ‘You’re clearly well capable of kicking with the NFL lads, you’re already at a high level. If I were you, I’d be really excited about going down this path.’”  

With Carney’s advice and Leader’s belief in self, it wasn’t long before Leader was all-in on the challenge of becoming a professional American football player. 

Springing into action 

The Spring League was Leader’s next step in his effort to make it to the NFL. The league is based in America and consists of several athletes that all have a common goal: the NFL. 

Leader found himself suiting up for the Aviators and making his kicking debut in Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.  

Lucas Oil Stadium pictured above. Image: Unsplash/Joshua J. Cotton

“I’m getting goosebumps even thinking about it. It was an amazing experience,” Leader said. “Seeing on the rafters all the people that have gone before me like Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri , knowing that I was going to be playing my first game in this stadium was a real pinch-yourself-moment. 

“I had been waiting for this moment for so long. I was on national television, I had never done this. I could hear the camera behind me, but I got into my routine, then I sort of lost it for three seconds and then snapped back and saw the ball glide through the uprights,” Leader added.  

The Irishman impressed everyone during his time in the Spring League, and caught the eye of the Wroclaw Panthers, who operate in the European League of Football.  

Before Leader knew it, he was over in Poland playing American football for the Panthers. Leader joined at the tail-end of the regular season but still showcased his skill set while getting a few European football matches under his belt.

No mercy in the NFL 

The NFL’s 32 teams are notorious for swapping players in-and-out on a daily basis. Athletes spend their whole careers striving for success in the league only to be signed and cut by a team within a short period of time.  

NFL Logo via Unsplash

Having a rugby background is what sets Leader apart from the rest. However, the fact Leader doesn’t have a vast amount of kicking experience is proving to be a slight obstacle on his journey to the NFL. 

“The more you get to understand the business side of things, it is very cut-throat. I wish the pathway was a little more open-minded to make it to the league,” Leader said.  

Leader is currently recovering from an ankle injury and has taken some time off. He wants to enjoy travelling and time with his friends and family but insists that he’s eager to get back out there and make another push for the NFL. 

 The 29-year-old is adamant about inspiring the next generation to pick up the sport in Ireland. 

“It’s a niche sport, people aren’t really supportive of the sport in Ireland. Don’t care what other people think. What does that matter? They have no influence. Control what you can control. That’s a piece of advice I wish I got my head around sooner.” 

– TADHG LEADER

Kevin Mayo: From Dublin to Chicago 

24-year-old Kevin Mayo from Tallaght, Co Dublin, began his American football journey with the South Dublin Panthers.  

Mayo impressed everyone during his two-year playing career in Ireland as a defensive lineman. After applying for college football programmes abroad, it wasn’t long before he was signed by a small university in the Chicago area.  

North Park University and Mayo came to an agreement, and Mayo made the shift from the Irish American Football League (IAFL) to the NCAA III [The third division of college football in the USA]. 

Just like Leader, Mayo is trying to lead by example for the next generation of American football players in Ireland, with the hope of producing some home-grown talent.  

“I feel like kids should go down to play for a team like the South Dublin Panthers not only because it’s my local team but because the team represents family. Every player on the team and coach will help you be the best player that you can be,” Mayo told The Liberty. 

“Shout-out to Coach Mack and the rest who have helped me blossom into the player that I am right now; you guys are one of the reasons why I’m in America following my dream.” 

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