Kicking: The Love of The Irish

Bark About It!

Photo Credit: Nikki Lepore

Is there anything more frustrating than your kicker missing PATs or very kick-able field goals? Obviously, in the course of our real lives, yes there is, but in the context of football fandom, very little else gets my blood boiling. Kicker discussions are always at the forefront of NFL discussion in Ireland. There are various reasons for this, which we have discussed both with Austin Siebert and Jamie Gillan on our @twogreenbrowns podcast. One of the main reasons for Irish interest in Punting/Kicking is the fact that NFL playing dreams for non US based players, historically were based in this area. When little (yes, I was little at one point in time) John Cahill was outside practicing throwing a rugby ball and pretending to be Joe Montana or Jerry Rice, my brothers and I fully understood, our place on an NFL team would be as a kicker. This would lead to back yard kicking competitions, where we would argue over who got to “be” Morten Anderson or who would “be” Ollie Campbell (Irish rugby legend). Morten Anderson was one of the biggest influences on our budding NFL fandom. He opened the door to the possibility of playing in the NFL.

The predominance of kicking based sports in Ireland, Gaelic football, Rugby and Soccer basically means, everyone is a kicker. In Gaelic football, place kicks are taken regularly from 40 – 60 yards, this is a skill set that most outfield players would practice as kids and then specialize in as they progress to senior ranks. Soccer players, especially goalkeepers have great experience in distance and placement. Rugby players get the advantage of playing with an oval ball and the out half position you can really hone your kicking skills. The same skills are evident in Australian rules football, which is very popular in Ireland, with many of the GAA’s best young prospects making their way to Australia to play professionally. This proves a popular breeding ground for kickers and punters, the coveted Ray Guy Award presented to the top college punter every year was awarded to an Aussie for five consecutive years for 2012 to 2017.

In the modern era, the only input Irish players have had in the NFL have been at kicker. Who remembers Patrick Murray? Signing to the Browns via the Buccaneers in 2016, the Fordham graduate was celebrated in Irish media and got a lot of exposure. Although born in New York, both his father and uncle played inter county football for Monaghan and Murray was quite the GAA player himself at underage level. Unfortunately, he appears to be out of work at the moment having last surfaced with a return stint with the Buccaneers in 2017. The buzz that Murray created was fantastic, highlighting to a new generation of young Irish GAA and Rugby players that they too, may have what it takes to make it in the NFL.

Before Murray took to the field, Neill O’Donoghue was a trailblazer for the Irish in the NFL. O’Donoghue was an accomplished under-aged GAA player with his local club Round Towers in Clondalkin County Dublin. As a young adult, he played soccer at the highest level in Ireland for Shamrock Rovers. O’Donoghue earned the first ever US soccer scholarship ever handed out to an Irish player and landed at Saint Bernard College in Alabama. Upon dissolution of their program, the young O’Donoghue arrived on campus in Auburn, where he ended up “having a go” kicking on their college team. To this day he holds a tied college record of 57 yards for a field goal. He was drafted by the Bills in 1977 and cycled through the Buccaneers and St Louis Cardinals in an eight-year NFL career. He still remains the tallest kicker to kick in the NFL at 6 ft 6″.

So when I see kickers missing chances from forty yards, when I see kickers being inconsistent, I know there is someone out there who, currently who can do a much better job. I’ve seen Maurice Fitzgerald do it week in, week out for Kerry Gaelic football team and Ronan O’Gara do it on the world stage with the Irish Rugby team. O’Gara rumored to have been approached by the Miami Dolphins at one point. Filling your kicking vacancy is not rocket science, you get a few guys with some form, train them up and let them duke it out. For my money drafting kicker in this day and age, unless he is a sure fire, home run, can’t miss guy is not great business. Good kickers get released every year due to finances and form. There will always be a pool of talent at the position due to the fact that only 32 are rostered at any one point in time.

The recent travails of the Browns kickers had left me feeling cold. Siebert due to his high draft position and inconsistency in camp, was concerning to me, but seems to have turned a corner. However, a PAT miss with his first kick in anger at home in a Browns shirt was not the way to go if you are trying to inspire confidence. In a recent interview with kicking coach Jaden Oberkrum, the former TCU Hornfrog, Jacksonville Jaguar and for a brief moment Browns kicker spoke very highly of Austin Siebert. Oberkrum was glowing in his praise for Siebert, however, he did raise the point of how unproven he is from 50 plus yards. Having played on great college teams his whole career, long field goal attempts were not often called for.

Our punting room has also seen a big change with the addition of Jamie Gillan. I have made no secret of my love for this move, clever for the cap and the huge potential that Gillan offers. Gillans punting coach Aaron Perez from the Punt Factory cannot speak anymore highly of the burly Scot. Perez and Gillan have a close relationship after Jamie and his agent had identified Perez as a coach of interest to them form his well produced social media content. Having organized an initial meeting and training session, Perez could hardly believe his eyes when seeing Gillan punt in person. In a recent interview with me on @twogreenbrowns podcast, Aaron described how Gillan hit one of the two biggest punts he had ever seen, in his warm up session. Haven spoke in detail with this man about Jamie, his game, and his qualities as a person, be in no doubt, we are in the right hands as far as punting is concerned.

So, when it comes to the matter of kickers, you can see why I have a special interest. You can see why my eyes light up when MY punter runs down the field and lights up a punt returner. A lifetime of dreaming, seeing guys who were not American and achieving success in the game, puts me back in the yard, with my brothers, kicking punctured rugby balls. I am convinced that a compatriot of mine could become the next kicking star in the NFL, just how to harvest and train the talent is and always will be the problem. Guys with vision, like Aaron Perez hold the keys to the kingdom where directing young kicking talent in the NFL is concerned. Could young British and Irish, Rugby, Soccer and GAA players be the new Australia when it comes to scouting kicking talent. I believe so, NFL scouts and trainers would be welcomed with open arms by young guys who all believe they could have a shot………thanks to who? The Scottish Hammer, Jamie Gillan.

Go n-éirghidh an bóthar libh, a chairde

John Cahill

@johncahill_Irl @twogreenbrowns @BrownsAccess

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