How American Football reaches new heights across Ireland as Ravenhill prepares to host the Shamrock Bowl

With the Shamrock Bowl, Ireland’s version of the Super Bowl being played at Ravenhill tomorrow, and the much-anticipated return of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic to Dublin later this month, it’s tempting to say it’s local American football Fans have never had more action on their doorstep.

Tomorrow’s match between Dublin Rebels and UCD American Football, the first playoff since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is not the first time the home of Ulster Rugby has seen an oval ball belonging to another game being played.

Four times during World War II curious natives and duty US soldiers filled the stands of local stadiums for a series of games that were the first of their kind on these shores.

Those unfamiliar with the biggest rivalries across the Atlantic may have missed the joke when it was decided that “Yarvard” and “Hale” would fight, taking their nicknames from the Ivy’s two powerhouses League for inspiration, but a lack of familiarity with the rules was a bigger problem in the build.

With ticket sales supporting charities such as the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Red Cross, curiosity was such that the encounter made headlines under no less than the New York Times masthead.

“The first major American football game ever played in Northern Ireland is next Saturday when Hale meets Yarvard at the local rugby football ground,” her story began. “However, American soldiers and sailors have difficulty explaining (the) rules of the game to Ulster football fans.

“BBC has made arrangements to send commentary on the game to troops in the Middle East.”

The excitement, if not the knowledge, was great, however, when the local press ran ads that day imploring readers to “come by the thousands and see two top American teams at the first great game of American football ever.” played in this country”.

The pomp and ceremonies more familiar to US sports were on full display, though the specter of the ongoing war was never far away, as the marching band’s drum carried a depiction of Adolf Hitler, under the direction “Beat the Axis.

After Yarvard hit a field goal to win the game 9-7, the article in Stars and Stripes, an American military magazine, wondered how many of those in attendance knew the final score.

Despite this, many were sold of the product when a week later the same ‘Yarvard’ squad went up against a ‘Tech’ team which included many who had opted for ‘Hale’ again saw numerous supporters flocking to the Sandy Bay Game surfaced fields in Larne.

Now, of course, nobody questions the knowledge or passion of the support.

While some across the pond may still get snippy about the increasing internationalization of their favorite sport, with more NFL games than ever being played overseas in 2022, there’s no denying the growing interest and abundance of die-hard fans up until into the wee hours to track their adopted teams every weekend of the season.

Player numbers are also on the rise, underscored this week with news that Lopez Sanusi has joined NFL Academy in Loughborough from the Belfast Trojans.

The program, which launched in 2019 and is migrating from Barnet to the East Midlands this fall, offers students ages 16-19 avenues into employment, further education and the opportunity to play NCAA college football in the United States by it combines full-time education with professional-level American football coaching.

With five Shamrock Bowl titles and still the youngest pre-Covid champions, the Deramore-based side are obviously disappointed not to be in for tomorrow’s showpiece in their hometown, but significant news from Sanusi’s selection has ensured this is still the Case was a banner week.

The Dublin-born defender moved to Belfast aged 17 after stints in the United States and Nigeria. Just last year he joined the Trojans’ newly formed youth structures and became MVP before being promoted to the senior team this season.

Under the tutelage of the team’s defensive coach, Teddy Canty, an American who was a US college player himself, the teenager was a standout again and was named Defensive Player of the Year. An incredible opportunity now awaits him on his way to England.

“Whenever Covid happened, one of the things that we really wanted to focus on was building a youth team,” explained Hassan Jaafar, one of the coaches of the Trojans underage teams.

“It was something that despite the success we’ve had with the senior team, we probably just hadn’t put the time and effort in where other teams in our league were and we were in danger of being left behind.

“The pandemic has allowed us to secure a number of scholarships and coaches, set up this setup and Lopez was one of the first to sign on.

“He was very ambitious straight away and we could see his potential, but he was also very raw.

“He had all the physical attributes, but he had never really played organized football, even when he was in the States.

“We knew if we could use that potential we could help him to the next level.

“And he took it like a duck in water and played on both sides of the ball. With his athleticism he was really dominant.”

While coaches and teammates have played a big role in Sanusi’s development, Jaafar credits the player with a real determination to follow a path.

“As a young man he was always very trainable and always wanted to listen to the coaches and the older players,” added Jaafar. “But he has pushed himself hard and signed up for the Loughborough trials and it’s just fantastic to see him receiving that reward.

“It’s a real validation not just for the Trojans but for the league as a whole that we can produce athletes at this level.”

With a year in the program, Lopez will now dream of using this opportunity in offers to play college ball in the United States.

Local fans, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to see NCAA action up close and personal later this month.

A sport that lures 50 million fans to stadiums across the US each week in the fall, with a further 145 million viewers on television, there is an ever-growing audience in Europe, where increasing coverage is making it easier than ever to follow the schools’ struggles follow .

And on the bank holiday weekend it lands again at the Aviva Stadium.

After Covid-19 disrupted the streak, the August 27 game between Northwestern and Nebraska is the first step back on the path to what organizers hope Ireland will become college football’s second home.

Returning for the first time since 2016, a commitment has been made for five consecutive stagings, with the game already on the calendar for next year after organizers pulled off a sensational coup when they tricked Notre Dame into canceling their 2023 opener against the old one Align rival Navy in Dublin.

With teams of this size the possibilities will feel endless and ultimately the aim is to make the first game of the college season synonymous with Ireland, with all the attendant benefits not only for sports fans but also for tourism.

American football may have a long history here, stretching back some eight decades, but now it seems the future has never been brighter.

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