Monday 21 October 2019

American football has new base in Gorey

Team coach Kevin Klatt putting John Lynch through his paces
Team coach Kevin Klatt putting John Lynch through his paces
The Wexford Eagles all set for another training session in the Gorey Celtic grounds

Dean Goodison

Up and down down the county, American football is the in-vogue sport that people are talking about. Satellite television has given the game a renaissance on both sides of the Irish Sea and while Dublin has hosted the odd college game, Wembley has welcomed more than half of the NFL teams in the leagues' international series.

Every one of those London games has sold out. Not only sold out but done so, barring the odd few supporters' ticket returns from across the Atlantic, months in advance. Visually being able to see the best, most exciting teams on a Thursday, Sunday and Monday night has created a fan base that the NFL has been more than happy to embrace.

Up to now, the fandom was where it ended for supporters of the 32 NFL teams in Wexford. However, that's in the process of changing with the county's first American football team, the Wexford Eagles, and they are looking to tap into that base of fans by attracting new players to the team.

Only set up in the last few months, The Eagles, who are already snazzily kitted out in their custom-made attire, are practising with just under 20 players at the moment and are looking to double that number by the start of 2016. They are looking for everyone who's interested, but the chief need is bulk, as they are seeking big guys to man the trenches.

'Anyone who has watched it on television will see these guys that weigh well in excess of 22 or 23 stone,' explains offensive co-ordinator, Iowa native and Gorey resident, Kevin Klatt, before continuing:

'There is no way that they are going to be running any marathons this year but in American football you need three and four second bursts of incredibly high energy and then you've got 35-40 seconds to recover before the next play starts.

'That's really what we are talking about. Get guys who are big enough and strong enough who can maintain for three or four seconds and take a breather for 35-40 seconds and go again. That's what we are looking for, we need bulk, we need big guys.'

Co-founder of the Eagles, John Lynch, continues: 'We've got guys who never played sport in their lives and are coming up here training, they are going to make great linemen. This sport accommodates every different size of person, doesn't matter what you look like, how big you are, how small you are, there's a position on the pitch for you.

'It's one you have to sell to people as well, we've convinced guys who have never played sport, they have been up here from the start and they love it. It's about diversity in every shape and form; nationality, size, height, age, it doesn't matter, it's quite an all-inclusive sport.'

Fellow co-founder Artur Guz has also seen the sport make a big impression on men that weren't even fans in the first place. He says: 'There's some guys here who step in the first day with us and don't have a clue about American football, they don't know what the NFL is, nothing, the guys are now watching games on Sunday, asking questions, they are big fans now after three months.'

Sound good? The Eagles are currently training on Wednesday evening under the lights, on the astro-turf, in Gorey Celtic's Umbro Park.

The sessions are led by strength and conditioning trainer Ivan Lynch and he uses the first half for the physical work.

'You can overwhelm players, or anyone in any sport,' explains Lynch, about his methods. He continues: 'Keep it minimal, keep it something they can understand and something that doesn't keep them static in the one position for too long. As long as they can move, start getting the basic movements, start visualising what they are doing, it goes a long way in the development of a better player.

'A lot of lads are doing very basic stuff, learning how to use their feet, how to turn their hips, how to focus their head forward rather than on the floor, little things like that, subtle little changes make them better players. After a few weeks you'd notice the difference.'

About half-way through the session the group splits, with Kehoe going with the defence for drills and Klatt taking his offence and working on their plays. It's early days, with no contact, but the offence is showing potential, especially with their 'hook and ladder' play, and their coach is impressed with what he's seen so far.

'I'm seriously impressed at the way they train and how quickly they have grasped the concepts that I have introduced,' says Klatt. 'We've only been running that offence for three weeks now. Sam, the quarter-back, is able to call the plays, on his own, unprompted.

'The other three guys in the backfield, the guys who will be doing the majority of the running of the ball, they know exactly what he's talking about when he calls a play. I think that that even surprised them, that they could pick it up that quickly.'

The players really are in the embryonic stages of getting the club going. The main league, which is for development teams, doesn't start until May so now is the perfect time to join them. If all that sounds good, check out 'Wexford Eagles' on Facebook or @WexfordEagles on Twitter and get in touch.

Wexford People