Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited at the prospect of welcoming more Irish and European players into collegiate programs


Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald has expressed excitement at the prospect of welcoming more Irish and European players to collegiate programs, but cautioned we are “some time” away from that becoming more of a norm.

Although there have been some examples from Ireland, most commonly converts from Gaelic football or rugby, transferring their skills to the position of kicker or punter, the college recruitment system has not yet fully opened up beyond the American high school system.

Kerry native David Shanahan is one of them, playing for Georgia Tech while former Connacht rugby player Tadhg Leader has stints in the European league as well as with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

For Fitzgerald, who is bringing his Wildcats team to Aviva Stadium to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in August’s Aer Lingus College Football Classic, awareness events like this are the first step in connecting with Ireland and the continent.

“Hopefully we’re through Covid and now we can be a little bit more consistent in bringing our game to Ireland. Brendan (Meehan, Commercial Director College Football Classic) and I have been chatting about the future of college football in Ireland and I’m excited about it,” he said.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for our game to get more exposure and not just Ireland but all of Europe can get a feel for the college game and not just the NFL game.

“The more we can expose them to the game, the more exciting it becomes. We have just hosted a young man from Europe, an aspiring student athlete who was on a tour of the US.

“Coaches are asked to go there frequently and teach our game, talk about our game and show the basics. I think it’s going to take a bit of time, but I think it’s something that people like me and other coaches will embrace over time.

“There’s a big spike in our college game of Australian players and there’s no reason, after watching a rugby game I saw Ireland beat Wales, saw Johnny (Sexton) hit those kicks from hard angles , there is no doubt that there is an opportunity for it . We just need that synergy with our game and Trinity and the universities that you guys have there.”

Being of Irish descent himself plays a big part in Fitzgerald’s excitement at presenting the game in Ireland and having the opportunity to meet in front of unknown relatives who are as close as second cousins.

“I was with my wife over a month ago, it seemed like a bit of a whirlwind. On the first day we had the opportunity to go to the EPIC (Irish Emigration Museum) and have a detailed genealogy of my family roots and heritage done.

“The family on my grandmother’s side are the Merrins from Nerney in Co Kildare and I’ve had the opportunity to get out and meet family and it’s been great. They’re actually going to be my guests at the game with my dad, so I’m really looking forward to it.

“To learn that family history was very emotional and to meet a family that I had never met before was very special. I’m honored to represent them and look forward to sharing the game with them on August 27th.”

Chicago’s Northwestern Wildcats take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, August 27 in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic at Aviva Stadium. General ticket sales begin this Friday 29th April on Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited at the prospect of welcoming more Irish and European players into collegiate programs

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