American football in Ireland; the Irish take on America’s biggest sport

Andrew Irvine

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Army vs Notre Dame fighting Irish- Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public Affairs
Army vs Notre Dame fighting Irish- Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public Affairs (Flickr).

American football is easily the most popular sport in the U.S.A, earning higher ratings and attendance than any other sport nationwide. However, unlike America’s other major sports, such as Basketball and Baseball, American football has no popular alternative  to the NFL. Even though International American football is not a huge industry, there is an Irish American football league that has a much longer history than you might suspect.

The Irish American Football League, also known as the IAFL, is the biggest American football league in Ireland. Incredibly it was founded way back in 1984 and consists of 23 teams competing in two conferences. The championship game of the league is called the Shamrock Bowl, which takes place every year.

Earlier this year the Dublin Rebels retained their Shamrock Bowl title in a close contest with the Carrickfergus Knights at Tallaght Stadium, winning 12-6. The Rebel’s running back Wello Omorodion won the coveted Terry Lynch MVP Award, having rushed for 145 yards and scored a crucial touchdown.

There is a surprising number of Irish American football teams spread across Ireland, which adds to the legitimacy of the sport in the country.  Dublin colleges UCD and Trinity have teams in the Shamrock bowl conference. Teams such as the Dublin Rebels and the UL Vikings have flourished in the conference. The Rebels have won the most Irish championships with 9 total.

Here are a couple of examples of American football in Ireland.

Highlights of the 2014 Shamrock Bowl

Georgia Tech vs Boston College at the Aviva Stadium 2016

It’s hard to see why American football has yet to gain anywhere near the international following that the likes of baseball and basketball have, when it has such a giant market in the United States. The NFL have been trying to somewhat broaden their horizons by bringing 4 games a year to London’s Wembley stadium. As a result of this, the NFL is growing a significant fan base in the U.K. That could potentially lead to a franchise being moved across the pond which would be a huge step in building the sport’s popularity worldwide.

There is evidence of a large American football following in Ireland because of the Emerald Isle Classic, which is a college football game that is played in either Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium every other year since 2012. The last three classics have had attendances ranging from 40,000 to 53,000 people. Whether or not this will lead to American football replicating its domestic success globally remains to be seen, but there are clear positives about its growth in recent years when it comes to Ireland.

Click here for more information on Irish American football at the IAFA website.

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Andrew Irvine

  • Lea Kukulenz

    Well written! Actually makes me want to know more about American Football in Ireland.

  • Sunniva Batalden

    I had no idea this existed even. Great job!

  • Ashley Marie Callery

    Great article, andrew!

  • Andrew Irvine

    Thanks everyone! didn’t know it existed either until I started writing the piece!