Category: Coaching

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IAFL Head Coaches Meeting

This is a mandatory course for the IAFL head coaches this year.

Provisional Programme:
12pm Head Coaches Role – Game/team management.
1pm IAFL By Laws and interpretations.
2pm Officials Session – rule changes, interpretations and points of emphasis.
3pm Coaching Etiquette.

Coaching with the experts…Coach Ciaran O’Sullivan

Ciaran O'Sullivan

1st DOWN & 98

The official spots the ball on your 2 yard line and points to the endzone 98 yards away – “First Down!”

In 400 BC Sun-tzu wrote:    “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”

As a football coach I feel these words best describe my role in the team.  I put my players in the situations they will face on game day and through this I give them the opportunity to win.  An area of the game where Sun-Tzu’s words resonate is when your offence is “backed up”.

First & Ten from your own 2 yard line is a strange and daunting place.  The normal rules and roles of football have been turned on their heads.  You have the ball.  Your opponent has to defend a lot more real estate and airspace.  Yet they have the spring in their step.  They feel closer to scoring than you do.  They smell blood.  In a league where the athletic ability of the participants does not differ greatly, the psychological initiative becomes even more important.




Both of these facts must dictate how you prepare your team to get the most out of the situation.   If it will happen then you have to plan for it.  Set your offence realistic goals based on the worst place you want to be when the down marker is turned to 4.  For most coaches it would be acceptable to arrive at 4th down with your punter NOT standing in the back of the Endzone.  Rest assured the defence will send the house on 4th down to block your punt.  They are getting the ball in pretty good field position without having to return it!

Basic Rules

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Protect the football.
  3. Limit the time the ball spends in the Endzone.
  4. Calculate the risks you will take.

Most teams try to eek out yards up the middle and punt on 4th down.  Fine, it follows all 4 rules and can be effective.  Gains of a yard per carry will give your punter 15 yards to work with.

Think about this:   The defence will be expecting the run.

They will be sitting on it – keying on your backs – filling the interior gaps quickly.  So why not try something different?


Don’t just pass – take a shot at the Endzone!  Following the rules let’s see how that shapes up.


Rule 1: Keep it simple: Basic Pass Blocking Scheme.  No reads or options. Just call the play and run it.

Rule 2: Protect the football: Dedicate 9 players to pass protection.  Switch the centre and the play-side guard (right guard for a right handed passer).     This gives the defence something out of their comfort zone to think about and balances out the pass protection, once the running backs are brought into play.  Your QB has serious blindside protection and should have a pocket to work in.  


The defence will be keying on the run.  But this is a pass play all the way.  There are no reads for the offence.  The QB takes snap under centre and opens play side – effect a fake hand off to the Full Back on an A Gap Blast.  The Defence has to respect this and will, more than likely, jump all over it.  The Full Back fakes run to the line of scrimmage or first defender – he then becomes part of the pass pro. Tail Back moves straight away to block the play side edge rusher.  QB executes a 5 step drop and passes deep to X on a fly route.  X must release from the LOS. The play action is set up to help him.

Rule 3: Limit the time the ball spends in the Endzone:  The ball spends only 5 steps in the Endzone!

Rule 4: Calculate the risks you will take: How bad would it be if the Corner Back picks the ball?  Provided you train your wide out to recognise this as a possibility and he is ready & able to make the tackle, you could be looking at a similar result to a punt from under your posts!  That’s not much of a risk, when you consider the risks of punting from the back of your Endzone.


1 Fake + 5 step drop + 1 Fly route + Max Pro =   Football 101.

As a  completed pass puts your offence back on track and an interception puts your defence back on the field.  So play 2 in the script is based on an incomplete pass. Limited to these outcomes all of your players know what’s coming next when Play 1 is blown dead, giving your team more of a sense of control and certainty.

2nd Down & 10



This play gives the same reads to the defence as PLAY 1.  The success of the run is reliant on the quality of the fake hand off on first down.  The Full Back must take the ball out of his own end zone!  The QB must fake his 5 step drop.

3rd Down & Long


3rd down and the set up is the same.  The Full Back fakes the blast to the play side A gap.  He must account for the defender in this gap. Centre and back side Guard combo block the Back Side A gap defender.  They are not looking to get to the second level.  They are looking to move that defender off the line.  The Tail Back takes the same first step he has taken on the previous 2 plays.  He then cuts up behind the full back & centre. This is similar to a zone step.   The QB must hold his position for a moment longer – the play is just a simple lead!

That’s the script.  You may have a different script but you must now empower your team!  You have to prepare them to be able to run the script.  Install and walk through the play as you would any other element of your offence.  BUT spring it on your team at any time during practice. Get them used to running these plays when they least expect it.

It is also vey practical to mix up the order in which you run the plays.  This will keep your defence honest and you may end up in this position more than once in a game – it’s not lightning and it will strike twice.


REACT: When it does happen you must show your team you have confidence in their ability to execute the script!

SHOTGUN: The defence is already keyed up.  There will be pressure on both A gaps.   You’re moving the ball back quickly and have to regain all of those yards to break even.

OFF TACKLE/SWEEP: The more gaps you run the ball across – the more defenders you are giving a shot at the tackle in your Endzone.

SCREENS/CROSSING ROUTES:  Even an average defence will swarm around the ball when they have you backed up. Airing the ball out across or through an entire defence is asking for trouble. 

You must get your team on-board with your script.  Sell them on the idea.

–Ciaran O’Sullivan is the Head Coach of the Shamrock Bowl Champion University of Limerick Vikings.He served as UL’s special teams coach in 2008. He was Cork Admirals HC in 2006 and was instrumental in their youth policy in 2007. Ciaran also served as the Development officer for the IAFL and has been on the coaching staff for Team Ireland.Coach O’Sullivan can be reached at

IAFCA makes presence felt in USA

IAFCA visits the football facilities at UCF
IAFCA visits the football facilities at UCF

IAFCA Technical Director Darrin O’Toole visited the USA Jan 8th to attend two very important coaching events- The IFAF Technical Conference in Central Florida and the AFCA Convention at the world famous Marriott Convention Centre.

Technical Directors from around the world work on youth development
Technical Directors from around the world work on youth development

January 8th 9th and 10th saw Coach O’Toole attend conferences with representatives from all over the world to discuss strategies for the development of youth football world wide. Speakers from Australia , Japan, USA and Canada amongst others outlined their strategies for LTAD, or long term athlete development.

On January 11th 12th and 13th, Coach O’Toole became Ireland’s first ever representative at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, which attracted over 6000 coaches from the USA.

Legendary Coach gives inspiring speech
Legendary Coach gives inspiring speech

Attendees were lucky enough to hear seminars from Elite Master Coaches such as Lou Holtz,TCU’s Gary Patterson, new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Texas Coach Mack Brown, Superbowl winner Tony Dungy and many more.

The highlight was an emotional talk by San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary, who gave a heart felt speech about the tolls of coaching on the family.

The evenings saw chalk talks and buzz sessions from coaches from the top US colleges on a variety of formations and philosophies.

IAFCA Technical Director meets AFCA President
IAFCA Technical Director meets AFCA President

Coach O’Toole also met with AFCA President Grant Teaff, who was supportive of football in Ireland, and stressed his family tree comes back to Ireland and the Taffe families.

Coach O’Toole also met coaching legend Jack Lengyel, made famous by Matthew McCaunaghy in the movie “We are Marshall”. Coach Lengyel was the Athletic Director of Navy during their trip to Croke Park in the 90’s and stressed he is eager to return.

IAFCA Technical Directoe meets former Naval Athletic Director
IAFCA Technical Directoe meets former Naval Athletic Director

Overall the IAFCA’s attendance at both events was vital for the progression of the great game of football on the global scene. Several coaches expressed genuine interest in coming to Ireland, and the plans for LTAD will greatly benefit the youth football scene in Ireland.