(Note: Though there are some verbal accounts of previous versions of an Irish American Football Hall of Fame, official records of such have proven difficult to come by. Thus, this article is representative of the establishment of an official AFI Hall of Fame)
Earlier this year, the AFI Board established an Hall of Fame and a selection panel of qualified AFI representatives met to induct the first set of inductees into the the Class of ‘23. Our newly inducted AFI Hall of Famers are named below, but first, an insight into the selection process —
Who belongs in the AFI Hall of Fame?
“An AFI Hall of Fame Inductee is an individual who has contributed significantly to AFI incurring benefit to the game of Irish American Football. At the discretion of the panelists, considerations may include;
performance; impact; longevity; achievements; additional involvement outside of the primary-nomination category; incurred growth or benefit to the sport.”
Individuals may be nominated either by the public or by the selection panelists, for their contribution to AFI in the following areas:
Player — For individuals who contributed significantly to the benefit of AFI in a playing capacity.
Coach — For individuals who contributed significantly to the benefit of AFI in a coaching capacity.
Contributor — For individuals who contribution significantly to the game in areas other than playing or coaching. This category includes, but it not limited to: refereeing officials; sports administrators; or managers.
To be eligible for the nominating process, nominees must have been, at least at one point in time, a member of AFI and/or a member of a historical version of AFI (i.e. IAFA). To be eligible for nomination, a player or coach must have been retired from the role which they are being considered for, for at least five years. This does not apply to contributors. An individual may be inducted more than once under different categories, but they may not be inducted twice for the same category.
The Selection Committee
The selection committee are responsible for deciding who is inducted into the AFI Hall of Fame. They collectively represented the island of Ireland over the years American Football has been played here. It was comprised of people who have played significant roles in the league, on or off the field. The selection committee were able to assess candidates from their own personal experience and memories. Additionally, the committee comprised multiple people who were involved for each decade, and as many as possible that span two or more decades so they could provide a point of reference. To avoid bias, representatives from the main football hubs — Dublin, Cork, Belfast area, Limerick — were included. In the case of larger hubs such as Dublin and Belfast, representatives of the main football “branches” were represented. As teams have folded and individuals have migrated or set up new teams, it was important that several panelists had personal memories of historical branches. The selection committee was as follows:
Ciaran O’Sullivan; former Cork Admirals and UL Vikings HC, former Youth Irish Wolfhounds HC, current Irish Wolfhounds HC since 2014. He has competed in 6 consecutive Shamrock Bowls, winning 3, and 1 Atlantic Cup, which UL won.
Andrew Dennehy; Former coach and player with the Dublin Rebels, current coach with UCD, Amsterdam Crusaders, and Irish Wolfhounds. 20+ years of playing/coaching experience in AFI. Ten Shamrock Bowls (9 Rebels, 1 UCD), one Atlantic cup (Rebels), one Tulip Bowl (Crusaders), two Belgium-Netherlands Bowl (Crusaders).
Mark Lawless; involved in football since the early 90s, current Irish Wolfhounds QB coach, UCD OC and former West Dublin Rhinos HC. One Shamrock Bowl (UCD).
James McKelvey; Belfast Bulls/Belfast Trojans QB, involved since early 00s, retired as Belfast Trojans HC; played in 7 Shamrock Bowls, winning 5, and 3 Atlantic Cups, winning 2.
Alan Lomasney; Cork Admirals HC, Cork Admirals Youth HC, involved with Cork Admirals since early 00s, competed in 2 Shamrock Bowls, winning 1, and two IAFL1 bowls, winning 1. Multiple youth league titles. Current Irish Wolfhounds Youth HC and AFI Board Member.
Brian Sutton; Dublin Tornadoes QB and HC in the 90s. Played in 4 Shamrock Bowls, winning 3.
Greg Loughran; Craigavon Cowboys. Involved since the 80s, won Shamrock Bowl 1, extensive admin roles in AFI, previously Board Member and AFI President.
Spencer McDowell; current player with the Belfast Knights since early 00s, played in 3 Shamrock Bowls, Irish Wolfhounds American Football Team Captain.
Kelly Dwyer; involved since 2010s, previously a member of Officiating department, current Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football player, The Domestic Game podcast host, current AFI Board member.
The Selection Process
Throughout the induction process, the selection committee met online three times. The first meeting involved discussion of the Procedures and Protocols for HOF Selection which had been provided by AFI. It should be noted that, though there is a clause and a set of procedures which would come into effect if a member of the selection committee were to be nominated, all committee members voluntarily omitted themselves from consideration for nomination.
It was recommended by the committee, with this being the first Hall of Fame class which covers over 30 years of eligible Irish American Football, that there should be 2 inductees under the contributor category and 3 inducted per “era” under the coaching and player categories. The “eras” were defined loosely as 1986-1996, 1997-2007 and 2008-2018.
The second meeting involved the nomination and championing of individuals for HOF consideration. Committee members each presented their nominees, along with their reasons for nomination. Nominations by the public were also presented. In total, the committee considered 22 nominees, with many of these having received more than one nomination. The nominees were considered by the committee on excellence, longevity, and impact primarily. The third meeting by the committee involved the voting; and individuals with the most votes were subsequently inducted into the AFI Hall Of Fame.
So without further ado, along with their championing statements from their respective nominations, we present the..
AFI Hall Of Fame: Class of 2023
Terry Lynch (RIP) Category: Contributor; Player and administration for Cowboys and AFI (then IAFA).
“Terry loved football. He loved football people. Having worked with Terry on several IAFA Boards and projects, I can say that only those close to him know the time and effort he put into ensuring our game was played, improved, and grew. Initially providing support to the IAFA Board on the Association’s finances, he soon became an invaluable Board Member and Officer. A steady hand on the tiller through some of our most turbulent times, when football in Ireland was under a real threat of collapsing, Terry not only shaped our policies, but his personality shaped our approach, and his leadership guided us to a place of positivity, security and growth.
Terry’s legacy can be seen on every football field and at every game played here. None more so than in our youth football programs. Instigating and coaching the first Irish Youth Team was sadly his last involvement in our sport and the foundation on which all our National Team Programs are based. His loss was sudden and devastating to his family, friends and the football community here. With his memory enshrined in the hearts and minds of so many, it is only right and proper that his achievements are enshrined in our Hall of Fame.”
Category: Contributor; Referee and Administration from 1985.
“There are some people, without whom, American Football would not be played on this island. Steve is one of those. Football would have struggled to gain momentum and survive in the early days without him. When there was little understanding of this strange sport, Steve was there, initially coaching the Tyrone Tornadoes in 1984 before becoming a full time official and Secretary to the Irish American Football League (now AFI). He represented Ireland as a founding member of the International Federation of American Football in 1998.
Steve retired from officiating in the late 2000s due to illness, and thoroughly deserves his place in the AFI Hall of Fame forever.”
Players and Coaches
“Mark ‘Hoggy’ Harris, #39, who I am sure will be in your HOF in his own right was [allegedly] playing fully kitted football at the age of 16, pretending he was 18 so he could play. Hoggy was an absolute tackle machine even then, often intercepting the ball or strip tackle and recovering the ball multiple times during a game. Hoggy would go on the play fully kitted for the next 25-30 years.”
Dave Curran (RIP)
“Coach Dave ultimately proved to be a defining person in watershed years of American football in Ireland. Initially with the Dublin Celts and subsequently the Dublin Tornadoes. His background of teaching History in the USA, being recognised Nationally for his experienced methods, allowed him connect with his class and teams. He brought his unique style of preparation, tenacity, fun and inspiring love for the game allied to his football experience that generated an immediate and sustained followership. Dave understood the character & personal background of each and every player he interacted with. From this, he built a game plan around their strengths and developed a team environment where players from diverse communities came together. They were prepared, grew to trust in one another to perform at a consistently high level, the Dublin Tornadoes losing just one game in a three-year spell, Dave made the hard work and match preparation enjoyable for the squad and ensured he found ways to recognise all contributions. There are many stories of late-night phone calls, training long into the night along with the introduction of video reviews, and of course his range of hats for all occasions! Coach Dave became a leader friend and Father figure to many of his players, impacting their lives for many years after his untimely passing. Dave died suddenly within days of delivering training as part of the first National squad seasons in Dublin and was remembered with his initials on the team jersey for Ireland.”
“Philip aka “Phil” will be remembered as a generational talent in Irish American Football. He fast became the benchmark to which others tried to measure themselves at RB not just his Dublin Tornadoes teammates but throughout the league. He became the focus of his teammates expectations of success on game day and similarly the cause of opposition’s dread, knowing the physicality that was to be unleashed repeatedly. Primarily a FB he played defence too with never a backward step taken. Phil delivered time and again becoming at the highest standard, he exuded leadership by actions ultimately going on to represent Ireland in the international stage. In each game he “made his mark”, through hammering blocks and devastating carries. He ran the ball with passion and commitment often through or over a defender rather than going around them. Phil is a great ambassador for our game and worthy recipient of this recognition.”
(Note that selection committee member Andrew Dennehy declared a potential conflict of interest during this round of voting and subsequently abstained. The conflict of interest was that an immediate family member had been nominated)
“Brian is a truly unique player in the history of Irish American Football. The results of his long carrier exemplify his tenacity, enduring commitment, positional skill an uncanny on-field sense to open defences. Brian competed in 11 Shamrock Bowls, winning 8 and becoming the first player to do so – something only 3-4 people have ever achieved to date – and picked up multiple Bowl MVP awards along the way. He played for the Dublin Tornadoes in the early 90s, Dublin Bulls and Dublin Tigers in the late 90s, and then the Dublin Rebels from 2001-2005. He also played on O and D for Ireland in the 90s. His impact went far beyond just winning medals – he was a critical factor in all of those teams success. As a player, he played every position on the field, but primarily running back and linebacker. He had elite speed, balance and vision packaged with a football IQ that was second to none and a killer spin move, leading to his absolute dominance on the gridiron over almost 15 seasons. He could take over a game. And in critical high-stakes situations where someone needed to make a play, he always delivered. He was also a player-coach for much of his career, including HC and OC roles, and introduced some innovations and concepts that were decades ahead of their time and that legacy has had a lasting impact on the league to this day. Continually pushing his own standards, he demanded those around him deliver for the team. Brian is a natural leader creating a bond that delivered many successful seasons through hard work but always with that glint and smile and renowned/unmatched knack for finding a way to win.”
“Tobias was the anchor of the great Rebels OLs in the 00s. He started out with the Dublin Bulls and Dublin Tigers in the late 90s before joining the Rebels in 2003, where he played Left Guard for the rest of his career. He competed in 9 Shamrock Bowls, winning 5 (including 4 in a row with the Rebels from 2003-2006). His impact as a lineman can’t be overstated, with impact being the operative word. He was an absolute juggernaut in the trenches. While he was virtually unstoppable in a drive block, he majored in pulling. The Rebels run game for most of the 00s was built to have various ways of letting defenders into the backfield untouched so Tobias could annihilate them with a trap block. His combination of speed, power and violence meant he was always the hammer, not the nail. He had a friendly, reserved demeanor but with the ability to switch on an uncompromising physical meanness when the ball was snapped. And he often gave great tactical guidance to coaches, for example: “How about I push my man backwards about 15
yards and we run the ball to the left?”… A tactic that tended to be extremely successful.
Keith O’ Callaghan
“When I started the Cork Admirals, Keith was one of the first players to show up. From the first training sessions a few things stood out, outrageous speed and courage. When the games started everyone learned about Keith’s ability on the field. We found out how tough Keith was. The main offensive threat in every team he ever played on, he became the focus of defensive players and coaches alike. His football IQ meant very few if any missed steps through a career of over ten years, which saw his Admirals go from a fledgling team to a force in football.”
“A founding member of the Belfast Trojans. Jeroen is a Duke University Alumni and All ACC player who brought decades of experience to the Trojan Offensive Line. His raw power and expert technical ability at either Center or Guard drove the Trojans to numerous Shamrock Bowls. He has a legitimate case to be called the best player to have taken the field in Ireland. Jeroen continues to pass on his vast footballing knowledge as Coach for the Trojans Offensive Line.”
“Kieran was a leader in a group of young players who changed how football was played in the University of Limerick and ultimately across the island. Anchoring the team’s offensive line as it transitioned from a young group with potential to National & European titles, “Coeny” played to a higher level than most people on the field. His dedication to the Vikings and the game combined with a hunger to learn and improve, underlined by a hugely positive attitude made Kieran a great teammate, formidable opponent and truly a Hall of Famer.”
“David Colvin was a prototype for the modern Irish Running Back. His agility, tenacity, and ability to leave opponents in his wake with a burst of pace saw David crowned Trojans MVP on multiple occasions. He was equally at home at receiver and was a Shamrock Bowl MVP at that position, as well as being one of the rare Irish players to ever score a touchdown against American College competition. A truly special player who was capable of what was expected of him as well as the unexpected.”
AFI are delighted to induct these icons of Irish American football history into our inaugural Hall of Fame Class. While we have been able to directly notify most of our inductees, we have been unable to contact the family of Dave Curran as some time has passed
since their involvement. We appeal to those reading; if you have the means
to put AFI in contact with Dave’s family, please do so. Or, better yet; please
share this article with them and on your socials and invite them to get in touch with our Facebook or Instagram page.