Category: Women in Sport

20×20: Kelly Dwyer

2019 saw female membership in IAFA rise to 57, with many females starting their football journey through kitted football, flag football, coaching, officiating and volunteering. We spoke with Kelly Dwyer on her experiences of being a member of IAFA and what her roles consist of.

What sparked your initial interest in American football?

“Stockholm syndrome, essentially! I had no interest at all until I did my undergrad in Limerick. During those years, the Vikings lads became some of my best friends, and some of them still are. They’re an absolute gas bunch! It was so much fun. It’s a great club, and without them being so welcoming, encouraging and sound, I never would have gotten involved.”

How did you get involved with your club/IAFA?

“I began ad hoc roles with the Vikings back in 2012. I began team officiating with them in either 2013 or 2014. In 2015, I was their director of officiating. There were new rules where officials had to have 2 years’ experience within IAFA and the level 1 course passed to officiate that year. It made it difficult to get my role done and I drove those boys mad that year. But we hit all our assignments, and that was my job! When I moved to Monaghan, I started full-time league officiating and sure, been at that since.”

What role(s) do you currently hold within your club/IAFA?

“I am a full-time official and the Officiating Appeals Manager. The officiating gets me traveling to different venues, meeting different people every weekend, which I love. Last year was the first year I officiated as White Cap. First game was Jets @ Razorbacks and it was rough (sorry lads!) but the others were ok!

The Appeals Manager is a new role that was created for the 2019 season. I developed a process so that appeals are now unbiased, effective and fair.”

What is the American football environment like in Ireland?

“It’s a small community so we all know each other. There’s rivalry between teams, absolute roasting’s, but that’s half the craic. It’s great fun and there’s respect behind it all. It’s not without its challenges, and game day can be stressful, but everyone on the field is there because we share a common interest. We’re working together to develop the sport. I love it, it challenges me and I feel like I’ve met so many great people.”

What advice would you have for a fellow female interested in getting involved in American football?

“Get it done. Gender is irrelevant. In terms of officiating, I get thanked, abused, roasted, praised, pretty much the same as any of my male counterparts.

There are obviously certain things that we (female officials) need that are different or additional to what the male officials need – privacy; female changing rooms, female bathroom etc.

But typically, teams don’t even bat an eyelid at the requirement to provide that. They’re aware, they’re sound and they get it. There are now more females involved in the sport than ever before, and they’re carrying out a variety of roles.

If you want to get involved and you’re going to affect the sport positively, just do it!”

Significant Increase In Membership 2018/19

2018/19 has been a stellar year for IAFA that’s seen a 31% increase in unique membership, with particularly strong growth at youth level, in female membership and officials. These statistics formed part of our Commissioners (interim, Brian Cleary) report at yesterday’s AGM.

Year
Unique Members
% +/-
2017
1314
+7%
2018
1256
-4%
2019
1641
+31%

Overall memberships totalled 1774 – this includes members who took one more than one membership e.g. registered as an official and player.

Year
Overall Memberships
% +/-
2017
1567

2018
1635
+4%
2019
1774
+9%

Youth football had huge growth this year, thanks to the addition of four new teams to the youth league. Youth football is key to the future of our sport and whilst IAFA is pleased with this increase, IAFA will continue to push this growth and encourages more clubs to join the youth league in 2020.

Officiating was another department that seen considerable growth. There have been changes made to the operations of the officiating department, including 5 new personnel appointed to help improve standards across the whole department. The success of this can be clearly seen, with an 81% rise in the amount of trained and registered officials.

Year
Youth Kitted
Officials
Other
2017
70
78
173
2018
63
75
44
2019
123
136
106

IAFA is delighted with the increase in female membership, with members taking on roles across all areas including kitted and flag players, coaches, officials and volunteers (club and NGB level). IAFA has worked hard to increase the visibility of American football to females as part of Sport Irelands 20×20 strategy. IAFA will continue to strategize to increase female membership and welcomes all feedback to help with that strategy.

Slight decreases were noted in the number of senior kitted players and coaches – IAFA are working hard to address this to ensure that these increase next year.

Year
Coaches
Senior Kitted
Flag
2017
99
956
191
2018
125
1006
322
2019
110
968
331

Statistics collected using the IAFA registration system (Azolve).

Youth Football: Westmeath Minotaurs Joe Kinahan

In our continuing series of interviews focusing on youth American football here in Ireland, we chatted with a former youth player and now starting senior level quarterback, Joe Kinahan from the Westmeath Minotuars, to get his thoughts on the importance of youth American football.

Could you first tell us how you became interested in American football? 

“It happened by accident, to be honest. I got bored of FIFA, as does every 11-year-old with the attention span of a doughnut, and started looking up free soccer games online. I stumbled across a game called Speedback one day, gave that a go thinking it was to do with soccer, and suddenly found myself fascinated with this new American sport. We had Sky at home so I begged to have control of the remote for that Sunday for a few hours. Safe to say, I haven’t looked back since!”

How did you find out about the Minotaurs youth program and what convinced you to give the sport a try? 

“When I joined the club, there wasn’t actually a youth program in place. In fact, I don’t think there was a youth program in place for any team in Ireland, and there certainly wasn’t a league setup like the one we have now. My mam saw an ad for the Minotaurs in the paper recruiting senior members not long after the club was established, and I decided to show up one session in January. That training really lit a fire in me, even at 12 years old, and I got the sense that this may be something that I’m going to love for a long, long time. When I finally got into pads when the youth program started a few years later, it was 100% confirmation, so I’m grateful it did eventually get setup.”

Joe in action earlier this year

What were the early training sessions like and what was your main motivation to stick with it as a youth?

“The early days of training were very focused on fundamentals of tackling and blocking, as I believe it should be when you’re coaching young people. I think too many coaches try to bypass this and overlook poor technique in the hope that “they’ll get better” so they can move on to scheming. The coaching staff we had looking after us made sure to emphasize the basics of football to make sure we became better players. I think it was a combination of that and everything else you mentioned there that kept myself and the rest of the lads coming back for more.”

Looking back on your youth football career, how important do you think that experience was to help you earn the starting QB job on the senior team?

“More important than I can ever stress. I know that’s a clichéd thing to say, but I mean it. The staff that my class, if you will, had coaching us were there not just to stay involved in the game for their own good, not only to teach a new generation of footballers this wonderful sport, but to make every single one of us better football players than they were. Having someone like Coach Conor Brennan, who I’m surprised isn’t sick of dealing with me at this stage honestly, there to answer every football question under the sun made me a better quarterback. Having someone dedicate themselves to teaching me how to throw a football, how to move in and out of the pocket, and how to command an offence… if I turned out to be no good it certainly wouldn’t have been the programmes fault!”

The Antrim Jets and Dublin Rebels in action in the 2019 Youth League

Last year the Minotaurs had their best season ever, making it to the IAFL1 final and unfortunately suffering a loss in a very tight game. How important do you think the Minotaurs youth program was to last year’s success? 

“I think if you look at our squad and you look at how many have come through the youth programme, there’s no question as to how important the programme is. Myself at quarterback, Rafael Monteiro at running back and linebacker, Jack Lynch at receiver, David Walsh as our flex-type, Liam and Conor Dougherty at guard and tight end, Dean Johnston at tackle, Ross McCadden on the D-line… all of us started at nothing, and now we’re all starters. I think that sums it up quite well.”

We hear you’re now coaching the Westmeath youth players. We understand that your youth team is not competing this year but is still training. What is the long-term goal of your youth programme and will you compete next year?

“The short-term aim is definitely to compete next year anyway. We have been working well and I’m very pleased with that I’ve seen from the lads so far. When you have a group of young players that have athleticism to spare and an ability to soak up new information like sponges, though, I guess it’s no surprise that I’m impressed! Even in the short time we’ve worked with each other, I have a feeling that we’ll be adding to that list of youth-graduates-turned-senior-team-starters sooner rather than later. I guess that’s the endgame: to make sure at least some of these guys become staples of our senior team. If we can do that, then we’ve achieved our goal.”

The Cork Admirals and South Dublin Panthers youth teams after a match in the 2019 Youth League

What would you say to a club that is thinking about investing the time, effort, and resources into a youth program? Is it worth the effort? 

“Let me put it to you this way, as a graduate, as a current player and as a coach: would you rather spend a couple of hundred euro on a few extra footballs that you don’t really need, a few tackle bags to add to the collection that’s already gotten too big, and a few new fancy water bottles; or, would you rather spend that money on a few coaching courses and pitch rental to develop what will a) make you a financial profit within the next year, and b) be your starting line-up within the next three? I know what my answer is anyway!”

National Flag Football Programme Gets a Reboot

While the Irish Wolfhounds senior team are travelling for a friendly game against Belgium this weekend and with the Flag Football 2019 seasons kicking off today, we thought it be appropriate to announce the reboot of the National Flag Football programme under the Wolfhounds’ banner.

The Irish National Flag Football programme has had a few spells over the years, with most recent tenures seeing the Irish team travelling to Italy in 2013 to compete in the European championship and in 2016 hosting a few European teams for a friendly tournament.

IAFA has invested a lot of time and personnel in making the National programme a very important factor in the growth of American Football in Ireland and a key element in the development of a competitive national programme. 

To add to that, Flag Football has also been growing organically over the years and is now reaching a wider population making the sport more than just an entertaining passtime but rather a very competitive platform to be part of. IAFA Flag Football officially started over 5 years ago and has seen it pool of teams growing from 8 competing in one league to what is now 25 teams across two leagues.

The  International Federation of American Football (IFAF) is also actively ramping up its initiatives to make Flag Football an international and competitive sports with of these initiative beeing the most recent IFAF European Championships which took place just last week in Israel ans seeing the Danish men’s team and the Spanish women’s team taking their respective trophies.

Finally, and to add to the mix, the Federation of Irish Sport is running it 20×20 campaign to create a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in sport which will be achieved by increasing visibility of women’s sport.

All that been said, it is our pleasure to announce the rebooting of the Irish National Flag Football programme, or most commonly know as Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football, starting today and this time we will be catering for both an all-female flag football national team alongside an all-male national flag football team. Our objective is to enter both teams in the 2021 European Flag Football Championship and spendng the next 24 months building up two very competitive rosters to take on the best in Europe in 2020 and 2021.

IAFA will soon be announcing the coaching staff who will take on the challenge but the first step will primarly be taking place during the two 2019 running flag football seasons where players (male and female) will scouted to build up a potential list of male and female players to train in 2020. This will be followed by a sets of try outs taking place in early 2020. Both men’s and women’s team will be opened to anyone 16 years and upward.

Whatch this space for further exiting updates on the Wolfhounds Flag Football.

IAFA makes Irish Sporting History with First Female Player to Take the Field in a Kitted Game

Morane Senyarich / Photo courtesy of Ian Humes Photography

IAFA history was made last Sunday when the first female player took to the field in a kitted competitive fixture. The IAFA believe that no person should be excluded from participating in sport based on their gender and sought clarification on this matter from IFAF. IFAF have confirmed that gender is irrelevant and a person should be judged on their fitness and ability to participate in the sport by their respective coaches. With that in mind, IAFA welcomes women to take part in all aspects of the sport including kitted football.

Speaking after her first game on Irish soil, West Dublin Rhinos player, Morane Senyarich said, “I started playing American Football only a year ago but when moving to Ireland I could not think of any other sport I wanted to engage in. I feel very grateful that the Irish American Football Association gave me the opportunity to play in official competitions, and that the amazing West Dublin Rhinos welcomed me so warmly as a member of their team. The fact that the Irish American Football League in now mixed is an essential step towards offering both gender an equal chance to fully enjoy this sport. I hope that more women will join and that some day a separate women’s league will be created”.

IAFA would like to formally welcome Morane to our league and we hope that this is a major stepping stone in opening the league up to more female participation.