Category: Women in Sport

Announcement: 2024 AFI Women’s Flag Football League

On the back of 2023’s surge in women’s participation in Flag Football — thanks in part to Co-Ed flag football blitz days in the summer and the first ever competition entry for the Women’s Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football team in August’s IFAF European Championships — as well as the recent We Run the World Ireland flag football event in Dublin, American Football Ireland are thrilled to announce Ireland’s first Women’s Flag Football League, which will launch this Spring.

Speaking on the formation of this league, Interim Director of Flag Football Kelly Dwyer had this to say: 

“The establishment of a women’s flag football league is a first in AFI history which comes after a year of genuine committed dedication to the development of this code.

Naturally, women in sport is a topic very close to my heart and I am personally incredibly proud to deliver these plans – but I would like to thank all those who are unseen and who have given their help and support behind the scenes, without whom this wouldn’t be possible.

The inaugural Women’s Premier League will consist of 4 game-days and the league structure has been built with accessibility for new teams in mind. The first three days are seeding days, where teams will receive points based on win, draw, loss (3 points, 1 point and 0.5 points, respectively) and the league table after game-day three will dictate the seeding for games on Finals day.
So any team is welcome to join the league at any stage – but early participation is rewarded!
Proposed game days are 13th April, 20th April, June 1st with Claddagh Bowl on June 15th.
Ultimately, and like every flag football event, it’s the clubs that participate that will make this new league a success.

What excites me most about this is that, over the last year, the conversation about women in our sport has moved from being primarily about “participation” to now being about “competition”. Competition is the new standard set by women in flag football and I’m excited to see where we’ll be this time next year!”

Though not yet confirmed for The Women’s Premier League, clubs such as South Dublin Panthers, Belfast Trojans and Dublin Rebels have previously submitted teams into co-ed tournaments and women’s only tournaments, while women-only teams that made their debut at We Run the World Ireland like the Cork City Tabbies and Phoenix Football are also potential additions to the league. Team applications to participate and to host game days can be sent via this link:

Irish Wolfhounds Women’s Flag Football Team Now Recruiting

The Irish Wolfhounds National Flag Football coaching staff are recruiting Irish national athletes for the Women’s Flag Football team. The coaching staff, led by Head Coach Dan Shaw, are excited to put forward a competitive team for the 2023 IFAF European Flag Football Championships next August in Limerick, which will see numerous countries’ Men’s and Women’s teams taking part to be crowned European Champions!

When asked about the Women’s national team program, Coach Dan Shaw had this to say:
Female Participation in flag football is something I have always been passionate about both at club and national level. This will be a fantastic opportunity for top tier athletes from within our own league bit also across other sports to pull on a green jersey and represent this island next summer. I am very excite to see what caliber of female squad we can put on the field for next year. 

Interested athletes can submit their sporting CV to The opportunity to represent Ireland in a rapidly developing sport has presented itself — find out if you have what it takes to be a Wolfhound!

Ireland to host 2023 IFAF European Flag Football Championships

American Football Ireland are delighted to announce that Ireland will host the 2023 IFAF European Flag Football Championships. The tournament will see more than a dozen European nation teams compete in Senior Men’s and Senior Women’s games from 18-20th August 2023 at University of Limerick to crown the 2023 European Flag Football Champions.

AFI would like to thank IFAF President Pierre Trochet, IFAF Managing Director Andy Fuller, IFAF Director of Competitions Roope Noronen and all who were involved in the bidding process for this fantastic event. This tournament will help strengthen the public opinion of flag football and American football in Ireland, as well as further develop the on-field product for both sports. We are excited for the opportunity to host and learn from our peers across Europe and provide for elite players from Ireland and abroad the platform to achieve their full potential in the sport.


International Women’s Day 2021

Today we celebrate the achievements women have accomplished within AFI, particularly in the last 5 years – from coaching and officiating at the highest levels available to pioneering feats achieved in our flag and tackle football programmes. We are also pleased to announce an increase in female membership, from 57 (2019) to 80 (2020) – an increase even amid a pandemic.
AFI is committed to providing opportunities for all in the community and whilst we have reached significant milestones, we will continue to work hard to make our sport accessible to as many as possible through playing, coaching, officiating and volunteering.

Women In Sport Leadership Programme 2021

Last October, Sport Ireland endorsed a Women in Sport Leadership Programme which was being ran by Swim Ireland. As a result, AFI recommended 3 female candidates who were accepted onto the 8-week programme and who successfully completed the course.

Now this same opportunity has arisen again for 2021 and AFI would like to put forward more female candidates to participate in this prestigious programme. Please see further information about the course as well as testimonials below.

This programme is open to all female members of AFI. Participation in this programme will be funded by AFI pending successful completion of the course.

Due to time restraints, interested candidates should complete the form at this link and submit it by 10pm on Monday 18th January 2021.

Programme Information

This eight-session course will take place online over an eight-week period from 7pm – 8.30pm.

  • Course 1 – Commences Monday 1st February and finishes on Monday 22nd March
  • Course 2 – Commences Tuesday 2nd March and finishes on Tuesday 20th April

The aim of the course is to provide training, guidance and expertise to support women to thrive in leadership positions in sport. The interactive practical classes allow each participant to work and focus on their own development while learning from others as part of a team over an extended period. There will be some group and individual exercises during the programme and the size of the class is limited to 16 to ensure everyone has the opportunity to fully engage and reach their full potential.


The course is specifically designed for female leaders within your organisation. Those selected should already be in a leadership position or be a female recognised by your organisation as having the potential to take on a leadership role in the near future.


Course Content

The course modules include the following core topics:

  • Leadership and Values
  • Networking and Collaboration
  • Handling Challenging Situations and Developing Resilience
  • Crisis Management and Influencing in leadership
  • Communications and Developing Your Personal Brand
  • Wellbeing
  • Change Management
  • Governance

Participants will also receive a one-on-one coaching session and support in producing their own Personal Development Plan. Modules will also include inputs from guest speakers relating their own personal leadership experiences.


Frieda Gallagher, Donegal/Derry Vipers & AFI Diversity and Inclusivity Committee Member

A lot of effort was put into this course from Lisa Clancy and Sarah O’ Shea. Well researched and interesting guest speakers attended every class. Each session was a networker’s heaven, with so many NGB’s represented on the course. It gave female leaders and administrators the tools, techniques and skills necessary to undertake senior positions efficiently and a greater confidence within clubs, leagues, regional and national level.


Helen Smyth, Belfast City Lions & AFI Flag Football Committee Member

The course was really good! I got a lot more out of it than I expected and it was useful for career/personal development kind of things too, not just sports related things. Lisa and Sarah who ran it were great and really helpful and all the guest speakers they had on were all so interesting and had a lot of brilliant advice. It was so nice to get to meet lots of other women from different sports and backgrounds and I’ve definitely made connections that will hopefully be useful for flag and I think some of the girls would be up for giving flag a go too! Was honestly such a good experience!

Kelly Dwyer, Louth Mavericks & AFI Officiating Committee Member

Throughout the course, I was impressed with the level of knowledge, experience, openness and honesty of the women delivering the course; Sarah O’ Shae and Lisa Clancy. I felt the course content was educational and empowering  for participants. I enjoyed that the course was delivered through a variety of means including zoom, one-to-one mentoring, guest-speaker talks, group tasks; thereby keeping engagement and interest in the course content high. Having completed the course, I feel that my contribution to AFI will be more impactful, refined and better-informed. Overall, I felt the course was as follows:

  • Excellent in educating, upskilling and preparing it’s participants for leadership roles.
  • Excellent in tackling and dismantling some barriers to female participation in sport and leadership, examples include low confidence and Imposter Syndrome
  • Excellent fostering many positive relationships within the Irish’s sport community and within the AFI female community.
  • Excellent at motivating it’s participants to continue and increase their engagement with sport.
  • Excellent at encouraging it’s participants to take up leadership roles within sport and/or professionally.

20×20: Frieda Gallagher

Whilst we have so far highlighted those whose action takes place on the field, we next speak with Frieda Gallagher who pretty much takes to do with everything off the field as a volunteer. Frieda has held a number of positions within the Derry/Donegal Vipers including Chairwoman.

What sparked your initial interest in American football?

“I’ll be honest, I had no interest in American football, none whatsoever. My partner Cathal Curran turned around to me one day and said I’m going to set up an American football team – I said ‘you’re mad, they don’t even have that sport in the country, don’t be silly’… and the rest as they say is a lot of hard work, swearing, sleepless nights and laughter which led to the formation of the Vipers and that began my interest in American football.”

How did you get involved with your club/IAFA?

“After Cathal informed me he was going to set up an American Football club, I was making tea one day and when I opened the fridge to get milk, I noticed about £500 sitting in the drawer – now things like that aren’t the strangest thing Cathal has done, but I asked the question anyway. ‘Cathal, why is there £500 sitting in the fridge?’ ‘It’s the Vipers fees, I don’t have the bank account set up yet’ (At this stage, we didn’t have a club set up yet, but that’s another story). ‘Grand but why is it in the fridge Cathal?’ ‘Well if you were a robber, would you look in the fridge?’ Fair point, I thought, so that is where my OCD and organizational skills got me involved with the Vipers. We set it up from there along with James Fox and haven’t looked back since. The first few years were very tough, we had no money, no pitch, little equipment and very few volunteers. Now I can say over the past few years, I’ve went from having no brothers, to almost 40 – they can be absolute head wreckers at times, but I wouldn’t change them.”

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

“I have been the Secretary and the Chairwoman of the Donegal Derry Vipers, currently enjoying my time as an ordinary Committee Member. I can also be found most game days perched on top of a very wobbly ladder with a video camera in one hand and frostbite in the other. As much as I give out, I wouldn’t change it for the world…well maybe a sturdier ladder!”

What is the American football environment like in Ireland?

“It is growing, definitely growing, from when the Vipers first started out. There has been some amazing work done this past few years, but we have a lot more to do. The amount of conversations I have had with people who had no idea there was a league in Ireland, and they are always shocked when I tell them how many teams are in the country. But that’s where we can play a part also, boosting the profiles of the teams, that’s done on the ground, and I’m sure the Vipers will tell you, I’m never done telling people to like/share/tweet etc, but it all helps.”

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

“Jump right in! As a supporter of a team or further afield in the league, wherever your interest is. I am very lucky that there were trailblazers like Kim Wilton Neville, Orla McAleese, and Emma Burrows already established in the league. I felt very welcome and very comfortable from the get-go, there are plenty of positions available and to be honest, the league just needs our help, male or female, it’s irrelevant.”

20×20: Helen Smyth

Next up in our 20×20 series is Trojans flag football player Helen Smyth. Helen started her football career with the UUC Elks before moving to Belfast and joining the Trojans. The current Trojans 1st team captain is also planning on taking up coaching.

What sparked your interest in American football?

“My friend was the coach of the Ulster Elks flag team in my final year of university and until then I didn’t even know American football was a thing. I went along just to see what it was like and didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, and I’ve been playing ever since!”

How did you get involved in your club?

“I joined the Belfast Trojans two years ago. They have regular try out days which I went to and I already knew a couple of people in the club so when I moved to Belfast, it was an easy choice.”

What roles do you currently hold in your club?

“I am the defensive captain of the Trojans 1sts team and I am also on the committee. I was injured at the start of the season so took on more of a coaching/play calling role. I’ve never been so stressed in my life but I actually did enjoy being on the side-lines, so I am planning on doing my level 0 coaching course to get started.”

What is the American football environment like in Ireland?

“There’s a really good balance between the sport being fun and competitive but not too serious. Everyone is really encouraging, and despite a few rivalries, there is good sportsmanship between all the teams.”

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

“Just go for it! It’s one of the most fun sports I’ve been involved in. There’s such a range of players from people who have played kitted for years to people who have never played a team sport before so there is nothing to be worried about!”

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.

Unique Members
% +/-

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

Overall Memberships
% +/-


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.

Youth Kitted

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.

Senior Kitted

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.