Monaghan’s Rory Beggan and Wicklow’s Mark Jackson set for NFL trials in February

Down’s Charlie Smyth and ex-Ireland rugby under-20 international Darragh Leader among the four set to travel, with Tyrone’s Niall Morgan missing out

Monaghan’s Rory Beggan and Wicklow’s Mark Jackson are among four Irish athletes set to attend a training camp in America in a bid to earn an opportunity to play in the National Football League (NFL). Both intercounty goalkeepers will miss a significant chunk of the upcoming Allianz Football League as a result.

Along with Charlie Smyth of Down and former Ireland Under-20s fullback Darragh Leader, they will travel to Florida in February. In tandem with former Connacht and USA rugby player Tadhg Leader – Darragh’s brother – who will coach the quartet, the players are set to spend three weeks training as part of the NFL’s international player pathway.

Beggan, Jackson and Smyth will all seek opportunities as NFL kickers, while Leader, a former Connacht back-three player and one time member of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad, will aim to make it as a punter.

In September, the NFL announced changes to the number of international players taken on by individual teams. Starting from next season, all 32 franchises will receive an additional roster spot for its practice squad to accommodate one international player.


In the NFL, place kickers and punters are specialised positions that require little training beyond kicking skills, meaning GAA and rugby players with no experience of the sport can quickly get up to speed.

In 2022, Tadhg Leader, who played as a kicker in the Spring League, ranked below the NFL, and in preseason action in the Canadian Football League, set up Leader Kicking, a programme aimed at getting Irish athletes with backgrounds in GAA, rugby and soccer opportunities to kick and punt in America. To date, the former Laois and Cavan footballers Ross Bolger and Ronan Patterson have earned scholarships to play at Idaho State and Monmouth University respectively.

Last month, Beggan, Jackson, Smyth and Tyrone’s Niall Morgan attended an international combine in England. They went through a traditional NFL workout, culminating in a kicking competition which saw the Irish athletes impress.

Former All-Star goalie Beggan is renowned for his kicking ability, whether from kick-outs or long-range frees, and his short run-up style could be perfect for American football. His club Scotstown were defeated in the Ulster club SFC final by Glen at the weekend.

After training in Florida next year, the four players will attend February’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, the annual showcase for American college players ahead of the NFL draft. The quartet will attempt to convince franchises to sign them to their practice squads in the international player slot.

Should any of the four be signed, they will train with a professional NFL team over the summer and, provided they are not released, into the 2024 regular season. Players on the practice squad are not part of match day squads, but they are first reserve should injuries befall those on the active roster.

At the start of this season, Enniskerry native Daniel Whelan became the first Irish-born player to feature in an NFL regular season since 1987 game when he was named as the starter for the Green Bay Packers.

Leader and the four athletes start training in Florida in February, with the NFL Combine taking place in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, from February 27th to March 4th.

In a statement, NFL representatives said the following: ”For the first time, the NFL is currently scouting kickers/punters as part of its international football development efforts relating to the International Player Pathway (IPP) program. More detailed information on 2024 IPP program participants will be available in the coming weeks.”

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Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist