NFL duties to see Rory Beggan and Mark Jackson miss the rest of the Allianz Football League

Beggan, Jackson and Charlie Smyth will remain in the USA after taking part in last weekend’s NFL combine as kickers

Monaghan and Wicklow look set to remain without Rory Beggan and Mark Jackson for the rest of the Allianz Football League at least, with the Irish players involved in last weekend’s NFL Combine deciding to stay in the US for three extra weeks to give themselves every opportunity of landing a professional contract.

The Leader Kicking crew were scheduled to fly home to Ireland on Tuesday but Beggan, Jackson, Down’s Charlie Smyth and former Connacht rugby player Darragh Leader have instead returned to their pre-Combine training base at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Given the encouraging performances by the players at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last Sunday, and subsequent interest shown by scouts and coaches, the quartet have changed their travel plans to make themselves as accessible as possible to NFL franchises.

All four players will now take part in a pro day at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa on March 20th, which will be another opportunity to impress scouts from all 32 NFL outfits.


“Everybody’s families have been so supportive and it’s not easy because parents and partners were no doubt looking forward to seeing their loved ones later today, but they now have to put that on hold, for good reason though,” said Tadhg Leader, founder of Leader Kicking.

“They are now officially eligible to be brought in and signed, so it didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to fly them back today, which was the initial plan.

“We just felt it would be better to stay in the US and centralise everything, by doing so it would make it as easy as possible for teams to find the players, bring them in, interview them or to do a workout with them. We didn’t want to create any barriers.

“Things are fairly dynamic, the lads have had to change their lives again. So, this will be home for them until the end of March and hopefully the next time they are on Irish soil they will have some certainty around their future.”

Darragh Leader, who is trying out as a punter, did not take part in the combine because of a slight injury but he will be participating in the pro day later this month.

The players are still waiting for confirmation of their official stats from Sunday’s combine, though Tadhg Leader feels reports of Smyth registering 12 out of 16 kicks, Beggan 11 out of 16, Jackson 10 out of 16 are “reasonable.”

Players are not merely judged on kicking accuracy as several other metrics are considered too, and the level of attention the Irish trialists received from scouts in Indianapolis was a factor in the group deciding to remain in the US.

“Already multiple teams have had a strong interest in taking the guys in for workouts, while some others said they were going back to speak with their higher ups to see if they could get a guy in, to be a part of their team,” said Leader.

He feels the experience of the three intercounty players helped in dealing with the pressure cooker of Sunday’s combine, during which the group of 10 kickers were followed around the pitch to various distance markers by a battalion of scouts and special teams coaches from all 32 franchises.

And while Leader is hopeful of more conversations with teams over the coming days, he cautions that the emergence of any firm offers might be more likely to materialise after March 20th.

“The pro day is another opportunity to see how they perform and to see has anything changed in the last three weeks from their first ever event to their second event,” he explained.

“We’d imagine there will be an increase in consistency because of what they experienced last weekend. It’s a final audition in some ways.

“At the combine we showed them what we can do, now they are asking for footage, looking for more information. The players are going to be getting profiled.

“The NFL is a multibillion-dollar organisation, there is a hierarchy and a chain of command that information shoots up and down. It would be brilliant if something happens in the next week but realistically it could take a two- to six-week window to get clarity.

“The owner isn’t on the sideline saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to sign you straight away’. Every position on rosters is so valuable, it’s a huge moving equation and our lads hope to play a key part in it.”

The Leader crew were expecting more kickers to be participating last Sunday but alongside the three Irish players – who gained spots through the International Player Pathway – were only the top seven kickers in college football, including Will Reichard who is Alabama’s record holder for field goals and the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s career points leader with 547.

“They are on a different pathway to us, they are the elite of the elite and are going to be on NFL rosters next season, they will get drafted,” added Leader.

“I think maybe some people in Ireland might have thought we were going to come in and kick bigger, further and more convincingly, and compared to the average American kicker, yeah, of course we can do that but we were up with the best seven in the entire country. We definitely held our own in that arena but it was really high level.”

The last round of regular Allianz Football League matches will take place on March 23rd-24th. Monaghan are due to face Mayo in Division One on that Sunday, while Wicklow are scheduled to play Antrim in Division Three on the same day.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times