Growing up in Ireland in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a precarious place to be an NFL fan. The passion for your NFL team was tempered by having painfully few media outlets to stay apace with the game. Highlights were televised on the old NFL Europe show, which was aired on Channel 4, the independent British TV channel. Blogs, podcasts, the internet and live games were about as realistic and far away as the notion of a CEO going into space. Fast forward to 2021. NFL fans from all over the world can get their distinct brand of Irish NFL coverage, because The Irish NFL Show has arrived. Delivered in podcast and live television format, it's been an auspicious start for the four-man team, featuring Brian O’Leary, Colum Cronin, Michael McQuaid and Mark Cockerill.
In a short time, The Irish NFL Show has had a veritable treasure trove of guests. From Harrison Butker, Super Bowl winning kicker from the Kansas City Chiefs to Justin Simmons, from the Denver Broncos - one of the best safeties in the league. Not to mention Sports Illustrated’s Peter King - the doyen of football writers. And they broke new ground becoming the first Irish show in 30 years to cover the 2021 NFL Draft on television.
Recently I spoke to Brian and Colum about the breakthrough of delivering an Irish NFL show, interviewing players and media, and the prospect of having live shows with fans this coming season.
Brian O’Leary: BO’L
Colum Cronin: CC
Brian, Colum, welcome to An Irishman on Football Blog. Tell me how you got interested in football and the origins of The Irish NFL Show?
BO’L: My parents had friends in California so I got a lot of the gear that you couldn’t get in Ireland. Growing up a New York Giants fan, that meant I could get a Phil Simms jersey, which had pride of place in my home. The interest in the game now in Ireland and the U.K. far surpasses anything I thought it would.
Regarding the show, we were two separate entities - Denver Broncos Europe and The Irish NFL Podcast - that came together to help promote the game in Ireland. That’s how our relationship started. We quickly realized we were four skilled guys who knew what we were talking about. We hit it off straight away. It's a privilege to work with the lads.
CC: No one I knew was into the NFL growing up. So it was a solo passion project in rural county Cork. Irish fans were reliant on newspaper reports and often those were a week behind NFL games. I was fascinated by sports stories and journalism. Michael and I started working on our Broncos Europe project about five years ago. I think we have gelled really well as a podcast and everyone brings something to the table. We relish preparing and asking questions of the heavyweights we have on our show.
It’s been fun keeping track of the international players trying to break into the NFL. Do they have a chance?
BO’L: Twenty years ago it was unheard of for an Irish or U.K. player to turn up in the NFL. The tried and tested format is to go through the college system, which back then had no overseas players. We recently had Tadhg Leader, the young Irishman and former professional rugby player trying to make his way into the NFL via The Spring League, as a guest on the show. He’s trying out as a kicker and explained to us that there is no playbook for him to get into the league.
I think the NFL has realized that there is talent on this side of the world who can hold their own in the game. Players understand what is required in the NFL International Player Pathway Program and the opportunities that come with getting on a practice squad. However difficult it remains, at least now there is a pathway. Of the players that come over to the U.S., realistically only a handful make a team.
CC: NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell seems to be a driving force behind embracing the international component of football. They’ve just brought in Brett Gosper as U.K. and Europe CEO: he grew rugby all around the world as CEO of World Rugby. Clearly there is a recognition at the top levels of the league that if they want to do this they need to be serious about it. Gosper is very talented - he’s a smart investment. I think cultural sentiments are small but they are important. The former NFL linebacker Aden Durde came through the program. He’s now the Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach. That’s progress.
The Irish NFL Show has featured a stellar cast of players and media. What has the experience been like?
BO’L: Guests respect us that we ask questions fans want to hear the answers to. We don’t go in with ulterior motives such as looking to file a story straight away or put our guests in a difficult situation. Lindsay Jones from The Athletic is an example of someone who is really good at what she does and provided great insight when we interviewed her.
CC: I think she’s brilliant. Lindsay’s not afraid to voice an opinion but doesn't give hot takes. I respect how outspoken she was at the behavior of Antonio Brown towards women. A lot of reporters felt the league turned a blind eye to Brown because of his talent. Another reporter we had on, Mina Kimes from ESPN, is terrific. Her transition into the league is really interesting, given she was a business journalist. She uses stats and analytics but is not stat obsessed. Ultimately, we allow our guests to tell the story and use the platform. It is about them.
Readers in the U.K and Ireland will be excited to hear about your plans for live shows for the 2021 season. What have you lined up?
BO’L: The London game shows have had a lot of interest. They will be live and there’s been a lot of interest from our listeners. The plan is to have a show and bring all fans together - Irish, British, European and the U.S. - especially facilitating people of Irish heritage in the U.K. and U.S. to gather and share in the moment. The support and interaction from fans is fantastic. During the off-season, the numbers have remained consistent. It's been nice to receive really supportive messages from people who listen to the podcast. We have a loyal following.
CC: To observe the growth in the distinct Irish NFL community means a lot to us. For the 2021 season, the aim is to do live shows in Dublin from week 2 of the NFL season, and in Belfast as well.
The schedule planner for the 2021 season events is as follows:
Week 2 Dublin - Woolshed
Week 5 London - Jets @ Falcons
Week 6 London - Dolphins @ Jags
Week 9 Belfast - Venue TBC
College football is king where I live in Georgia. What did you make of Urban Myer’s appointment in Jacksonville? BO’L: The Jaguars mindset has been: let’s bring in a successful coach to support Trevor Lawrence. They have two good teams in the Colts and Titans in their division. What is the expectation of the head coach? I think it is that they’ll grow together and in three years the Jags could be a really good side. We’re all intrigued to see how it goes. CC: The NFL is so different from the college game. Myer’s judgement is already in question after having to release Chris Doyle as conditioning coach earlier in the off season. In the NFL players are much more vocal and independent than college. Let’s not forget - stories about Jim Harbaugh were glowing at the start. Three years’ in with San Francisco, the players were saying ‘get me out of here’. If the Jaguars start poorly, Urban Myer will be under a lot of pressure. The recent draft had his stamp all over it. What he wanted, he got, which means he’s starting with a decent hand.
Disrupting Football's Old Order
It’s clear the international dimension of football can flourish, with multiple NFL games in London, the prospect of games this decade in Germany, and college football coming back to Dublin in 2022 - when Northwestern plays Nebraska at the Aviva Stadium. From talking to Brian O’Leary and Colum Cronin, the passion for their subject matter shines through. They spoke often about rolling into work on Monday morning without sleep having stayed up to watch a game or record a podcast. As they conceded, sometimes there is no point in going to sleep. That can be the affliction of being involved with the NFL overseas. Technology can’t eradicate time zones. The Irish NFL Show wouldn’t have it any other way.
Follow the Irish NFL podcast on Twitter: @IreNFL Listen to the latest show here: https://www.irishnflshow.com/podcast