With the Super Bowl only days away and American Football on the ascension, Gary Ibbotson takes a look at how America’s game has been embraced by us Irish.
American Football in the past decade or so has soared in popularity on this island. The governing association in the Republic, the Irish American Football Association (IAFA), now consists of 23 full-contact clubs playing across the country in three separate leagues with a further 12 also participating in the flag/non-contact variety.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why the United States’ most beloved sport is gaining such traction on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it’s another manifestation of the seemingly unstoppable wave of our willingness to adopt American culture as our own. The food, the clothes, the music, and now the sport. In saying that however, American Football is no stranger to our shores.
The game was quite popular back in the late 1980s when a handful of grass roots clubs established the first ever gridiron league in this country which slowly but surely, began to develop the game as a legitimate sport in the Republic of Ireland. Unfortunately however, in 1999 after more than ten years of development, the league folded due to a lack of funding and organisation. Thankfully, only two years later in 2001 the foundations were back in place when four newly established sides, Dublin Dragons, Carrickfergus Knights, Dublin Rebels and UL Vikings, came together and set in motion for what is now, the Shamrock Bowl Conference.
“I hadn’t a clue what it was about at the time but I remember after the first half I was hooked.”
With the sport in ever growing demand, inevitably, the related social scene blossoms too. On any given Sunday when the NFL season is in full swing, many of the bars and pubs in Dublin are occupied by enthusiastic fans settling in to watch the evening’s proceedings donning their favourite franchises’ jersey. This eagerness for the game among the fans and players of the sport is evident. As a scoring opportunity is taken advantaged of or indeed, squandered, a rapturous cry reverberates around the room as fans cheer for their team’s good fortune or wallow in their side’s shortcoming.
Lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, Gerry Connolly told me that, “I go to Sinnotts (bar) every Sunday evening during the season to watch the games. I don’t drink too much due to work the next morning but it’s always good craic with lads, even with the people who you don’t know, everybody’s there to enjoy the football and there’s a good sense of community about the place”. Gerry, like many others, books work off in advance for the Monday after the Super Bowl. “You can’t go home early during the Super Bowl, it’s too much fun, a few drinks are taken and it’s always a great night”, he tells me with a grin.
Although the die hard fans will follow the season from September to early Spring religiously, on the first Sunday of every February the casual supporters or friends of the enthusiast will make their annual appearance for the grand football spectacle, the Super Bowl. Some of these part-timers may come solely for the star-studded halftime show (it’s Lady Gaga this year. I know, get ready little monsters), or even just for the night out. However, there can be no denying that this social atmosphere is a catalyst for the burgeoning popularity of sport in this country. Gerry Connolly’s friend, Matthew Grey remembers how he was first introduced to the sport,
“I came down with Ger a couple of years back to watch the Super Bowl as he was raving about the thing. I hadn’t a clue what it was about at the time but I remember after the first half I was hooked. I loved the intensity and tactical side of it. It was great. I joined a local team quite soon afterwards and haven’t looked back since… It was the 2012 game if I’m correct, Giants beat the Patriots. Massive shock at the time, really enjoyed the whole event.”
Many establishments across Dublin have fully embraced the Super Bowl spectacle in recent years. Quite a number of bars in the city host parties and late licenses for the event with all packed to the rafters with both aficionados and casual supporters. The Odeon Bar on Harcourt Street continue to host their shindig this year with local club and eight time Shamrock Bowl champions, the Dublin Rebels playing affiliates once more. This is the event’s seventh year running but unlike many Dublin based Super Bowl soirees, is a ticketed affair.
Alternative spots to enjoy the game and sip on a beverage or two are Sinnotts Bar on South King Street and Woolshed Bar and Grill on Parnell Street. Both are free in and sure to provide a lively atmosphere for the contest which kicks-off Sunday, February 5th at 11:30pm GMT.
These are only a handful of the events taking place in the city where the Super Bowl is the headline act. Although I do not personally endorse either one of these drinkeries for your custom, it is a testament to the rising popularity of the game that so many establishments embrace the spectacle in the knowledge that the demand is there to warrant it.
So with the Super Bowl only a couple of days away and the IAFA season kicking off in March, expect America’s sport to continue to rise in popularity in this country. Our absorption of our Atlantic neighbours’ culture can be seen in many aspects of our society, from the food to the entertainment. One more pastime surely won’t hurt.