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Irish Born Star Looking Forward To Croke Park Classic Homecoming

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Ahead of the inaugural Croke Park Classic, an American Football game between top college sides Penn State and the University of Central Florida at the end of August, we caught up with Irish-born kicker for UCF, Sean Galvin.

Sean Galvin was about fourteen years old when his family left the hometown of Bandon, fully immersed in the traditional GAA ways. “We rivalled Clonakilty and the likes around there. I was always into the hurling. Big into Diarmuid O’Sullivan. Sure he used to work in Bandon there for a while, doing construction work up there. The O’hAilpÌn brothers and Joe Deane and all them, they were my heroes growing up.” He hasn’t lost the accent, either.

How does a young Irish lad in America manage to get a college scholarship for playing American Football? It turns out soccer is the key. “I just played soccer my whole life. I played striker for Bandon, and the Bandon Gaelscoil. Just played soccer my whole life, just loved it. My dream was to play soccer, or else play GAA, obviously for Cork. I had trials for the Cork under-sixteen team before I came over here, but I couldn’t make it obviously because the parents said we were moving to America. So that was fine, and I came over here and so the first thing when we landed was I said “I have to find a soccer team.”, and started playing soccer. Then, everyone was in love with football, and obviously kicking was the first thing I’d think of, because if you can kick a soccer ball you can kick a football, you know. It translated pretty well.”

A stray American football came over his way one day while on the soccer pitches in High School, and he kicked it back to where it came from. The head coach arrived over in a golf cart within moments, and he convinced Galvin to try out. “He said “Hey, do you want to kick?” and I said let’s do it!.”

That try-out led to him joining the UCF Knights who, of all the teams possible, wound up being one of the two coming to Croke Park to play the opening game of NCAA college football season in Dublin. “That stuff about coming home is an absolute crazy joke altogether, because you know growing up I was like “C’mere I’m playing GAA someday for Cork in the All-Ireland final” and now I’m playing Penn State kicking the ball, so it should be a good laugh. I made it to Croke Park one way or another, didn’t I?.”

Galvin exudes a natural confidence, expressing a healthy optimism that he will get his chance to play with an NFL side next year without too much prompting. “Shawn Moffitt, my roommate, my best friend actually, he’s a field kicker, he had a great year last year. He was an award finalist for best kicker in the country, so he’s doing great. So he’ll probably kick the field goals next year, but after then, hopefully I’ll kick some field goals, and kick off then as well.” He sees himself as an NFL player down the line. “Well that’s the plan. Hopefully I’ll get a try-out, and hopefully sign with a team.” He doesn’t seem fazed about the idea of being the first Irish NFL player. “That would be a feat in itself. I suppose I’ll be the first Irish guy to play American Football in Croke Park.”

It is fair to say that he is looking forward to his return home. “I just can’t wait” he exclaims. “I can only imagine walking out onto the field, putting the ball down in front of all the Irish fans at home and hearing all the chants.” He laughs when it is put to him that UCF should expect to be backed by the crowd. “Hopefully. I mean, it is a home game for UCF, so we hope to have home-field advantage. Hopefully they’ll pull for me, being from Cork.” The UCF coach, George O’ Leary, also has Irish heritage, with his grandparents having come from Cork and Newry. Asked whether it helps that the coach has an Irish background too, he responds brightly. “Yeah, me and Coach get along very well. He’s always making fun of my accent, whenever I say different words he’s always making fun of me.”

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The point should be stressed that this is not some token game being staged over here. Penn State has a big history in college football, and last year’s head coach Bill O’Brien is now in charge of the Houston Texans in the NFL, while UCF won the Fiesta Bowl last year. “We’ve become so relevant now in college football, we’re going to get a target on us now after winning the conference last year, and winning the BCS game, beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. We’ve come a long way since I’ve been here. We’re a big top tier team, and Penn State are a great side, Penn State have always been big in the top ten. We beat them last year, so they’re probably going to be coming back for a bit of revenge. Two big teams, it should be a great match.” In a football championship where you can only survive a few losses, it will be a tussle for sure.

The big stage is something the young kicker has gotten acclimatised to. He recalls last a couple of big encounters he’s had in the past: “Sure we played at Penn State last year and there was over a hundred thousand people at the game, in their big stadium. The first time I played in front of a hundred thousand people was at Ohio State, I looked up in the stand and everything was just big. Like little bobble heads bobbing around, and I’m like “Where am I?”, and you can’t see faces, you just see heads you know. But then Penn State was the same, and after you play a lot of games, and this is my third year starting and my fourth year playing for UCF, you’ve really got to laugh. I feel like now I have a little bit of confidence, especially going home in front of the fans, you have to have it for the game.”

To further illustrate the standard at which Sean is playing at, you have to take note of the fact that in this year’s NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted the UCF quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. “Blake Bortles was one of my close friends, so that was really cool watching him go third overall to the Jags. But then we had Josh Robinson going to the Vikings, and Bruce Miller going to the Forty-Niners, we have a lot of guys in the NFL now. But I’m really excited for Blake. Hopefully he has a great year, he’s a great player and hopefully he goes on and has a great season this year.”

With the following of American football growing year on year, leading to games like the Croke Park Classic and the series of NFL regular season games that take place in London, there is a growing belief that an NFL expansion franchise will set up in London, and the young Irishman is all for it. “It’d be great, to really expand the sport and everything. I know the Jags will play a game in London for the next couple of seasons, so Blake will miss the trip to Ireland but he’ll be over in London with the Jags instead. But I think it’s great, expanding the sport because it’s a great game.” Would he have any problem togging out for a potential London side? “I’ll play anywhere as long as they give me a ball and cleats.”

As a young boy growing up in Cork, he dreamed of lining out for Cork in All-Ireland finals. So has he considered the possibility that he might be called upon to win the game late in Croke Park for UCF? Would he be willing to step up on the final drive, with his side down by two points but in field-goal range? He responds with a hearty chuckle. “I’ll leave that up to the boss. It’s up to Coach. I wouldn’t shy away from it if he asked me to kick it, but that’s up to Coach to make the call.”

Finally, he’s hoping for a big crowd of friends and family to make their way to Croke Park to cheer him and his UCF teammates on. “We used to own Jimmy G’s down in Cork, my Dad owned a nightclub there, and I think there’s a few buses going up. I have a bunch of family members going up for the game, so it should be a good old crowd. Hopefully I’ll hear my name once or twice from the stands.”

The Croke Park Classic takes place on Saturday August 30th, with kick-off at 1.30pm.

Images courtesy of MSN and Yahoo

 

 

 

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