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Irish NFL hopefuls can relate to celebration of the underdog as 2024’s Mr Irrelevant picked in draft

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Key, a safety out of Alabama, was the 257th and final player to be taken from the college ranks by the 32 franchises across three days, earning him the cruel moniker as 2024’s ‘Mr Irrelevant’, so called because the player usually taken last in the draft rarely forge a career in the NFL.

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Key’s selection by the New York Jets marked the end of the draft and with that, the start of a crucial period for the three Irish hopefuls in the running for an NFL contract.

Monaghan All Star Rory Beggan, Wicklow goalkeeper Mark Jackson and former Connacht rugby player Darragh Leader all come into focus now. Kicking coach Tadhg Leader, who helped set up the pathway that has brought the Irish contingent to this point, insisted that this will be a crucial week if the ranks of Irish in the NFL are to swell further.

Today’s Sport News in 90 Seconds – 29th April

“Most guys will get signed after the Draft and that I think is going to be the case for Mark and Rory,” Leader said earlier this month.

“So they are firmly still in the race and they are good enough as well but it’s a waiting game which is really tough.

“Rory went 100pc at his Pro Day, didn’t miss a kick, but hopefully it is good enough. It might not be good enough because it’s the world biggest league and the standard is exceptional. And he is exceptional. But there’s another 50, 60, 70, guys around the world who are exceptional and only 32 of those will end up with a job. It’s tough but the door is still open.

“After the draft, five days to a week after the draft we’ll have a much better lay of the land.”

Charlie Smyth is already a full time professional with the New Orleans Saints. As is Derry’s Jude McAtamney, who signed for the New York Giants on Monday in a sign that sides will start to back fill their rosters and depth charts.

Beggan, Jackson and Leader are deemed to be ‘free agents’ meaning they can be approached by anyone at any time. They were not eligible for the Draft – the clock on that starts ticking as soon as you enter third level education – but they are on alert this week.

Rookie mini camps take place early next month while full training camps, where players duke it out for a spot on the main roster or practice squads, begin in late July.

Interestingly just one punter and three kickers were selected in the Draft. All of the kickers went in round six, one of them to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are one of three franchises to have NFL marketing rights in Ireland along with the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers

Each of those three franchises announced a draft pick from here in a first for Ireland’s relationship with the NFL. Reality TV star and Ireland Sevens rugby player Greg O’Shea announced for the Jets, Jacksonville fan Stephen Howlin named a Jaguars pick while Kerry footballer Paudie Clifford was on duty for the Steelers.

What better way to underscore those ties by signing an Irish player?

After all, each team has to sign an ‘international player’ ahead of the new season under new NFL rules and speculation has swirled that those teams would plump for an Irish kicker.

The Steelers hosted a kicking clinic here earlier this month in the National Sports Campus in Dublin. Beggan, Jackson and Darragh Leader were all present with Jackson been named as best kicker on the day. It was a curious event that felt part public relations exercise and, perhaps, part scouting mission.

The Steelers touring party was a heavyweight one and included Pittsburgh Steelers Director Business Development and Strategy Daniel Rooney, whose family own the franchise, as well as kicking coach Sean Suisham and punting coach Jordan Berry. Both coaches have real world experience of what the Irish players are trying to achieve. Berry is Australian born and migrated to the NFL as a punter while Suisham grew up playing ice hockey in Canada before carving out a ten-season career as a kicker in the league.

“I think anything is possible,” Suisham said. “I’m a kid from Canada. I was a hockey player that found a way into the NFL so I’m certainly a fan of everyone that was out there. They displayed some talent. I will be cheering them on.”

“If you take a peek at punters and kickers, it is probably the most international position that there is in the NFL. Certainly it is an attainable dream.”

NFL tradition decrees that Mr Irrelevant will be feted in Newport Beach this week. Jaylen Key and his family will be in California for a weeklong celebration of the underdog.

The Irish hopefuls, looking to make a quantum sporting leap, can relate to that.

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