Rory Beggan confirmed as one of four Irish athletes to trial for NFL

Wicklow’s Mark Jackson, Down’s Charlie Smyth and former Connacht fullback Darragh Leader to try out in front of scouts

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan will travel to America to trial for the NFL as a kicker. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Rory Beggan headlines a group of Irish athletes confirmed to travel to America for trials in the NFL next month. In total, 16 athletes from eight different countries will join the NFL’s international player pathway programme.

Before Christmas, reports indicated that the Monaghan goalkeeper would be among number of footballers involved. It has been confirmed that he is joined by Wicklow’s Mark Jackson, Charlie Smyth of Down and former Connacht and Ireland U20s fullback Darragh Leader.

The commitment to train and trial in America will see the GAA goalkeepers miss a substantial portion of this year’s league campaign for their respective counties.

The Irish quartet is set to train at the IMG Academy in Florida for a number of weeks before kicking in front of NFL scouts in early March. They will be coached by Tadhg Leader, Darragh’s brother, a former rugby player who attempted to make the NFL as a kicker. He played in preseason action in the Canadian Football League before turning to coaching.


The road to American football – how do Louis Rees-Zammit and Rory Beggan get to the NFL?Opens in new window ]

Last year, the NFL announced the expansion of franchise rosters in line with the international player pathway. Practice squads, filled with players who train during the regular season but do not appear on match day without being elevated to the full roster, were expanded from 16 players to 17. The additional slot is to be taken up by a player from the international pathway.

Wicklow's Mark Jackson is among the Irish players set to trial in the NFL. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Specialist positions, including kickers and punters, are permitted to enter this programme, opening up opportunities for Irish athletes with strong kicking backgrounds. Beggan, Smyth and Jackson will all trial as kickers, while Leader will train as a punter.

Joining the Irish quartet is former England U20 international Harry Mallinder. The former outhalf and fullback, who also made 82 appearances for Northampton Saints, was a member of the England U20 side that defeated Ireland in the final of the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championship.

Mallinder suffered a number of serious injuries during his time in Northampton. He left 2021 to play in Japan only to be released two years later. He will be trialling for the NFL as a kicker.

Also included on the programme are Wales international and British and Irish Lion Louis Rees-Zammit, who will train as a running back/wide receiver.. George Smith, a former secondrow for Coventry in the English Championship, will travel as an offensive lineman.

After a number of weeks training in Florida, those on the international pathway will be evaluated by NFL scouts. Those who impress could be offered spots on a franchise’s practice squad for the 2024 regular season.

NFL International Player Pathway intake 2024

Rory Beggan, Ireland

Mark Jackson, Ireland

Charlie Smyth, Ireland

Darragh Leader, Ireland

Jotham Russell, Australia

Patrick Murtagh, Australia

Florian Bierbaumer, Austria

Bayron Matos, Dominican Republic

George Smith, England

Travis Clayton, England

Harry Mallinder, England

Sam Orji, Nigeria

Isaac Ajanah, Nigeria

Udo Uzuegbu, Nigeria

Praise Olatoke, Nigeria/Scotland

Louis Rees-Zammit, Wales

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Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist