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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

Meet the Irishman with dreams of playing in the NFL

Sean Galvin will travel home to Ireland when his UCF team play Penn State in Croke Park next year.

Galvin kicking off for the University of Central Florida.
Galvin kicking off for the University of Central Florida.
Image: UCF

WHEN YOU ASK an NCAA Division 1 American football player who his sporting hero is during a late night transatlantic call, you don’t expect the answer to be Cork dual-star Diarmuid O’Sullivan.

But then again, Sean Galvin is no ordinary American football player.

Born in Bandon, Co. Cork, Galvin grew up playing soccer, Gaelic football, hurling and rugby.

He had dreams of donning the red of his native county and lining out in All-Ireland finals in Croke Park and, confident from a young age, saw no reason why it wouldn’t happen, especially after winning an under-age national title with his local club.

Things change though and sometimes decisions are taken out of your hands, especially when you’re still a kid.

“In 2004 my mam and dad (James and Deborah) decided to sell the family pub, Jimmy G’s, and move to the States.

“I loved soccer so I took that up with Lemon Bay High School. I was playing around one day with some friends when a loose American football came towards us and I kicked it back.”

This proved to be one of those moments anyone who ever dreamed of Jack Charlton driving by their school pitch just as they scored a 30-yard screamer can identify with.

“Pretty much straight away one of the (American) football coaches drove over in his golf cart and asked me would I like to kick for the team.”

Galvin’s trial went well and he soon found he was something of a natural when it came to the kicking position.

“I think playing Gaelic football definitely helped. You develop all the same leg muscles you need to be a good kicker.”

Galvin’s accuracy and ability soon attracted the attention of college scouts and he landed a scholarship with the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he has developed into a kick-off specialist.

In 2012, he kicked off 88 times, averaging nearly 62 yards and managing 31 touchbacks, all the time showcasing an impressive range of kicks.


Galvin preparing to kick an extra point.
Image: UCF

This year though, Galvin has his sights set on kicking field goals, extra points and maybe even punting.

“Obviously, we’ve a great team of kickers here at UCF but I think I’ve put in the effort to work up to more than just kick off duties.

“However, I will do whatever the coaches ask me to do for the team.”

Despite the reputation that kickers have in American football of ‘not being real athletes’, they actually have to be incredibly brave.

No other player, not even the quarterback, has to face 11 opposition players – averaging over 20 stone of muscle each – charging towards them with the goal of blocking the ball.

“This is what makes it so much different to kicking in rugby.

“In rugby, which I played and I respect all the kickers, you get up to a minute to kick a penalty or conversion. In football, you get 1.5 seconds from the time the ball is snapped to the time you kick it.

“You just don’t have time to think about it, you just have to relax and kick; it’s more instinctive than anything else.”

Once again, Galvin’s Irishness helps with this.

“To be a kicker, you have to be kind of different to the rest of the guys. You have to be more laid back and relaxed and you can’t get tense or nervous or it might affect your kicks. Being Irish helps with that I think.”


Galvin (behind the cup) with his Bandon team mates as child.
Image: UCF

When Galvin travelled to the States with his parents all those years ago, he probably thought his dreams of lining out in Croke Park were dead.

He could never have known that, of all the colleges in the US, his would be picked to take part in the inaugural Croke Park Classic, which will see UCF open the 2014 NCAA football season in Ireland against Penn State.

“It’s insane,” he says and you can almost hear the smile breaking out on his face even from thousands of kilometres away.

“I’ve a load of cousins in Bandon and around Cork who’ve never seen me play so to think they’ll get to see me in the home of the GAA, it’s just great.

“I mean, when I was growing up I’d often see Diarmuid O’Sullivan and I’d run up him and annoy him about how I was going to follow in his footsteps and line out for Cork in Croke Park.

“I always thought it would be playing hurling or Gaelic football, I never, ever, thought it would be playing American football.”

With his skill set expanding, and the high profile his appearance for UCF against Penn State next year will bring, Galvin’s sporting dreams aren’t just limited to college football.

“I’d love to go pro, I definitely haven’t given up that dream.

“If the GAA didn’t work out, I always believed I’d follow in Roy Keane’s footsteps and play top flight soccer so why couldn’t I make it in the NFL?”

There’s no doubting Galvin’s belief in his own ability and, with the fairytale trajectory of his career so far, who’s to say the next chapter won’t be the NFL?

Afterall, if a young soccer player from Cork can line out for a college American football team at the home of the GAA, anything’s possible.

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