It was two days before the start of the season and I’m not sure I like what I saw, or at least heard, from the final Georgia Tech practice before its opening game.
“Go ahead, take my stick — I got this. I’m Irish,” senior running back Lynn Griffin said after one drill. (Actually, he’s from Jacksonville.)
Moments later, a man named Brian O’Sullivan held a long wooden paddle in his hands and he led players into the next part of practice.
“This next move is called spooning. You can learn how to spoon, too. So get yourselves a partner and let’s get spooning.”
The Yellow Jackets arrived in Dublin on Thursday morning. After a relatively sleepless flight, they had all 111 players make it through passport control, had lunch at their hotel outside of Dublin, then bused into town for a light practice on the pitch for the Lansdowne Rugby Club, followed by their first exposure to Irish culture practice: tutorials from locals in Gaelic football and hurling.
Yes, that’s right. Two days before his team’s first game of the season against Boston College, coach Paul Johnson allowed his players to try two new collision sports, one that involves players running around kicking and punching a ball and the other that requires them to carry a club.
Fortunately, there were no injuries. Johnson did allow his players to split into two groups and play against each other — because passion and an absence of skills tend to be a dangerous combination, particularly for a season opener.
“They’re so coordinated and they have so much talent in their individual sports,” said Carmac O’Donnchu, a Dublin-based promoter of Gaelic sports. “Sometimes when you introduce a new sport to them, it takes a little time. But the basic skills are attainable.”
(Note: One of those skills, “spooning,” is not what you think. It’s when a player player uses his stick, which looks like a large spoon, to pick up the ball and pass to a teammate.)
September is the start of the college football season but it’s the culmination of Gaelic sports seasons. The hurling championship is Sunday, Gaelic football is in a few weeks. Both will draw 82,000 fans in Dublin, likely double the Tech-Boston College game.
I once covered a San Francisco 49ers’ exhibition game in Tokyo. Sumo wrestlers came to a practice during the week and dwarfed the 49ers’ players. But the sumos saw potential in the team’s offensive linemen, including 300-plus pound tackle Bubba Paris.
This whole cross-pollination of our football and their football (or hurling, or rugby) could be the solution to the satellite camps problem.
“If you’re going to have satellite camps, that’s where you ought to have them — somewhere where the other people don’t recruit, like Ireland,” Johnson said. “When I was at the University of Hawaii, we used to recruit Australia that way. We would watch rugby. We had two kids on our team from the All-Blacks New Zealand rugby team and they were good players. You just have to find the ones who can fit the profile of education.”
Jim Harbaugh could hold camps from Limerick to Kilkenny and SEC coaches wouldn’t care. They probably would encourage him to continue his talent hunt by heading north to Scotland and taking a leap into Noch Ness.
O’Sullivan was eyeballing some of Tech’s players and already had hurling positions in mind — the faster players on the outside, the slower players stuffing the middle and intimidating the opposition. Sports tends to be universal that way.
“See those two,” O’Sullivan said, pointing to two of the Jackets’ wider players. “You would play them at the junior level in front of the goal to intimidate the goal keeper. There used to be a rule where you were allowed to shove the goalie into the net. But they changed that. Officially, you’re not supposed to do that anymore. But only officially. You can still be a little nasty.”
The whole nasty thing works in American football, too.
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