Sunday 17 November 2019

Don't be fooled by Navy's graceful ballet kicks

Grainne Cunningham

SOMEONE once said American football makes rugby look like a Tupperware party, so yesterday's practice session by the US Navy team was surprisingly balletic.

The boys in blue flew in at noon yesterday and by 3pm, they were keenly lining up in the Aviva Stadium for their first try-out on Irish soil.

The 'Midshipmen' are in town for the opening game of the college football season. The sold-out match with their old rivals Notre Dame, aka the 'Fighting Irish', tomorrow at 2pm which has drawn some 35,000 Americans to Dublin for the weekend.

Without their full match padding, the players looked unexpectedly slight as they jogged out onto the practice area but what impresses is just how many of them there are.

A football team typically has up to 100 players and coach Ken Niumatalolo put at least 60 of them through their paces on a specially drawn out pitch in the shadow of the Lansdowne Road stadium yesterday.

Their warm-up wasn't unlike the average Zumba class, with lots of high kicks and knees-ups, before some synchronised stretching on the grass.

Watching their every move were Dublin footballer Michael Dara McAuley and four Leinster rugby players -- Mike Ross, Shane Jennings, Heinke van der Merwe and Damien Browne, all self-confessed American football fans.

Damien was impressed with the "size of the squad and the entourage they have" and judged their pre-match training as similar to his own team, with very little body contact between the players.

But it's clear these boys mean business. Quarterback Bo Nelson had little to say about post-match partying, except that most of the boys had voluntarily gone on the dry for the football season. Teammate Trey Miller said "This is just a business trip. We are over here to play football."

Despite this being his first trip outside of the US, his post-match plans stretch only to "go around and take a few pictures".

For player Keegan Wetzel, it's a chance to get together with some Limerick relatives he has never met.

For anyone who would like a taste of the atmosphere, Navy are hosting a pre-match rally in St Stephen's Green, with a band and cheerleaders performing for the crowds.

Irish Independent

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