Down GAA chairman wishes Smyth well with the Saints in the NFL as he returns home to celebrate

The 22-year-old Mayobridge man signed with the New Orleans Saints on Friday

Charlie Smyth smiling at the Indianapolis Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium
Charlie Smyth The Down goalkeeper has been invited for a visit to the New Orleans Saints in Louisiana in a bid to win a contact. PICTURE: NFL UK

CHARLIE Smyth has returned home from Louisiana after signing a deal for him to join up with the New Orleans Saints.

After signing on the dotted line with the Saints, the former U20 Ulster Championship winner with Down pressed pause on his inter-county career with the Mourne County as he chases his dream of becoming a professional athlete.

However, he leaves behind a county that seems to be persevering without him, despite the hole he leaves between the sticks for Down.

Down County chairman Jack Devaney sees this move as a positive for Smyth, and the GAA community in Down and further afield.

Down chairman Jack Devaney insists the county board remains committed to the Ballykinlar project, despite missing out on levelling-up funding from the government
Down chairman Jack Devaney The Down chairman is delighted for Smyth's achievement in signing with the New Orleans Saints

“We knew that there was every possibility that he could take the next couple of steps,” said Devaney.

“There’s a certain amount of it that I’d say is an unreal experience for him and his family.

“For the rest of us, we’re not surprised because he has that unique talent and we’re so happy that someone out there has identified that on such a scale.”

Smyth was invited to the Saints’ facility after impressing at the NFL International Player Pathway pro-day at the University of South Florida, where he made eight of his 10 field goals and converted from 60 yards, a feat that puts him up there with the pros.

The question is if he can make it in the NFL, on Sundays, when the pressure is on him.

Given that he is used to the berating of a GAA crowd, the bright lights of the dome in NOLA will be a different kettle of fish.

“It’s remarkable for anyone to make it in that level of professional sport,” as Devaney pointed out.

“Along with everything else that is happening with us at the moment it’s kind of given us a lift and I’m sure it does for his club and his community as well.”

Smyth will surely be pinching himself having told the NFL’s IPP documentary team that, when he was 18, he wrote an email to the NFL asking to be considered for kicking in the league before the pathway was available for Irish athletes.

He is now the athlete who has proven the once-impossible possible for athletes across all of Irish sport.

Devaney said: “You’d have to be happy for somebody to see their talent being identified and recognised in a professional sport at that level.”

Smyth’s gloves were missed during the league campaign at points, despite Down’s promotion to Division Two of the Allianz Leagues.

Senior coach Marty Clarke was on hand for Conor Laverty’s side to provide cover between the sticks, despite not playing for the Mournemen in 13 years.

Down’s chair was aware of the negative narrative of Down losing one of it’s more important young starlets.

“We’ve had such thinking before because players have gone to pro sports in Australia who otherwise would be playing for Down at the time,” said Devaney.

“However, in reality, we know that if a professional opportunity comes its way like it has, for anyone, they’re probably going to grab it with both hands.

“It’s a shame that he probably won’t be part of the Ulster championship but we have to get on with that.

“I don’t think anyone would begrudge him and we’ve done ok without him already this season so we know where we are and we know what we have to do.”

Devaney also said that if Smyth should ever decide to return to Gaelic football, he would be welcomed back into the county set-up with open arms.

“Even the experience of the professional world of American Football will help him to be a better sportsperson,” said Devaney.

Smyth, a proud Mayobridge man, has travelled back to say his farewells and celebrate his achievements with his family and friends before returning to Louisiana and taking part in pre-season training with the New Orleans Saints as they work to build on their nine-win season last year.

The Black and Gold will start their preparation on April 15, with more organized training activities on May 21-23, May 28-30 and June 3-6 before the mandatory mini-camp from June 11 to 13.