Lack of opportunities for Down and Mayobridge prompted New Orleans Saint Charlie Smyth to try out for American Football

Smyth: ‘Would I have gone to try NFL if I was enjoying club and county football? Probably not.’

Charlie Smyth made 12 out of 16 kicks at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend
Charlie Smyth impressed the experts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis

CHARLIE Smyth might never have taken the first step on his trailblazing move to American Football if he hadn’t been stuck on the bench for his club and county for most of last season.

His ambition had long been to become Down’s starting goalkeeper but after he lost his place with the Mournemen and found that training with the county meant he couldn’t even get a game with Mayobridge, he attended an American Football kicking try-out in Banbridge just to give it a go and cheer himself up.

He impressed Tadgh Leader and the coaches and, as we all know now, one thing quickly led to another as Smyth advanced through Irish trials to the American NFL Combine and ‘Pro Day’ and signed a three-year deal with the New Orleans Saints last month.

Resilience, ambition, self-belief, opportunity and rare ability… His story has a bit of everything and it all began because the door he wanted to go through was closed to him.

“I sought out this NFL opportunity because I wasn’t enjoying my club football and I wasn’t enjoying not playing for Down either,” says Smyth, who leaves for New Orleans on Sunday.

“Mark (Jackson) and Rory (Beggan) were scouted for the International Player Pathway but I wasn’t – I didn’t have the profile to be scouted. But I knew I had a hell of a kick on me and I turned up at the trial in Banbridge and enjoyed it. I impressed them that day and from that point on I’ve been giving it hell-for-leather.”

Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth prepares to kick a ball
Charlie Smyth was an Ulster U20 Championship winner with Down

He was the starting goalkeeper for Down during a spell of the National League last year. He wore the number one jersey for three consecutive games in Division Three but was substituted at half-time against Longford and didn’t feature again.

Because he wasn’t playing for Down, manager Conor Laverty released him to play with his club but, because he hadn’t been at club training, the Ulster U20 Championship-winner struggled to get a game for Mayobridge.

Caught in Catch-22 purgatory, he rolled up all the frustration he felt into an oval-shaped football and began hammering it over the bar time and time again. Just a few months later, he’s the first Irish-born, raised and trained player to get to the NFL.

“Everything happens for a reason,” says Smyth.

“It was meant to be for me to have this opportunity now and when I think of the doors that have opened up for me I wouldn’t change a thing about last year.

“I went through that struggle of not enjoying football to now where life has never been as good and I just feel very lucky and grateful. If I had been Down’s starting goalkeeper would I have gone for this? I don’t know.

“Would I have gone (to the first trial) just to try it out if I was enjoying club football and county football? Probably not.

“I always had belief in myself that, with the kick I have, I have something other people don’t have but I never got the opportunity to do it on the big stage to show people. I’ve matured so much I’m ready for the big days now and I feel ready to go out there and give it my all.”