David Shanahan Takes the Road Less Travelled, from Gaelic Football to American Football,
on a Free Ride
By John O’Brien, Jr. @Jobjr
David Shanahan is a Gaelic football player from Castleisland, in Kerry. He is 19 years old, and about to begin the adventure of a lifetime, moving from Castleisland to Australia, and then to the U.S., to Georgia, on a full-ride four-year scholarship to play American football, at Georgia Tech.
The interview was done on Zoom, from his home in Castleisland, and the video of the interview to accompany this printed piece, will be on our YouTube channel later this month.
OhioIANews: Were you really expecting this much attention from across the water?
No not at all really. I knew like, the whole like, when you announce your commitment and stuff, and it was like in American football, the culture around ends in like the social media culture; it’s not present in Gaelic football or rugby as much, I don’t think. I knew I was going to have to announce my offer andstuff, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to get to get this much coverage at all.
OhioIANews: Did you play a lot of sports growing up?
Yes, growing up I played pretty much all the sports, Gaelic Football and rugby, basketball as well, but Gaelic Football was probably my main sport growing up.
OhioIANews: What first caught you, that shifted somewhere/somehow to American Football?
Growing up I played for Kerry underage squad, Under 17, really. Gaelic Football is a really big deal in Kerry, by far the biggest sport.
I grew up watching the NFL; that’s where I learned it. I always had an interest in watching it, but I never knew any of the rules or things like that. I enjoyed watching it. When I was about 15 or 16, I started watching college football. I thought it was insane, I loved it. The culture around it.
I couldn’t get over how big of a deal it was. I really kind of preferred it to the NFL. I figured I wanted to try something new. I wanted to try my hand at college football. The best way to go about it was to become a punter.
I grew up kicking a ball because of Gaelic Football. I was 16 when I started, everyone else had a big head start, so I figured punting would probably be the most realistic route.
OhioIANews: What attracted you to Georgia Tech?
I moved down to Prokick Australia when I was 18. I trained with them. So, what happened there was Georgia Tech called Prokick and they basically said oh we’re looking for someone for 2021, who do you have? And then Prokick put my name forward.
I said absolutely, I’ll go there. We sent off some film of me kicking to Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech liked what they saw, and they offered me.
OhioIANews: What is Prokick, from your viewpoint?
Prokick is this organization that’s in Melbourne, Australia, run by these two guys, Nathan Chapman and John Smith. It is a punting and kicking academy. Prokick is an organization that trains, usually Australian guys, to earn kicking or punting scholarships to college football teams.
The schools provide the scholarships.
Even this year alone, Texas has one, and Ohio State actually took a guy from Prokick this year, Justin Mirco. There are a heap of Big10 schools. They’ve been doing it for 10 years now, a couple guys in the NFL now.
You go down there, train with them for 6 to 12 months and then, if you’re good enough, you will get a scholarship.
Prokick’s successes: 75 Prokick scholarships or contracts in USA; 5 Ray Guy Awards; 17 All-Americans; 40 bowl victories; 1 National Championship.
OhioIANews: You are finding their own way through that, is it expensive?
Not really, probably about as expensive as a year in college.
OhioIANews: You are a lefty? You kick lefty?
I kick field goals and kickoffs with my right leg, but punting I do off my left leg. I couldn’t tell you why. My legs were just confused. In Gaelic football you have to develop both legs anyway, so that definitely helps.
OhioIANews: Take me through training at Prokick
Training is divided between gym sessions and field sessions, so a typical day would be a gym session at 5:30 AM. We get up around 5 and drive there. Training is about 2 hours.
We had a strength and conditioning coach there; he tried the best he could to follow a college type 2 program. So we worked on everything, upper body, lower body, fitness, whatever, and then about 3:00 PM we’d have a field session. That would be about 2 hours, so we just got to work on technique and kicking it and all sorts of stuff.
OhioIANews: Is distance the main measurement or how do you measure your improvement?
So it’s distance and hang time, so how high you kick it and how far are you kick it, really, for punting.
OhioIANews: How far do you think you have come?
I have definitely improved a lot. I suppose when I started, I had a lot of Gaelic football habits, kicking it like a Gaelic football. I had to learn new muscle memory to kick it more like an American football, a lot straight away, but definitely I’ve come along way, just because the coaching down there is superb; its top class, and just putting in the hours. I’ve definitely come a long way since I first started.
OhioIANews: You are judging your success based upon 5-yard increments?
I guess, it was always a matter of hang time and how quick you can get it off. You’ve only got 1.2 seconds to kick it, or else you get you get blocked or tackled. 1.2 seconds is generally what you have in college football, so it’s not just a matter of being able to kick it. It’s to be able to kick it quickly.
I could always hit it 40 yards, 45, by the standard, so 45 yards, I could always get that with 4 ½ seconds hang time, but it was just a matter of doing it within the 1.2 seconds, and doing it consistently throughout. Consistency is really the name of the game in punting.
OhioIANews: Do you set goals for yourself going forward?
Definitely, obviously it’s a bit different now because I’m training by myself. I’m not in a team environment. So, it’s a little bit harder to challenge yourself, because when you’re in Prokick, it’s really easy to compete with guys, compete with each other at training. So, it’s fun, but I’m setting my own goals, I try to imagine game scenarios and focus on training, things like that.
OhioIANews: How much better do you think you can get? What are you striving for?
I’ve plenty of room for improvement. I guess I’m just always trying to get more consistent. My technique – there’s a lot of lot of improvements to make; I’m far from perfect.
It is probably most comparable to a golfer, a golfer’s swing – muscle memory – there’s always room for improvement.
You’re never going to hit 100 out of 100 and you never going to make every shot in basketball, so there’s always room to be more consistent. You’re going to strive to be more consistent, trying to align your legs and everything. It’s very similar to that. Very small details can make a big difference.
OhioIANews: Are you able to train at home now? If you punted in Cleveland there is going to be some snow.
In Melbourne, Australia, it’s actually really cold during the winter. When people think of Australia, they think it’s really hot. Melbourne is in the southeast corner, near the middle. It’s actually very cold during the winter, and obviously, growing up in Ireland, we have cold weather, windy out there.
I don’t think Atlanta will be too cold, but I’ll be playing Notre Dame away; I’ll probably be freezing, so I think we will have some cold games.
OhioIANews: What are you doing now in Castleisland?
Training myself, really I’m looking at, I’m out in the countryside; I’ve access to fields to kick in. I have my own gym set up in the the shed as well. I am trying to keep fit, I’m trying to stay sharp, sending film and stuff to my coaches in Prokick, so I they can tell me what I’m doing wrong or whatever. I’m keeping in touch with them always.
OhioIANews: Where is Castleisland, in Kerry?
It’s in North Kerry, close to Limerick.
OhioIANews: So what are you doing with training?
I am not training these days, I’ve actually gotta take the SAT as well. I’ve been studying for that.
It’s been good to be back in Ireland, catch up with friends. I was in Australia for nine months, I didn’t really get to see them much. It’s been good, seeing everyone I grew up with again, and then hang around with them has been great. I’ve been home about three months now.
OhioIANews: You will go to Georgia in January?
Yes, so, obviously I’m training on myself right now. I’m hoping to get back to Australia at some point before I go. I’d like to get back for maybe two months or three months, just to kind of sharpen up a bit, and see everyone. Train a little bit more.
Obviously, the Australian border is shut, so that’s kind of, I don’t know what’s gonna happen there. It’s just a matter of waiting and seeing. Hopefully … yeah.
The Australian border is completely shut to the outside world. I think I should be alright for going to Georgia Tech, I know guys that are in Australia right now they’re getting things in order, they are going in July, so if they’re able to go in July
I’m sure I’m hopeful, assuming everything goes well.
OhioIANews: So Georgia Tech for four years is your plan?
Yes, I guess nobody really knows how things are going to bounce in an actual game. I know the guys that even make it, the pro guys have been back to train with Prokick, so seeing a couple of them, what it takes is really cool. Those guys are monsters, those guys are insane, soconsistent. That is kind of the thing I would say that differentiates them; everyone can kick the ball far, but they just do it a lot more often, muscle memory.
OhioIANews: Jaime Gillen, the Cleveland Browns pro football punter, is from Scotland.
Yeah, I’ve seen him. He’s something too; he’s unreal, huge like; he’s like a linebacker.
OhioIANews: What are things you are looking forward to in Georgia?
In Georgia I’m looking forward to actually going to football game; I’ve never been to one; that’ll be good. , Being part of our program, living there, that Division 1 lifestyle, training and meeting new people; the sense of adventure around it.
I didn’t think people would be as fascinated with the story; I really didn’t, I guess people were shocked like, oh why did you move to Australia to go to America?
It’s just four months away. I’m gonna have to pace myself a little bit, try not to get too excited just yet. I’m sure it will fly.
David would love to hear from you on twitter: @David99Shan