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World of Sport

10th May 2024

Rory Beggan and Mark Jackson secure NFL tryouts this weekend

Michael McQuaid

A historic off-season for the NFL on the island of Ireland has got even bigger.

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan is set to workout with the Carolina Panthers this weekend, while Wicklow goalkeeper Mark Jackson will workout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rory Beggan Carolina Bound

The Scotstown man travelled to the United States earlier this year to take part in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, where he trained and lived in Florida for the best part of eight weeks, missing Monaghan’s National League Campaign. 

After the NFL Combine and Pro Day, Beggan returned to Monaghan and decided to play for the county in their defeat against Cavan in the Ulster Championship. 

The interest in Beggan is no surprise across the league. He was impressive not only in his Combine performance in Indianapolis, but during his NFL Pro Day, he went 10 from 10, on Wednesday, in a kicking challenge in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams.

Beggan will join a number of undrafted players in Carolina this weekend as he bids to be signed by the Panthers. One potential factor in his favour is the fact that he can be signed and designated by the Panthers under their International Player Pathway Program, effectively giving him more time to develop and providing the team with an extra space on the roster during the season. 

The Panthers are in rebuild mode, as they finished with a 2–15 record in the NFC South last year. They are working under a new General manager in Dan Morgan and recently appointed head Coach in Dave Canales. Their current kicker is Eddy Pineiro and the team recently signed undrafted kicker Harrison Mevis, who set an SEC record with a 61-yard field goal last year in College Football. Pineiro was absent for voluntary veteran mini-camp in April, with Canales describing his absence as a “private” situation. 

Rory’s mentor and coach Tadhg Leader has given high praise of Beggan ahead of his workout in the US.

“Rory has been the guy from when I started Leader Kicking eighteen months ago that everyone talked about”, Leader said. He was always on the radar and when our paths eventually crossed and I had the chance to meet him and see his most natural ball striking abilities, it was clear that there was an abundance of raw talent there to work with.”

For Leader, Beggans transition from the GAA to the NFL is a result of hard graft. “He really put in the time and effort to adapt his game from Gaelic Football to American Football and the biggest testament to Rory is everytime there has been huge pressure on the man, he has stayed so tranquil and so even and embedded in this process and he kept doing his job”, he said. “The main requirement of an NFL kicker is to block out any noise and focus on the process and Rory Beggan has shown he can do so time and time again. I am absolutely thrilled for Rory who has the chance to walk into the Carolina Panthers facility this weekend to truly put Irish athletes on the map.”

For Beggan, this is a huge opportunity. It will be interesting to see how the weekend plays out for the Monaghan man – one which could have big repercussions on the rest of the season for his county. Monaghan are scheduled to play Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium next weekend in the first round of the Sam Maguire Cup.

Jackson to workout with the Steelers

The Baltinglass and Wicklow man will step onto the hallowed turf of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Friday afternoon Irish time as he bids to make it onto an NFL roster for the 2024 season. 

Speaking with the Pittsburgh Steelers on his arrival, Jackson spoke of his excitement of the opportunity. “It’s a surreal experience to be here at the Pittsburgh Steelers facility, being a lad from Ireland who never picked up an American football until seven or eight months ago,” he said. “It’s exciting. I appreciate the Steelers putting their faith in me, seeing there can be international guys out there who, granted, might not have played the sport for too long, but they have the physical and mental ability to play the sport. I am grateful to the Steelers for giving me the opportunity.”  

The Pittsburgh Steelers were awarded marketing rights for the island of Ireland in May 2023, allowing the team to establish a more official marketing presence in Ireland. In the space of the last year, the Steelers have held different events, from a sold out watch party in Croke Park’s Hogan Suite – to events with former players, notably their kicking clinic in Dublin a few weeks ago, where Mark Jackson was crowned the best kicker on the day.

Before the Steelers Kicking Clinic last month in Dublin, Jackson took part in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program in Florida, arriving in the United States in early February. He trained with various players including Charlie Smyth and Louis Rees-Zammit at the facility before taking part in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where he impressed with his kicking power and height on the day. After this, Jackson kicked a seventy yard field goal at the IMG Academy before his Pro Day in late March – and he went viral for the kick itself. Jackson further impressed on his Pro Day later that week.

For Jacksons coach and mentor Tadhg Leader, this is a huge moment.

“It’s hard to fathom what has happened over the last seven months,” Leader said to Pro Football Ireland. “We came together as a group and discussed what we thought was possible and I painted a picture for the lads as to what we could do together as a group – with a key goal being walking into the front door of an NFL facility with the opportunity to earn a job in the worlds most valued sports league and thankfully that is what has been achieved – here we are today with the lads and that is what they are doing.”

Leader remembers meeting Jackson for the first time in Dublin at a tryout for his kicking academy. “That day, I remember pulling him aside in Dublin in the car park after the session and telling him that he has the raw talent  what I have seen after this first session – and that we should attack this”, Leader said. “From that very moment, Mark dropped everything and gave pure and utter focus to achieving this. He is one of the most diligent people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and he is one of the most talented ball strikers that I have come across so he is in the arena he belongs. I among many others are looking forward to seeing him go out to Pittsburgh this weekend and showing the world what Irish athletes can do on the world stage.”

The team has a deep connection with the island. The Rooney family, who own the team, migrated from Ireland in the 1840s and their Irish roots have remained important to them ever since. Former Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney was the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in recent years.

While nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, this is a great opportunity for Jackson to show a team what he can do, while learning the ropes of an NFL facility. Time will tell if this could progress into a move for him, but for now – a vital weekend awaits. 

For full coverage of Rory Beggans workout in Carolina and Mark Jacksons workout in Pittsburgh this weekend, you can follow Pro Football Ireland on social media.