HomeFootballJude McAtamney takes Giants step on way to living his dream in...

Jude McAtamney takes Giants step on way to living his dream in the NFL

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The Derry under 20 crew of 2018 was particularly successful in that regard. They were a strong group, good enough to win Ulster, but there was no hint of what was to come. A staggering 15 of them have played senior for Derry at some stage since.

Another two, Anton Tohill and Callum Brown, were picked up by the AFL. Tohill is back home but made a senior appearance for Collingwood before returning, something around half of Irish exports never manage.

Brown, also once on the books of Linfield, is going from strength to strength with the Greater Western Sydney Giants with 13 goals already this season, good enough to put him in the top 10 on that metric.

But this week, that group crossed an altogether different sporting rubicon. Jude McAtamney was on that side. Now he’s a New York Giant.

It’s a peculiar tale of bonhomie and chance, talent and perseverance that led him from football stronghold Swatragh to the MetLife Stadium, home of the Giants.

​As with many modern tales, this one starts on social media when the Derry man reached out to a Kerry man. McAtamney congratulated David Shanahan on winning a place on Georgia Tech’s team and asked to pick his brain. “Well done on your scholarship! I’m a keen kicker of the ball myself and I was wondering if you had any tips on how to approach the guys at ProKick Australia? Thanks”

ProKick are a coaching outfit who have had considerable success placing punters and kickers, usually not from an American football background, with colleges and teams in the US.

Derry-born Jude McAtamney. Picture: @Michael_NFL X screengrab

Shanahan passed on footage of McAtamney booting footballs around Swatragh. ProKick were sufficiently impressed and urged him to travel with Shanahan to the US to work with a coach there. The only issue was that this came at the height of Covid restrictions. And the pair, as a sort of Gaelic football fraternity, had to be creative. They travelled to Serbia and after 14 nights of their version of quarantine in Belgrade, where they spent their time kicking balls around whatever park they could find in front of confused locals, they were cleared to enter the US.

They worked together with a ProKick coach in Utah. McAtamney impressed enough that they placed him with a division two school, the Chowan Hawks in North Carolina. That was a short-term fix to get him live snaps and real-world exposure. From there he headed to Australia to work with ProKick some more. But when money ran out he had to return home and wait and hope.

Around that time, Swatragh wondered if he’d come back out to play. It wasn’t easy to say no, to explain that you’re chasing something many couldn’t understand, especially as scholarship offers were dangled and gone just as quickly. But eventually, something stuck. New Jersey-based Rutgers offered him a chance and McAtamney was on his travels again.

There he played high-level stuff and got his eyes opened to the true scale of the college game in the US. There were 104,000 in the stadium when they travelled to play Ohio State in 2022 and 109,000 in Michigan last year.

Speaking to Michael McQuaid on the Pro Football Ireland show, McAtamney admitted that his college career alone wasn’t enough to get picked up. But he impressed at Rutgers’ Pro Day — where NFL scouts are invited to examine prospects up close — and was good enough to earn an invite to train with both local teams, the Jets and the Giants.

From there he blew the roof off. With the Giants he was perfect, going 10/10 on field goals, including two from 57 yards. Scouts place huge value on being able to deliver in those high-pressure environments, where potentially life-changing jobs are on the line. And the following day McAtamney doubled down with the Jets and landed nine from 10.

And then it was back to waiting. The Giants kept in touch most but it was only after the conclusion of the Draft that the fog cleared and they offered him a deal to cap a remarkable journey. He joins an international kicking department with incumbent kicker and punter Graham Gano and Jamie Gillan both hailing from Scotland.

But it’s a notoriously cut-throat world. Kickers can, and often are, dispensed with mid-season. When the camps start up in July, he’ll be up against Gano, one of the top paid kickers in the league, for the main job. It’s a massive mountain to scale but considering the road he’s travelled from a hopeful message all the way to a deal with the Giants, McAtamney is already well on his way.

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