Dan Whelan could start the new NFL season as a punter for the Green Bay Packers. If he does, he will become the first Irish-born player to appear in an NFL game after Neil O’Donoghue, who was a placekicker for the St Louis Cardinals in the 1980s.

A Soccer Fan and Rugby Enthusiast

Whelan is different from other NFL stars. Unlike his peers, he is a die-hard soccer fan and says he likes to watch any sport other than baseball. The 23-year-old is a Newcastle United supporter and can’t wait for his team to play in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in two decades.

He also told the BBC that he follows Ireland’s rugby matches and was particularly proud of his country winning the Six Nations. He said he couldn’t wait for the Rugby World Cup to start.

And like the Irish, who will be writing history when they play at the World Cup, Whelan will try to put his name in the history books too. 

Whelan was born in Ireland but his family moved to California when he was 13. He started doing sports almost immediately after arriving in the US and transitioned from soccer to American football in high school. 

Was Cut by the New Orleans Saints Last Year

At first, Whelan was a kicker but later became a punter. Like Neil O’Donoghue, who was the tallest kicker in NFL history, at 6ft 6in, he has impressive stature. He said that coaches advised him to be a punter because it was hard to be a kicker with his build.

However, transitioning from a kicker to a punter also meant Whelan had to master “a whole different technique of leg-swing.” Even though he struggled at first, he said he “figured it out” in time.

Not only did he figure it out, Whelan soon became so good at kicking that he caught the eye of the New Orleans Saints. They invited him for a try-out, which even though unsuccessful, was a great experience for Whelan.

Will Try to Emulate Pat O’Donnell

One year later, he has been given another shot at NFL glory, this time by the Green Bay Packers. And Whelan is determined not to be cut again. He told the BBC that he was doing everything to “make the best opportunity” for himself. He said he wasn’t looking too far into the future and was instead focusing on improving each day.

And Whelan will definitely need to give his best shot if he is to have a future with the Green Bay Packers. For one, he will have to upstage nine-year-NFL veteran Pat O’Donnell to get there.

However, Whelan sees it differently. He said he will only be competing with himself and trying to be the best player he can be. As for O’Donnell, Whelan sees him as “one of the best punters in the league.” He said he was delighted to be alongside him, as he was one of the players he modeled his game on while in college, adding he was “a great dude as well.”

Time will tell if Whelan, who impressed in the XFL last year, will get his chance in the NFL. However, he seems to be doing all the right things and could become the first Irish-born NFL player in almost forty years.