Charlie Smyth: GAA goalkeeper makes NFL switch to New Orleans Saints

GAA goalkeeper Charlie Smyth has signed with the New Orleans Saints as part of the NFL's International Player Pathway program.

The 22-year-old Irishman has signed a three-year deal as a kicker with the Saints after impressing the team at trials.

Smyth posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, upon the announcement. "Thrilled to be part of the Saint. An unbelievable journey to get to this point," he wrote.

The Gaelic footballer follows the same path as former Wales rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit, who has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as part of the IPP.

Rees-Zammit will join up with the back-to-back reigning Super Bowl champions this offseason after spending 10 weeks training in Florida.

His opportunity at Arrowhead comes just three months after the former Gloucester winger announced his decision to step away from rugby and pursue football on the eve of the Six Nations.

The International Player Pathway programme, previously known as NFL Undiscovered, began in 2016 and was launched in aid of providing athletes around the world with the opportunity to earn a place on an NFL roster, with former England rugby sevens player Alex Jenkins, former Worcester and Harlequins lock Christian Scotland-Williamson and Racing 92 wing Christian Wade among the rugby players to attempt the transition.

Tadhg Leader, who is a kicking coaching for the IPP and was integral in bringing Down goalkeeper Smyth into the programme, said he was "lost for words".

"I first met Charlie 6 months ago," Leader posted on X. "He and his family put their trust in me. Then we embarked on a journey into the unknown. Thanks to Charlie's talent and work ethic, we found a way!."

He added: "Ireland couldn't have a better ambassador in Charlie."

Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata remains the most notable success story as a product of the International Player Pathway programme having gone on to assert himself as one of the most dominant players in his position across the league.

The Australian, who comes from a rugby background, joined the programme in January 2018 before being drafted by the Eagles with the 233rd pick in the seventh round of the NFL Draft later that year. He has since established himself as a long-term starter in Philadelphia, earning a four-year $64m contract in September 2021 as reward for his impact and later helping the team reach Super Bowl LVII, where the Eagles were beaten by the Chiefs.

British defensive end Efe Obada is meanwhile set to enter his seventh season in the NFL after coming through the IPP in in 2017 having previously played with the London Warriors. He initially spent time with the Dallas Cowboys on the recommendation of British coach Aden Durde, followed by offseason stints with the Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons before spending three seasons with the Caroline Panthers, one with the Buffalo Bills and the last two as part of the Washington Commanders.

Former Wasps winger Wade occupied a spot on the Bills practice squad from 2019-2022, notably scoring on a 65-yard touchdown run during preseason. He has since returned to his career in rugby.

Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson, defensive tackle David Bada, and Los Angeles Chargers defensive end C. J. Okoye are also among the IPP products currently active in the league, alongside Britain's Ayo Oyelola (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Adedayo Odeleye (Houston Texans).

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