Getting to know the Donegal/Derry Vipers!
The Donegal/Derry Vipers are mere days away from making their first competitive debut in the IAFL. It has been a busy 6-8 months for the rookies and a lot of hard work has happened behind the scenes as they ready themselves for Sunday’s big game.
As newest members of the growing IAFL family, the Vipers will be looking to make an immediate impact in the IAFL-2 as they clash heads with the Trojans 2nd’s. Some people may not be too familiar with the leagues newest outfit at this stage so we caught up with club chairman and Right Guard, Shaun McGrory to find out more.
From an idea that started as early as last summer, the plan to get the team off the ground was quickly set in motion.
‘Our founding members, Cathal Curran and James Fox, had always been big fans of the NFL and always had a really sports orientated life pre The Vipers having played GAA all their lives. They became aware of the IAFA and their league structure through word of mouth back in the summer of 2014 and decided to have a look and see how it was set up and where each of the teams played.
‘Having found that the sport was thriving in Ireland, that it was the fastest growing sport in the world an armed with the realisation that there was neither a team in Donegal or Derry the guys had the crazy idea of forming one and seeing if their dream would become a reality.’
Once the structure of the club was in place, the next duty was to create an iconic club name. Its alway’s interesting to learn of the reasoning behind a chosen team name, maybe due to its symbolic significance or the history of a city; or perhaps you just like the sound of it!
‘We would love to tell you that the name Vipers came from some deep spiritual place, after having walked miles barefooted to Tibet but unfortunately that isn’t the case. They liked the name The Donegal Derry Vipers so they went for it. Since then the players and staff have begun to attach meaning to it with the main theme being around bringing snakes BACK to Ireland, even going as far as, unofficially, calling our home ground at the YMCA Rugby pitches in Drumahoe, ‘The Viper Pit!’
Starting up a brand new club has its difficulties. Sponsorships and finances are vital in maintaining the health of a team and finding a city where there is a big pool for recruiting talent is also a must. However, the Vipers have been working extremely hard this off-season in preparation for what will prove to be a challenging year.
‘Up until late 2014 the team was merely a pipe dream but our founders really stepped it up around October of that year. Cathal and our Treasurer Frieda Gallagher contacted The Belfast Giants Ice Hockey team and managed to blag a slot at the interval and really publicize their vision of what we wanted to do. How many people would have imagined we would have a successful Ice Hockey team from Belfast 20years ago and by that logic, why couldn’t we do the same with The Vipers?’
‘After setting up all the social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and our own club website the guys started promoting the club in various local newspapers and radio stations pointing people towards our 1st training session. We recruited our Head Coach, Jason Brock, a Chicago born American who had moved to Donegal after falling in love with a beautiful Irish girl. Jason grew up playing and loving the sport and was the ideal person to mould a group of amateur American Football fans into a fully functional, closely knit, Viper machine. We now have a core team of around 40players or varying age and skill but with an equal amount of enthusiasm.’
Shaun admitted that one of the many benefactors the Vipers have had, came courtesy of the generosity of the now folded, Drogheda Lightning. Many of the founding members of the Lightning travelled up north to personally pass on old equipment and knowledge, that will greatly assist the Vipers development.
Something that Shaun and the rest of the team will be eternally grateful for.
‘As a group and as individuals, setting up the club was an adventure none of us had ever been on. The Lightning first contacted us in February of this year and rode into the Vipers like knights in shining armour. They decided, though heart-breaking to those involved with the Lightning, that their legacy should live on and that all the equipment would be passed down to our newly formed team. Not only did they provide us with equipment for players, practice and for game day but they also came with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the form of Ross and Kim Neville and Fergal Waters.’
‘To this day the guys continue to support and invest time in the team whether it is through coming to training or offering help and guidance over the phone. The Drogheda Lightning lives on in The Vipers.’
Focus will now turn to the task that lays ahead as the Donegal/Derry Vipers host the current Irish champions, the Belfast Trojans; well, to be more precise the Trojans 2nd’s team. The opening debut for a new side can be filled with mix feelings of nerves, optimism as well as excitement. Strapping on new helmets and pad’s will feel like Christmas to many of the young Vipers players.
However when Sunday arrives, all attentions must be turned to the match itself, and putting that all important first win in the history books!
‘When the fixtures were released I think the initial feeling was shock. The Trojans are, undoubtedly, one of the best, if not the best team in Ireland. For a team as new as ours, to play the Champions, regardless of whether it is the 1sts or 2nds is a huge challenge and one that is not lost on our players or staff.’
‘The feeling will quickly change to excitement and determination to show that we are a team, a good team and one that is worthy of playing in the IAFL2 league. We have had contact with The Trojans and their professional attitude and approach towards the game has rung true each and every time. They are the type of team that each side in the league should aspire to be.’
‘With that said, on game day they are our opponents, they will not hold back, they will not take into consideration that we are a new team, they will go to work in the usual Trojans way. They will push us hard and we hope to push back with equal intensity.‘
Getting the first victory under the belts will be a fantastic feeling for the newly established Vipers, however their opening game couldn’t be much harder and then they will need to put everything they have learnt throughout the off-season into practice.
Many teams goals each year are to win trophies and to be the best. The Vipers will no doubt be aiming for the same but their first goal this season is simple. Establish the team and build for the future.
‘For us, the goal was never to blow teams away, it was to set up a family orientated club that bridged the border between north and south, to build an inclusive club based on respect and our mutual love of the sport. This is our debut season and we believe we are prepared. For now, our goal is to give the Trojans a game that both teams will remember for all the right reasons and as we progress through the season to build a club that is sustainable, competitive and spoke of in the highest terms possible both on and off the field.’