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Dan Whelan: Wicklow native to become first Irishman to play in NFL since 1985

Wicklow-born Dan Whelan's selection in the Green Bay Packers' roster for the new season means he will be the first Irishman to play in the NFL since 1985.

Kicker Whelan, 24, was named in the Packers' final 53-man squad for the season on Tuesday evening.

Whelan's inclusion had looked certain after fellow punter Pat O'Donnell was released by the Packers on Monday.

Neil O'Donoghue was the last Irishman to play in the NFL when he kicked for the St Louis Cardinals in 1985.

Dubliner O'Donoghue, who is now 70, had an eight-year NFL career which also included stints at the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneeers.

Born in Enniskerry in County Wicklow, Whelan's family moved to Palm Springs, California, when he was 13.

He made the initial transition from soccer to American football at high school, starting off as a kicker before becoming a punter at college at the University of California, Davis.

Whelan punts against the St Louis Battlehawks
Whelan of the DC Defenders punts against the St Louis Battlehawks during the first half of an XFL game in March

At 6ft 6in and weighing 15st 5lb (98kg), he has impressive stature and has not been shy on social media about demonstrating his kicking power, whether it is an impressive 73-yard field goal or a punt that goes out of the park.

Blessed with a booming leg, Whelan has also mastered the all-important skill for any prospective NFL punter: hang time - the ability to keep the ball airborne with distance, giving his colleagues on 'special teams' the best possible chance to pin the opposition back and secure territorial advantage.

Outstanding performances at college, with a punt average of 44 yards, meant Whelan attracted early interest from the NFL.

The New Orleans Saints offered him a try-out in 2022 before he linked up with Green Bay.

Last season, Whelan had an impressive campaign with the DC Defenders in the XFL, a minor professional league, where he was ranked third in his position and led the league in hang time.

Whelan's efforts in pre-season training then led to him being preferred to O'Donnell, a veteran with nine seasons under his belt, firstly with the Chicago Bears before joining the Packers last season.