Athletics

From High School American Football Star To Competing For Ireland

From High School American Football Star To Competing For Ireland

And so ends the strangest of years. 2020 will live on in infamy for the rest of our lives. So much has happened in the last 12 months, and yet, at times it felt as though nothing was happening at all. 

Our annual look back on our articles on Balls.ie reveals a year filled with frustration, anger, and disappointment, but also one full of joy and inspiration. 

Over the course of the week, we are sharing some of our favourite pieces from the maddest of years to relive some of what you may have forgotten or missed in 2020. 

You can read more of our favourite pieces here.

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In early July 1992, Paul Quirke launched the shot put 20.04m, what still stands as the Irish record. Days earlier, Victor Costello, who would become more well-known for his exploits on the rugby pitch than in the shot put circle, had thrown 19.94m.

In the 27-and-a-half years between then and 2020, no other Irish athlete had come close to those marks.

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That was until mid-January when Eric Favors, a 23-year-old born in New York, broke the two-year-old Irish indoor record with a throw of 18.91m at the Clemson Orange and Purple Meet in South Carolina. It was a record he would extend twice more in February, to 19.01m and then 19.49m. He's currently at number three on the all-time Irish list.

Favors's journey to competing for Ireland began with a grandmother who was born in Ballina and took in a word of advice from an Irishman. Paddy McGrath, who competed for Ireland in the hammer at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, coached Favors in New York.

"I don't know how the conversation happened but he was talking to my mom and she just said that my cousin got the dual citizenship," Favors tells Balls.

"He was like, 'Wow' and said that I could possibly compete for Ireland. I ended up handing in the paperwork. It took like two years. I was lucky enough to get it and be able to represent Ireland."

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Favors started throwing when he was introduced to the shot put aged 14 by his older brother Darius but it was not his only sporting interest. He also played lacrosse and American football at North Rockland High School, excelling in the latter.

"It was about long nights working outside my grandma's house," he says about his progression in the shot.

"She moved from Ireland to New York City, lived in the Bronx. She moved to Rockland County and has been there for I'd say 50 years now. We live right down the street.

"I had a coach, and he was a good coach, but in order to get to the next level, you have to be a student of your craft. I was hungry and just kept work, got to a high level.

"I'd watch YouTube videos and just work on getting better. On YouTube, you can learn how to do anything these days."

When colleges came calling with scholarship offers, he had a choice to make: Track and field or football. He chose the former, believing it to be better for the long-term prospects of his health. Favors is now in his fifth year at the University of South Carolina where he studies Criminal Justice.

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The biggest [programmes] were not recruiting me for football. I'm not that tall so that hurt me.

I could have gotten a scholarship at a smaller Division 1 programme but I enjoy my health. With American football, there's a lot of studies coming out about CTE. I thought that with track, there are injuries, but long-term injuries [are less likely]. I enjoy track more.

I got recruited by a bunch of schools all over the country [for shot put]. Coming out of high school, I was either the number one or number two recruit. For the shot put, height doesn't really matter. They see your number and if the coach is interested in you, they'll recruit you.

I took three visits, narrowed it down to Penn State, Tennessee and South Carolina.

South Carolina had the best of both worlds: The academic side with the support system. We're in the SEC Conference which is the number one track conference in the country, by far. The coaching staff here is remarkable. They've been here for 23 years.

Curtis Frye, he's a legendary Team USA hurdles coach. He offered me a scholarship and I couldn't turn it down. They've got a long history of great throwers from everywhere.

Favors has twice competed at the Irish National Senior Championships for Raheny Shamrock AC, the club of Paddy McGrath. He finished second in 2018 behind Sean Breathnach and won last year with a throw of 18.64m.

He also competed for Ireland at the World University Games last summer where he finished 10th and at the European Team Championships.

Part of his reason for switching to Ireland is practical: The gold and silver shot put medallists at last year's World Championships in Doha were both American. Getting to the level of Joe Kovacs and Ryan Crouser would take time. Wearing the Irish singlet gives him an easier path to the Worlds, the Olympics and opens the door for the European Championships.

Ireland's Eric Favors competes at the 2019 World University Games, Stadio San Paulo, Naples. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

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Favors plans to spend the summer competing around Europe with Ireland as his basecamp. Between now and the end of the season, he has a big target: Paul Quirke's Irish record.

"I love Ireland," he says.

"The people in Raheny took me in as one of their own. They're really cool.

"I was able to go to my grandma's farm in Ballina. My uncle's son still has the farm. I spent time there. I saw where my grandmother was born. She wanted to try [to come over] but sitting on a plane seven hours would have been hard on her.

"Breaking an Irish record is amazing. My grandmother was happy. My family all messaged me on Facebook.

"I really haven't sat down and processed the whole moment yet. I'm just going to keep on going. That's how an athlete works: We get a record but we always want more.

"I believe I can get it (the overall Irish record). That's definitely my goal for this year. I'm in remarkable shape. It only takes one throw. I believe I can improve to 20m. I've seen it in practice so it's only a matter of time that I can one in a meet."

Top photo credit: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

See Also: Kevin Seaward Becomes Second Fastest Irishman In The MarathonKevin Seaward Becomes Second Fastest Irishman In The Marathon

Donny Mahoney

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