Dan Whelan became the first Irish-born player to feature in an NFL game since 1985 when he starred in the Green Bay Packers' 38-20 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, September 10.
"First game in the books," Whelan, a native of Co Wicklow, said on Instagram after his NFL debut on Sunday, sharing pictures of him on the field as well as a sweet picture of him embracing his proud mom, Anne Marie Doyle.
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Whelan, 24, was the Packers' starting punter and helped them record an 18-point victory over their bitter rivals in the opening game of the NFL season.
Whelan averaged 49.8 yards off five punts on Sunday, leaving him tied for seventh for punt averages during the opening weekend of the season.
His longest kick was 68 yards, a distance bettered only by Michael Dickson of the Seattle Seahawks and Johnny Hekker of the Carolina Panthers.
Whelan's family watched on as the Wicklow native became the first Irish-born NFL player since Dubliner Niall O'Donoghue lined out for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.
Dan Whelan’s family about to head to Soldier Field to witness Dan making history - he will become the first Irish born active player in the NFL in 38 years this evening.September 10, 2023
Whelan was 13 years old when he moved to the US with his mom. A talented athlete, Whelan played rugby and soccer in Ireland and tennis in the US before trying out American football during his junior year at Rancho Mirage High School in California.
In 2016, when he was still in high school, Whelan went viral for kicking a 72-yard field goal at practice, shattering the current NFL record of 66 yards.
After graduating in the top ten percent of his high school class, Whelan went on to study Sustainable Environmental Design at UC Davis in California. When he graduated, he was ranked number one in the school's history in punting average (44.0) and punts inside the 20 (86).
Whelan entered the NFL with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in May 2022 but was released that July, which he later said was "humbling."
After a stint in the XFL with the DC Defenders, Whelan signed with the Green Bay Packers in May 2023 where he made a strong impression during training camps, ultimately winning the punter position over veteran Pat O'Donnell.
Whelan is now the 11th Irish-born player in the NFL. According to Pro Football Reference, the others are Neil O'Donoghue, John Sinnott, Adrian Young, Tom Graham, Bob Nash, France Fitzgerald, Brian McGrath, Mickey Fallon, Con O'Brien, and Birtie Maher.