If the Airdrie Irish are able to take to the field this summer, it will be with a new head coach – but a familiar face – at the helm.
The city’s senior men’s football team announced March 16 that former Irish player Anton Bellot will take over the squad’s head coaching duties for the 2021 Alberta Football League (AFL) season.
“I'm very excited,” he said. “I've always had a passion for football and I think with me being named head coach, I'm just very thankful. I'm just excited to see the guys have some success on the field this year.”
Bellot played for the Irish from 2016 to 2019. Mostly utilized as a linebacker, he was named to the AFL’s all-star team in 2017, after finishing among the top of the league for every defensive statistical category, including tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and interceptions.
While still just 29 years old, Bellot said his decision to coach instead of play this summer was a result of lingering injuries he sustained throughout his football career.
“Every one of us has to contend with Father Time,” he said. “Injuries from my Dinos and my Irish days, they caught up with me. Definitely, it was the smart decision for me to hang up the cleats, but at the same time, I'm always going to be around the game, no matter what.”
Prior to his involvement with the Irish, Bellot was a five-year member of the University of Calgary Dinos football team from 2010 to 2015. Before that, he spent three years with the perennially strong St. Francis Browns high school team in Calgary. As a high school player, he was named the 2009 defensive MVP and linebacker of the year for the Browns.
“Football is in my blood and something I wouldn't give up anytime soon,” Bellot said. “If I'm part of the game in some capacity, I'm happy.”
While the Irish's schedule for the 2021 AFL season has already been released, the league's ability to have a season will depend on the status of COVID-19 in Alberta in the coming months.
If the 2021 AFL season is able to run, Bellot will be looking to improve upon the Irish’s 0-9 record in 2019, when the team failed to record a win for the first time in their history.
Throughout the 2019 campaign, the team struggled with player commitment. Particularly on road trips to cities like Fort McMurray, Red Deer and Cold Lake, the team was unable to field a full roster, meaning players often had to line up on both offence and defence and play the entire game.
But a lost season in 2020 means many Irish players are itching to return to the gridiron, according to Bellot, which bodes well for player commitment this year.
“I think having the year off has actually been beneficial,” he said. “A lot of our players have missed the game and a lot more players are reaching out to us to come back, commit and compete."
Bellot said his priority as coach will be for the Irish to get “back to basics.”
“I don't want to overcomplicate things,” he said. “There are a lot of goals and visions I would have and we as a team would have, but we'll take it one day at a time.”
With the first game of 2021 taking place on July 10, Bellot said the Irish’s players are currently preparing individually, with at-home and virtual workouts. He said the team’s first outdoor practice is penciled in for April 29, adding the squad will be complying with public health orders as they undergo preseason training.
“We'll make sure we have our masks, that we're following the mandates, limiting it to groups of 10 but ensuring we're at least getting people back on the field,” he said.
While there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding team sports this summer, Bellot said the Irish are remaining optimistic the AFL will be able to have a season. At the same time, he said the league is being cautious and monitoring the pandemic as it continues to unfold.
“We have a plan and we're looking to stick to that plan, [even though] that plan isn't set in stone,” he said. “Everyday, that plan is going to change as this pandemic and COVID-19 starts to change with it.”
For more information on the team, visit airdrieirish.com or search Airdrie Irish Football Club on Facebook. Bellot noted the the team is still looking to recruit players.
The Irish are always going to be looking for players,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have zero experience or X years of experience. This team is about community, it’s about coming as you are and my job…is to have you leave better than you came in.
“It’s a great way to get involved with the football community of Airdrie and I guarantee you’ll have relationships with people for the rest of your life.”