The inaugural “Croke Park Classic” is almost upon us. On 30 August in Dublin city, the University of Central Florida (UCF) will face Penn State in the cathedral of sport that is Croke Park. Excited just doesn’t cover it.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is big. The first in what is expected to be a three game series, this event will see the University of Central Florida (UCF) take on Penn State University in their 2014 season opener.
Big-time names in American college football, both teams are guaranteed to bring huge fanfare and significant travelling support to the HQ of Gaelic Games (GAA) in Ireland, Croke Park.
But a question remains: what brings these teams to Ireland?
The short answer is that American football is the most popular sport in the United States and interest is spreading, most of all across the Atlantic. But that’s just part of the story.
In an attractively ancestral twist, the 2014 Croke Park Classic brings together Veteran Florida Knights Coach George O’Leary and Penn State Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien.
O’Leary mentored O’Brien at Georgia Tech from 1995 - 2001 and the two coaches, both of Irish heritage, have shared a friendship since.
18 years in the making
The Croke Park Classic will be the first time that UCF and Penn State have played outside the United States. The last time an American Football game hosted in Croke Park was 18 years ago in 1996 when Notre Dame defeated Navy. Both colleges were back in Dublin in 2012 when they attracted a capacity attendance of almost 50,000 to their fixture at the Aviva Stadium (formerly Lansdowne Road).
On August 30, 2014, UCF and Penn State will be playing for the Dan Rooney Trophy, named after the former US ambassador to Ireland and Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A key player in the GAA’s redevelopment plans for Croke Park in the early nineties, Dan Rooney has been both a passionate fan of Gaelic Games and big supporter of the Association during his many visits and residence in Ireland over the last fifty years.
Football and hurling matches organised by the GAA have been held in Croke Park since 1884, and these games are deeply and emotionally rooted in communities all over the country.
Players, managers and trainers, Mums, Dads, aunts and uncles volunteer their free time to prepare for their county’s campaign to win the illustrious All-Ireland final.
On a Sunday in September, months of blood, sweat and tears (literally), for both teams and supporters, reach a raucous and glorious crescendo as one county triumphs in an All-Ireland final and raises the coveted Sam Maguire Cup (football) or the Liam McCarthy Cup (hurling).
Read more about Gaelic Games here.
Pep and Tailgate: pre-game parties
You won’t be shocked to hear that neither the travelling fans nor the Dublin locals plan on letting the match-up go by without a party or two.
First up, on August 29, is a joint Pep Rally, set to turn Dublin Castle’s cobbled core into a riot of pompoms, parades and pre-game rivalry. Don’t be surprised if you spot both players and coaches in attendance.
Next up, on game day, 30 August is the Croke Park Pep Rally, bringing the typically energized buzz of cheerleaders, marching bands and game day pageantry. Warning: your hairs will stand on end.
On the same day (yes, there’s more!) a Tailgate Party will rock up in the cultural quarter of Temple Bar for a gathering of food, drink and good-natured rivalry.
Croke Park up close
Both Pep Rally and Tailgate will be part of a host of events leading up to the event including a business forum in Croke Park during the week before the game, special pre-game stadium tours and game day hospitality events. For those travelling fans who are interested in experiencing some home-grown games, the All Ireland Football Semi Finals will be played in Croke Park on 31 August, giving travelling fans an opportunity to experience live Gaelic games.
You know, just in case you needed another reason to stick around in Dublin a little longer…
Tickets for the Croke Park Classic are on sale and details can be found at www.crokeparkclassic.ie.
Follow the event @CrokePkClassic or on facebook.com/CrokeParkClassic.