The inaugural “Croke Park Classic” is almost upon us. On 30 August in Dublin, 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.
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 in 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.
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 big game go by without marking the occasion.
First up is the Croke Park Classic Fanzone on 29 August. Pep rallies and tailgate parties are set to turn Temple Bar and Dublin Castle’s cobbled core into a riot of pompoms, parades and pre-game rivalry – don’t be surprised to rub shoulders with players and coaches here.
But that's not all!
You can expect marching bands, parachute runs, mascots and more at this epic Uncle Sam spectacle when UCF and the Lions descend on Dublin’s cultural quarter. Warning: your hairs will stand on end.
Croke Park up close
As the anticipation builds in the run-up to the game, special pre-game stadium tours, game day hospitality events and dozens of cross-cultural activities will be held in the hallowed grounds of Croke Park Stadium. For 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 the 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.