Next summer, America’s favourite game will take to the hallowed ground of Croke Park, the beating heart of Ireland’s traditional sports…
It’s is a stadium that has built memories, hosted Olympic ceremonies, and has been a vital part of Dublin’s history.
But in August 2014, there’ll be a very different type of supporter travelling to Croke Park, home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletics Association) when US college teams the University of Central Florida and Penn State arrive to do battle in the Croke Park Classic.
Get your game face on
This isn’t the first time US football teams have brought their game to Ireland – 2013 saw Notre Dame and the Navy thrill a sold-out Aviva Stadium.
And Ireland has been developing strong links with American Football since that first NCAA-sanctioned American college footballe game outside of Europe: the Emerald Isle Classic in 1988.
Still, it’s been almost 20 years since Croke Park hosted a game of American Football, and this icon of Irish sporting life is more than ready for the challenge.
The newly renovated stadium (it has a 82,300, making it the third biggest stadium in the EU) may offer a few new creature comforts but that electric match-day atmosphere that Croke Park is famous for is just the same; this is still a place where dreams come true.
Football and hurling matches organised by the GAA have been held in Croke Park since 1884, and these games are deeply rooted in communities all over the country.
Players, managers and trainers 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, come to a head as one county triumphs in an All-Ireland final and gets to raise the coveted Sam Maguire Cup (football) or the Liam McCarthy Cup (hurling).
Supporting the team
Go to a match in Croke Park and you’ll feel like you’re surrounded by the most passionate supporters in the world. But the Irish don’t have a monopoly on sporting pride, and in 2014 thousands of dedicated American fans are expected to follow their teams over for this genuinely special event.
And it is most definitely going to be special. The Croke Park Classic is not just the 2014 Season opener for the teams, it also marks the first time either the University of Central Florida or Penn State have played outside the US.
The fans aren’t just coming for the football, as Penn State Director of Athletics Davy Joyner already knows.
“We’ve not only grown our appreciation for the games so entrenched in the history and traditions here in Ireland, but have also confirmed that, because of the Irish people and their hospitality, Penn State fans are going to love their time here in the late summer of 2014.”
As any visitor to Ireland will tell you, a warm welcome from the locals awaits fans travelling from the states and by the time you leave, the game won’t even be the highlight of your trip.
Instead, it might be an invigorating walk across an incredible landscape, the friends you make in a traditional Irish pub or the best sleep you’ve ever had followed by the traditional full Irish fry for breakfast, served by the friendly B&B host.
Rest assured, gathering at the games in 2014 is the stuff that dreams are made of.