They Came, They Scored Touchdowns, They Won

af1One or two of you may have noticed the swarms of American football fans who landed in Dublin on the weekend of September 1st. As NewsFour reported in our last issue, the college football brilliance of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy went to war at the Aviva Stadium in the Emerald Isle Classic.

I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the game on behalf of NewsFour and it was truly one of the finest sporting events I have ever witnessed.
Everything in America is bigger, that’s why the world is so enamoured with it. But the Navy versus Notre Dame event proved that when it comes to sporting showcase, there is nothing to parallel the preparation, organisation and execution of something that no sporting ground in Ireland has ever seen. It was theatre from start to finish.

Not content with just hosting a game of football on Irish soil against their famous rivals, the US Naval Academy docked the famed ‘USS Fort McHenry’ in Dublin Port days before the game. I’m sure there was many a young colleen whose heart was set aflutter by the possibility of a real life Officer and a Gentleman situation taking place in Coppers, but I digress.

What was most impressive, aside from the game, was the way both Notre Dame and Navy decided not only to arrive, play and entertain, but also went to great lengths to fill the entire week with all-inclusive events around the city, a mini festival of college football if you will.

Events ranged from talks at Trinity with the leading scientists of Notre Dame and several parades within the city and a school football tournament at Donnybrook, to Saturday morning mass and a Temple Bar tailgating event that was akin to Arthur’s Day and St Patrick’s Day giving birth to a big party baby. It was 11am on Saturday morning, the game was hours away and there was a massive sea of people camped in every pub. I doubt the cobble stones have ever experienced such pressure.

As a journalist I have attended several games at the Aviva and the press format is usual standard procedure. You get emails informing you where to go, what’s happening and with who. Then you go to the game and report.

This was very different. With Navy’s press office and the coverage from CBS Sports all rolled into one event, I have never been more informed, updated or well-treated. Almost every day, I would receive team updates, event updates, interviews, videos, teaser trailers and just plain who you can call and where you need to go for info.

The game itself was nothing short of pageantry and I’m sure every Irish person there at some point looked around the packed stadium and thought “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was in America.”

The organisation that must have gone into marching over six hundred naval officers on to the field before the game to sing both the Star Spangled Banner and Amhrán na bhFiann must have been monstrous and from that opening highlight it just did not stop. At every break in the game there was entertainment. Be it cheerleaders, dancing leprechauns, the Naval boxing team or just plain old Enda Kenny smiling like a clueless onlooker, it was all designed to not bore you for one second.

Having experienced many sporting events, I can safely say that this one was the most hassle-free, fun to experience and one to remember. After the success of the event I have it on good authority that this isn’t the last we’ll see of football crazy Americans in Ballsbridge.

The sea of smiling fourth generation Irish eyes that left the Aviva after Notre Dame crushed Navy 50-10 was enough to tell me that, but given the impact the event had on the city and local tourism it’s been suggested that more is to come. I say bring it on.

By Joe McKenna