Tales from a Writin' Irish

National Football Post

By Adam Redmond, Sports reporter - Irish Daily Mail
If you were able to ignore football’s takeover of Dublin last week, then maybe you would also be able to equally oblivious if Manti Te’o was running straight for you. But either way you look at it, the Emerald Isle Classic had an impact just like the Notre Dame linebacker – a monster one.

The game between Navy and Notre Dame inspired a carnival atmosphere to the city, where football was not the only event making its mark. In the days leading up to the clash, both schools brought some of their other sports teams to take on the famed Trinity College. Academic events were organised, Church services, pep rallies, tailgate parties and marches all took over downtown Dublin.

We’re used to traffic jams here, but without a doubt gridiron was the cause of the gridlock last weekend. Hosting international sporting events is nothing new for Ireland’s capital city. In rugby’s Six Nations tournament – an international competition involving Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France and Italy – you can always spot the pockets of their followers wearing their team colours around the city on the weekend of a game.

View photo

USPresswireNotre Dame and Navy made quite an impression on a city that's seen its share of international sporting events.

But never do they transport their whole culture and takeover a couple of blocks of the city in the way Notre Dame and Navy occupied Temple Bar, a famous tourist spot in Dublin akin to Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
Alongside the Emerald Isle Classic, former Notre Dame quarterback Patrick Steenberge took his Global Football operation to Ireland. Dublin and neighbouring county Meath hosted competitive high school games and lower division college fixtures so that Irish sports fans unable to get tickets for the big one at Aviva could a taste of football’s physical nature.

Played the day before the Emerald Isle Classic, it also provided locals with a snapshot of the Friday Night Lights culture that exists amongst high school sports on the other side of the Atlantic that H. G. Bissinger chronicled so superbly with his book in 1990.

Donnybrook Stadium held games between schools from Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and Ohio. The stadium is the spiritual home of Leinster, Dublin’s only professional rugby team. Such has been the explosion of rugby since turning professional in 1995 that Leinster have moved just a half a mile down the road to the RDS stadium to accommodate more fans and in turn they have won three European Cups (club rugby’s Superbowl equivalent) in the past four years.

Prior to that, the tradition of playing games on a Friday night in Donnybrook was a strong, given that Irish fans have always congregated in pubs and bars before and after following their teams in rugby, soccer or Gaelic games, because our stadiums are always located in city and town centres.

Having experienced tailgating before NFL games, I can definitely vouch for it, as there is a great sense of community surrounding it. But it rains more often than not in Ireland so people tend to develop indoor habits.
And yet not a single drop of rain fell from the sky during Saturday’s day game, as glorious sunshine bathed he stadium and the CBS cameras were able to send scenes of a vibrant, modern Ireland back across to the States. After Thursday’s practices on the training field behind Aviva Stadium a blustery, biting wind was sweeping around the ground and visiting reporters were suggesting that some traditional Irish conditions of wind and rain might help Navy slow down their opponents. 

But the locals feared what the spectacle might look like if it was framed around a soggy, grey day in Dublin. From a professional point of view, it was intriguing to see how the two universities followed protocols for engaging with the media by comparing it to general way of doing things within Irish sports.
First of all, it is extremely rare that reporters would be allowed to attend a practice in the professional sports of rugby and soccer. It happens with Gaelic games, which are amateur, but even so there has been a clampdown in GAA circles as they have adopted more professional structures.

Access to players and coaches is confined to official press conferences, but there is always an undercurrent of mistrust. By contrast, there seems a greater appreciation of the media from the US side.  Both Navy and Notre Dame allowed reporters to walk the field after practice and approach whomever was on hand for media obligations. The questions from the Irish media were a little out of the norm for the visiting players and coaches, given the mix of news, sport and entertainment outlets covering the game.

Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore was asked by a TV presenter to demonstrate a tackle on him; others were quizzed on their Irish heritage and the rules of the game. Navy running back Bo Snelson got caught off guard when asked who his favourite player was (legendary Bears running back Walter Payton as it turned out) and he was staggered to hear that 300 media had been accredited.

His coach, Ken Niumatalolo, shared an interesting exchange with one his members of staff about setting up practice inside the stadium. “Unbelievable,” the Navy coach replied when asked about the facilities at Aviva Stadium. “You know, I was getting into an argument with our equipment guy because he was telling us that we couldn’t get on the grass to practice and I said: ‘what? But we always get on the grass to practice’ and he said ‘coach you don’t understand, they take their grass serious over here’.

“When I walked [the pitch] it was like a golf course, it looks unbelievable. I think our kids were in awe when they saw the stadium, we’ve played in some nice NFL stadiums back home but this is probably one of the nicest stadiums I’ve ever seen.”

That was one of the best compliments paid to the hosts all weekend. The second was the note-perfect rendition of the Irish national anthem performed by the Navy Glee Club before kick-off. Considering they sang it in Gaelic, it was an astonishing display of care and respect.

As an event the game was a spectacle rarely seen in Dublin, given it was part rock concert, part sports game. For all of the theatricality, however, nothing appeared manufactured, the customs of both teams and their fans date back almost a century, if not more. 

Here was a rivalry of genuine history being played on a patch of Dublin soil where a rugby stadium has stood in one form or another since the 1870s. As Notre Dame ran riot, the native Irish in attendance got to witness Manti Te’o claim his first fumble recovery and interception while Tight End Tyler Eifert showed why he is one of the top prospects for April’s NFL draft. 

During CBS coverage, David Ferhety spoke to Ireland rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll, who is regarded as one of the greatest players in his position in the world. In football terms he is as durable and reliable as Wes Welker on offense and plays with the attitude of Lawrence Taylor on defence – albeit at 5’ 10”.
O’Driscoll was impressed by the athletes on show while being quick to point out the different levels of fitness (anaerobic required for the broken-up play of football, aerobic needed for the constant nature of rugby) while pointing out that both sports are trying to deal with the concussion issue, while still satisfying the desire to see massive hits.
The only element lacking from the occasion was some genuine competition on the field of play as Notre Dame dominated. But the both schools spoke afterwards of the great impression that the facilities and the people of Dublin had left on them. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly also highlighted the unifying effect the trip had on their alumni.
One insider told me that it was not a question of if either school would be back in the future, but what other universities will now want to travel on the basis of the tremendous success of the entire trip for those on both sides of the Atlantic.
After Saturday, Dublin will be ready and waiting.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamRedmond or contact him via Email: adam.redmond@dailymail.ie 

Follow @footballpost on Twitter for the latest news
This story originally appeared on Nationalfootballpost.com
View Comments