FEATURE: 2014 Croke Park Classic: An `Extension of U.S., Ireland Ties'
Sept. 16, 2013
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Since 1996, Croke Park Stadium, a mecca for Irish sporting events, has welcomed American college football teams to face off within the confines of the 100 year-old arena. Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Games, can hold roughly 82,000 spectators, and will be opening its gates to Penn State and UCF fans alike in 2014 at the Croke Park Classic.
Before the Nittany Lions and the Knights took to the field on Saturday, Gaelic Athletic Association Director General, Páraic Duffy, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Hall of Famer, and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, gathered at a press conference to discuss next year's matchup.
"The Croke Park Classic isn't just a display of sport, it's an extension of the longstanding links between the United States and Ireland," said Duffy.
Considering Croke Park is located in Dublin, it is crazy to think that a Lions vs. Knights match-up would attract American college football fans in Ireland.
"American football has a large following in Ireland," said Duffy. "There is great brand awareness of Penn State and Notre Dame, especially."
Notre Dame traveled to Croke Park Stadium to face off against Navy in 1996, and most recently, in 2012. The 2012 match-up between the longstanding rivals became the first American college football game to sell out on non-U.S. soil.
"There are 68,000 seats and terraces that can hold an extra 14,000," said Duffy. "We are expecting to sell out."
Duffy and Rooney made their way to University Park last Thursday on a tour promoting the Classic and attended a dinner on Friday with all of the dignitaries and coaches.
"When I first went to Croke Park Stadium I saw a Hurling Match," said Rooney. "I thought, `Wow, this would be a great venue for football."
Mr. Rooney and his family have been the only owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rooney became the day-to-day operations manager of the team in 1969, chairman in 1975, and was inducted in the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2000, alongside his father, Arthur "Art" Rooney. The pair is only the second father-son duo to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Rooney continued his career in management outside of the gridiron when President Obama appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in 2009.
The Classic champion will leave Dublin with the Dan Rooney Trophy, a replica football made of 4,200 year old Irish bog yew and steel from Three Rivers Stadium, former home of the Steelers.
"This trophy is a perfect combination of the U.S. and Ireland," said Duffy.
Getting the permission to name the trophy after one of the most legendary men in professional football, not to mention a 2013 Irish-American Hall of Fame inductee, wasn't an easy task.
"When I was first asked to have the trophy named after me I was honored," said Rooney. "But, I thought it should have been named after an Irishman."
But, Mr. Rooney's ties to Ireland precede the 2000's. In 1976, Dan Rooney became the founder of The Ireland Fund, a non-profit organization created to promote the "peace, culture and charity" of Ireland and Irish-American causes in the United States.
Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton applauded Mr. Rooney for his efforts in strengthening relations between the U.S. and Ireland at a flag ceremony in January of this year.
"Dan Rooney is someone who never seems to miss making friends everywhere he goes, whether it's western Pennsylvania or Ireland," said Clinton. "When Dan Rooney became U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, he was fulfilling a lifelong dream. But I think it's also fair to say he was making the dreams of a lot of other people come true."
"We were persistent in getting his permission to name the trophy after him," said Duffy. "This is a special trophy for a special guy."
Humbled by the honor, Rooney explained in the press conference that having a trophy named after him is something he "doesn't deserve."
Duffy and the rest of the G.A.A. believed otherwise.
"Being associated with a trophy that connects the United States, Ireland and football is a great honor for me, " said Rooney, "an honor I don't deserve."
The Croke Park classic will take place on Aug. 30, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. The Classic will be the season opener for both Penn State and Central Florida.
Duffy, who was genuinely excited to talk about the future matchup, smiled when he was talking about the fan base that Penn State has.
"It is going to be hard to match the excitement of State College on game day," said Duffy. "We are looking forward to the challenge."