Fans flock to college football spectacular




Tens of thousands of sailors and Fighting Irish will hit Dublin in the most peaceful way this weekend as the capital prepares to go American Football crazy.

Billed as the largest ever contingent of travelling fans for a standalone sporting event outside the US, the sellout game between US College rivals, Navy and Notre Dame, will see up to 40,000 football-mad fans descend on Dublin for a weekend of American Football and partying.

Unlike college sport here, which might attract a few hundred fans at best, college football in the US is on an epic scale with huge stadiums and even bigger fan bases.

Unsurprisingly then, the travelling teams will not be doing things by half as they cross the Atlantic.

While the Aviva Stadium has locker space for 28 players in each dressing room, both Navy and Notre Dame will bring around 100 players to Dublin, with each coming loaded down with about 45kg of equipment.

Added to that, each team will bring coaches, medical staff, bands consisting of 200 members as well as all of their equipment, cheerleaders and an Irish chorus of 40 or 50 children. All of this will have to be shipped back to the US before each teams’ next game on the following weekend.

However, as co-founder of the Keough Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin Martin Naughton pointed out, the teams are just one part of the weekend.

“This is a lot more than a college football game, even though it’s a very important college football game. This is a real start of the season game, involving a really big rivalry. We have all kinds of other stuff. The Navy boxing team is fighting Trinity, the Notre Team tennis team is playing the Irish Davis Cup team. After the game is over people are going to climb Croagh Patrick, there’s people going to Knock, there has been golf tournaments all week.”

In fact, such was the demand for hotel rooms, that fans are staying as far away as Kerry and Galway just to get to Ireland for the game.

While GAA fans heading to Croke Park for an All-Ireland final might enjoy a few nerve-settling drinks before the big game, American football fans prepare for games in a somewhat grander fashion.

For example, over 8,000 Notre Dame fans will attend the pep rally in the O2 today and will experience “the best of Irish culture” at a concert hosted by Miriam O’Callaghan and which will be broadcast by RTÉ and streamed live on YouTube.

If that wasn’t big enough for the visitors, a further 20,000 fans are expected at the Notre Dame ‘tailgate’ party in Temple Bar to enjoy the more expensive side of Dublin.

Like good, Irish-blooded Americans, they’ll have to be up and hungover in time for an open air Mass in the courtyard of Dublin Castle tomorrow, expected to be attended by 5,000 fans.

Yesterday saw a business forum chaired by Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore with more than 60 top global businesses represented.

A total of 12 American football high school and college teams from the US, Canada and Britain will also take part in the biggest overseas event of its kind in the sport’s history from today.

The Global Ireland Football Tournament — GIFT 2012 — has been two years in the making and, if you don’t have a ticket to the big game, you can enjoy a showcase of Donnybrook Stadium and Parnell Park in Dublin and Páirc Tailteann in Navan.

Rookie guide

A beginner’s guide to American football:

* Games are divided into four 15-minute quarters.

* The 11-man offense team has possession of the ball. It tries to move the ball down the field — by running with the ball or throwing it to a teammate — and score points by crossing the goal line to get into the endzone.

* The other team (also with 11 players) is the defense. It tries to stop the offense and make it give up possession of the ball. If the team with the ball scores or is forced to give up possession, the offensive and defensive sides switch roles.

* Each time the offense gets the ball, it has four chances, known as downs, in which to gain 10 yards. If the offensive team successfully moves the ball 10 or more yards, it earns a first down, and another set of four downs in which to move another 10 yards. If the offense fails to gain 10 yards, it loses possession of the ball.

* The defense tries to prevent the offense not only from scoring, but also from gaining the 10 yards needed for a first down. If the offense reaches fourth down, it usually punts (kicks away) the ball, forcing the other team to begin further downfield.

* A touchdown is worth six points. A conversion can be kicked for one point or run into the end zone for two points. A field goal is worth three points. A safety is worth two points and occurs when the offensive ball carrier is tackled behind his own goal line.


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