BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Collegiate football could teach the GAA a thing or two

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of George M. Cohan’s renowned ditty which, legend has it, was penned on a train journey from New Rochelle to New York shortly after the United States had declared war on Germany.

‘Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word over there

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere.’

An instant hit, it has been pressganged into service ever since by politicians, movie-makers, advertisers, and even sports journalists desperate for an intro.

It is easy see why.

The ‘American Century’ may be over, but Boston continues to outstrip Berlin or Beijing when it comes to cultural influencers here, and there is no escaping the Yankee invasion in Dublin this week as an estimated 20,000 American visitors converge for the college football game between Boston College and Georgia Tech at the Aviva Stadium.

The scale of the operation is, well, bananas.

Georgia Tech alone have shipped 20,000 lbs of equipment, worth a combined $600,000, across the Atlantic for this one fixture.

It took 26 large trunks to send the majority of it last week and another 11 containers arrived with a team of 111 athletes this week.

The total party size, including coaches and officials etc, adds up to 205. It doesn’t end there.

Accompanying the team is a band boasting 145 members who, along with their fellow musicians and dancers from Boston College, will be ‘rum-tumming’ their drums and blowing their trumpets around Trinity College this afternoon.

It’s worth stressing again this is for a college football game, not some NFL extravaganza.

However, this isn’t just about some game. College hoodies and tracksuits mingled furtively amid the green Republic of Ireland jerseys and 9-to-5 garb of the local populace ahead of Robbie Keane’s farewell in Dublin on Wednesday, but the branding baton has been handed over to the gridiron game, as a flurry of events roll off the PR assembly line.

Business functions and dinners have been planted in the fertile ground all around the fixture and, though the teams themselves will have little time, opportunity, or desire to sample a pint of stout or queue for the Book of Kells, there are plenty of others poised to leave an imprint with other gatherings besides those slated for the Guinness Storehouse and Malahide Castle.

Representatives from both colleges will be making an appearance on tonight’s Late Late Show, while six high school teams have also made the trip from Georgia, Florida, and New Jersey.

They paraded through the city yesterday and a day-long showcase of games is being staged at Donnybrook today.

It makes for an interesting case study on this of all weeks.

It may seem to our friends across the pond that theirs is the only game in town this weekend, but us natives know better, don’t we?

On Sunday, Kilkenny and Tipperary will go at it hammer and tongs yet again in the biggest game our unique national sport has to offer, but the almost complete absence of publicity and buzz around the game is staggering.

There are no hurling pep rallies or parades we know of taking place in the city centre this week and poles that are bedecked with colour for St Patrick’s Day are left undisturbed by the GAA’s big day.

There are obvious cultural differences between our brash American friends and the coy Irish default setting, yet this insistence on hiding our brightest lights under a bushel is mystifying.

The GAA made noises a few years ago about building a festival feel around the All-Ireland weekends.

It should.

The NFL does it brilliantly, taking over the Superbowl host city every year with all manner of media and fan- related innovations and much the same happens in London each year for one of the American football games held in Wembley.

It took years for Croke Park to be included on the Dublin city bus tour.

That’s one battle won. The focus should turn away from bringing the world to HQ and taking HQ – and its games - to the world.

An obvious starting point is the city on its doorstep. If two college teams from the USA’s west coast can take over Dublin, then why can’t they? Time to up their game.


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