The Emerald Isle Classic has captured the Irish people’s imagination as 35,000 Notre Dame and Navy fans have descended on Dublin for their NCAA Division One match in the Aviva Stadium. Dublin has come alive with The Gathering sponsored events as the US invades the capital.
In fact, an extra 36 transatlantic flights were scheduled to come with the influx of the Notre Dame and Navy fans.
A US Navy amphibious-assault warship has docked on the Liffey, fans are rallied in St Stephen’s Green park, Notre Dame’s massive pep rally at the O2 Arena was televised on Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE, and a Catholic Mass will held in the ground of Dublin Castle.
Now, all that remains is for the Notre Dame and Navy teams to get down to business on the pitch.
The Aviva Stadium, formerly Landsdowne, is a 50,000-seat venue that is usually devoted to soccer and rugby. The Emerald Isle Classic has been the first sellout for the Aviva in the past two-years, the Associated Press reports. Ireland was allotted 15,000 of these tickets and they sold out in just two hours.
The event’s organizers on both sides of the Atlantic have spent two years organizing the Emerald Isle Classic. This is the first time since 1996 that Notre Dame and Navy have been involved at that game was played in an only half-filled stadium. Also the game wasn’t broadcast live. This game will be broadcast live in 63 countries.
The 2012 Emerald Isle Classic has also been used by The Gathering 2013 to launch their tourism project to woo those with a “gra” for (love of) or connection to Ireland to come and visit.
Ireland’s Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar said “This is one of the most significant tourism events of the year, and we can expect to see a huge economic impact.”
Officially Navy is the home team in Ireland. However Notre Dame have a strong Irish Catholic following. They also have a fulltime study program in Dublin. On the ground there’s reports that the Fighting Irish supporters strongly outnumber the Midshipmen’s.
Head coach for the Notre Dame team agreed that the Fighting Irish certainly feel at home in Ireland.
He said “Obviously the Notre Dame brand is pretty strong out here, so although we're away from the United States we feel pretty comfortable here.”
Both Kelly and Navy’s coach Ken Niumatalolo are both focusing on keeping their players in the zone before the game and insist that they’re not enjoying Irish hospitality too much before the big game.
Niumatalolo told the AP "We feel very privileged and very blessed to be here along with Notre Dame. There's not too many teams that get this kind of opportunity.
"But other than that, we've got to remember we're playing a very good football team, so we'd better get ready."
Kelly’s team has been hidden away from Dublin’s bright lights in a hotel in County Wicklow. They were taken out for a night in a local pub, where they were only allowed soft drinks, to enjoy some traditional Irish music and dance. Apparently a couple of the boys were dragged up on stage too.
Similarly the Navy players will not be allowed to enjoy the delights of Dublin until after this game today.
Sadly both of the teams will then fly out of Ireland at 7am on Sunday morning.
Of course apart from the tourism, sightseeing and culture these Navy and Notre Dame fans are here to take in the sport and maybe teach the Irish a thing or two about American football.
PHOTOS - The Emerald Isle Classic, Notre Dame v Navy game kicks off in Dublin - photo gallery
Here is RTE’s report on the arrival of Notre Dame and Navy in Ireland:
Here’s Don Best’s preview of the big game: