Next Saturday the University of Central Florida will play Penn State at Croke Park in Dublin. For Irish American UCF coach George O’Leary, traveling to a stadium that lies just three hours from where his grandfather was born in Cork, the game will have a special significance.
When O’Leary marches his team onto the field next weekend, he’ll have nearly 70 family members and friends from the US in attendance and he jokes he won’t need to look for for Irish family connections.
"Anybody who is related will be hitting me up for tickets, so I'll meet them that way," O'Leary told the Orlando Sentinel.
His son Tim believes this will be a special moment for his father.
“The Irish heritage has always been a big part of his life, so I think to be over there playing in that country, being in the position he's in front of all those fans and we have so many relatives coming over … I think it's exciting for him," Tim O'Leary said. "He's not the type that's going to express that externally, but I think just going over there and playing a big game in that country and kind of getting back to the Irish roots, if you will, has got to be exciting."
O’Leary is hoping to share some of his Irish culture with his players.
After Thursday's practice, the team, which is staying just outside of Dublin at the Carton House, will take a bus tour of Dublin and visit Kilmainham Gaol. After Saturday’s game, the team will be treated to a night of traditional Irish song and dance.
"I want the kids to practice and get ready for the game, but I want them to see Ireland, too," O'Leary said.
O’Leary has had to travel to Ireland twice during the past year to lock down the details for the game, but prior to that he had only heard stories about the home country from family members.
"My parents went over many times," O'Leary said. "But they always said what makes Ireland great is the people."
The Croke Park Classic will air on ESPN2 at 8:30 am in the US.