Irish contingent speaks about Northwestern-Nebraska game in Dublin


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern tight end Trey Pugh blocks Nebraska linebacker JoJo Domann. The Wildcats and Cornhuskers will meet at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland to kick off the 2022 season.

Drew Schott, Gameday Editor

After the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic between Illinois and Nebraska was moved to Champaign, Ill. because of the pandemic, the game’s representatives reached out to Northwestern. 

Officials affiliated with College Football Ireland communicated with the Wildcats as far back as 2017 about playing in Dublin, and have stayed in touch since. According to John Anthony, a representative of Irish American Events Limited, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s Irish heritage and Chicago’s Irish population were “obvious connections” for hosting NU across the Atlantic Ocean. 

“We were just looking for the right opportunity,” Anthony said. “When the Illinois-Nebraska game had (been) canceled, it was natural to immediately look here. The Big Ten geography has so much of an Irish-American connection to it.” 

In May, NU announced that it will play the 2022 season opener against Nebraska at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, the first of five Aer Lingus College Football Classic contests. 

To recognize the matchup, a contingent of game representatives, Irish government members and tourism executives visited Evanston and Chicago last weekend to attend the Cats’ Senior Night matchup against No. 22 Iowa. 

“2022 is an exciting time for the recovery of tourism and making sure we signal to everyone across the world that Ireland is open for business,” said Jack Chambers, Irish minister of state for Gaeltacht Affairs and Sports. “I think we’ll see a huge amount of positive benefit across not only sport, but academic and business opportunities.” 

The Cats’ visit to the Emerald Isle will be their first college football game played outside of the United States and Ireland’s first since a 2016 matchup between Georgia Tech and Boston College. 

In past years, teams have arrived in Ireland the Wednesday before the game and departed on Saturday around midnight. NU’s schedule will be slightly different. 

Anthony said Fitzgerald will be the first coach to stay two nights following the game. He and NU will participate in activities that may include a Gaelic exchange of sport and a visit to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, a former jail that housed members of the Irish Republican movement who fought for the nation’s independence from the United Kingdom. 

“With (Fitzgerald’s) connectivity as a proud Irish-American, he wants the guys to see things like that and understand a whole new culture,” Anthony said.

Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland’s executive vice president for North America and Australia/New Zealand, said the tourist attractions players visit will depend on their schedule. She mentioned sites such as the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Castle in Ireland’s capital, the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry. 

Currently, ticket packages for fans include attending the football game and exploring Ireland on city tours, golf excursions and more.

During their trip to Illinois, members of the group spent time at Ryan Fieldhouse, Welsh-Ryan Arena and the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. They handed out foam clovers to fans at Saturday’s home game and were set up at Wildcat Alley and the N Zone beforehand. 

The contingent was recognized on the field during a stoppage of play. Chambers held the Classic’s Keough-Naughton Trophy that NU and the Cornhuskers will play for, named for Irish businessmen Donald Keough and Martin Naughton.

Two days before the Cats faced the Hawkeyes, Notre Dame and Navy were announced as the two teams for the 2023 Aer Lingus College Football Classic. Anthony acknowledged the strong relationship between the Fighting Irish and the Midshipmen — who previously met in Dublin in 1996 and 2012 — and Ireland. 

“They went in 1996, (the) first time anything like that had happened, and 16,000 Americans went,” Anthony said. “They went back in 2012, 35,000 Americans went. They were booked in 2020 until COVID canceled it and 40,000 Americans had already bought tickets.” 

Based on their success, he hopes the connection between the Emerald Isle and other college football programs will continue to grow. 

“You take that mindset and with the commitment of these wonderful people in the Irish agencies and government saying how much they love this, we hope we’re going to start every college football season in Dublin,” Anthony said. “In which case, we want to build what I just described with those two schools … with other schools as well.” 


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