As they were in 1996, the Notre Dame cheerleaders and leprechaun will be part of next year's game day festivities.

Home Away From Home

Nov. 17, 2011

By Lou Somogyi, Blue & Gold Illustrated

The University of Notre Dame is approximately 3,621 miles away from Dublin, Ireland. However, on Sept. 1, 2012, it might be considered home in a literal sense.

The Fighting Irish football team will travel to the Motherland next season to open the 2012 campaign in Dublin while facing long-time rival Navy, which ironically, has been designated as the “home” team.

This isn’t the first such meeting between the two programs. They met in Ireland on Nov. 2, 1996, but the 2012 experience is expected to be on a whole different level in many ways.

For starters, instead of Croke Park, the previous venue which had 38,651 in attendance in 1996, the game will take place in Aviva Stadium, located on the southeast side of Ireland’s capital city. It epitomizes the ability to balance tradition with modern amenities.

While it has hosted sporting events since the 1870s, Aviva Stadium was completely renovated and overhauled in 2007 with a space age, futuristic look. It serves as the home of the Irish national rugby and soccer teams, and can now accommodate approximately 45,000 fans for the Notre Dame-Navy game.

From the 1996 trip, Anthony learned much about organizing such a huge event in one of Europe’s smaller major cities. He is expecting a lot of competition for hotel rooms and other reservations because Dublin also will hosting the national hurling championship — the country’s version of the Super Bowl — match that week.

“The biggest difference is there have been more hotels built in Dublin since 1996,” Anthony noted. “In ’96 we had to structure where everybody was either in Dublin before the game and then left immediately at the end of the game and headed out to the rest of the country, or they came in from outside of the country, and went straight to the stadium and stayed a few days after that.

“In this case we have not done if that way. Dublin will be the center for everyone for the game weekend, and they will be doing the rest of Ireland a few days before the game and a few days after the game. On Friday, Saturday, Sunday, everyone will be centralized in Dublin.”

Unlike in ’96, American football is no longer as much a novel concept the way it used to be in the country. Even after this year’s Notre Dame 56-14 victory versus Navy on Oct. 29, three articles were published in Dublin about the outcome, with several of the Irish writers in attendance for the game.

“The Irish interest is much greater now than it used to be,” Anthony said. “The NFL has done a good job of feeding American football around the world, and in particular that area with annual games in London.

“It’s a global society and more people are interested. You can hop into a taxi now in Ireland and chances are the driver will be familiar with it and talk about it with you.”

In fact, Notre Dame won’t be the lone football game in town that week. Division III members St. Norbert’s College and John Carroll University will play there, and 10 American high schools from different parts of the country also will participate. All those contests will be at three different sites in doubleheaders, and they will take place on Friday while leaving the main event — Notre Dame versus Navy — for Saturday.

The game is expected to be a sellout. A recent article on an America-based Irish news website said the university believes as many as 20,000 Notre Dame fans will make the trip across the Atlantic for the contest.

“We’re way ahead of pacing and beyond numbers from ’96,” said Anthony, who anticipates almost all the bookings to be occupied by Christmas.

“The Notre Dame and Navy interests are very strong, along with the high school programs. One of the challenges people are going to run into is some difficulty or some limited space.

“The longer people wait now, the more difficult it will be to stay in the center of Dublin and the more difficult it will be to get the flights at the price and dates they want.”

The weekend is scheduled to kick off with a large concert and pep rally the night before the game, which will feature music acts — most notably the Notre Dame band. An astounding $400,000 has been pledged for the Fighting Irish band to make the trip.The timing and logistics also are more ideal than the journey Notre Dame made to Ireland in late October of 1996.

“Sept 1 is a great date to do it,” Anthony said. “With it being a season opening game, you have a whole lot of travelers on Labor Day weekend in the United States. It’s just more accessible to more people who can leave in August and get back after the game and maybe kids not having to miss any school. It’s not quite the meat of the calendar that goes on in the fall.

“Plus, the weather in Ireland is going to be gorgeous then, much better than in November. The scheduling is ideal.”

The game itself will be only about three hours, but the overall experience promises to span a lifetime.

“Ireland has huge appeal first and foremost for the people,” Anthony said. “An American comes back from Ireland and he’ll tell you about the Irish people. The center of the social scene in Ireland is the pub. That’s where people congregate, they listen to music, they laugh, they talk — and they’ll talk to whoever is next to them, and it will be with a smile.

“They’ll want to tell you about cousins in New York, a brother in Boston or a friend in Chicago.”

A close second is the Irish countryside that includes spectacular scenery from the rugged coastlines to the rolling hills — not to mention having eight of the world’s top-100 rated golf courses.

“The typical call we get is someone bringing six to 12 people,” Anthony said. “This is family or friends journey with a lot of emotional ties to people.”

And to a university.