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Despite PSU-Central Fla., Dubliners slow to embrace American football

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 10:35 p.m.
Penn State's Brandon Bell, foreground, and other members of the NCAA college football team cheer after they received lessons in hurling and Gaelic football at University College in Dublin, Ireland, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.

DUBLIN — Polite and eager to share a conversation about sports with a visiting American, Daire O Maoileidigh smiled sheepishly and chose his words carefully.

On the roster of a team in Ireland's top hurling league, O Maoileidigh had just finished gushing about the “nonstop action” that's “jam-packed” into the two national sports here: hurling and Gaelic football.

The subject turned to the U.S. version of football, which the Irish people will get a rare live look at on Saturday when Penn State plays the University of Central Florida in Dublin. O Maoileidigh chuckles nervously to hide his obvious incredulity.

“You watch American football,” O Maoileidigh said. “It kind of goes: stop, put a whole new team on, then they set again and literally run for 10 seconds — and then it stops again.

“It's kind of like, ‘Why do they keep stopping? Why don't they just keep going?' ”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude on this ancient island land in the northwest corner of Europe.

Even among sports commonly known at some dispatch around the world as “football,” American football in Ireland ranks — at best — a distant fifth. Ask most Dubliners, and they'll tell you Gaelic football stands just behind hurling as Ireland's pastime, with soccer and rugby next in the nation's sporting hierarchy. Gaelic football's closest cousin, Australian-rules football, stands far ahead of the American adaptation.

Dublin is abuzz about a big football game at Croke Park Stadium this weekend. But it's not Penn State-UCF. Far from it.

On Sunday, Dublin will play Donegal in the semifinals of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Football All-Ireland Senior Championship.

“For us, (Croke Park Stadium) is the Super Bowl,” said Brian O'Sullivan, 23, a native of Waterford, Ireland. “We kind of hope these (American players) can appreciate the opportunity to play there.”

That's an opportunity stripped from some of Ireland's top Gaelic players, all of whom maintain amateur status. The other GAA semifinal, Kerry vs. Mayo, was moved to Limerick on Saturday because the PSU-UCF game necessitated a change in venue from Croke Park. It irks some Dubliners that an American football game is intruding on their most hallowed of stadium grounds during one of the biggest sporting weekends of the year.

O Maoileidigh, though, laughed that off.

“We're really the ones ‘ruining' your game, taking attention away from it,” he said. “We're blaming (American football) when we haven't any reason to.”

Some Dublin pubs show American football on television, but it's often expatriate Americans or U.S. tourists who are watching. On Thursday evening, for example, Murray's on O'Connor Street in Dublin was packed, and its TVs were tuned to the opening night of college football in the United States.

A woman identifying herself as the manager at Murray's, Jill, insisted the bar attracts crowds year-round. She conceded that the influx of Penn State and UCF fans in town inflated Thursday's business.

The GAA, which is sponsoring and promoting Saturday's game, will provide on the Croke Park Stadium scoreboard explanations of rules and penalties as they happen during the game.

“That'll probably be a fun part of the game, explaining the sport to the Irish fans,” UCF coach George O'Leary said. “They've seen it on TV, but … now they will see a game itself in action.

“It'll be an interesting day for a lot of people.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com.

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