Penn State football team savors cultural experience of Ireland trip
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DUBLIN — Judging by their repeated answers to questions about enjoying Ireland and its culture while overseas for the Croke Park Classic this week, players received James Franklin's message loud and clear.
“This is a business trip,” countless Nittany Lions parroted in the weeks leading up to Saturday's game against Central Florida.
For about an hour late Thursday afternoon on an artificial turf field at University College Dublin, though, Penn State's players were allowed to be kids again.
“It was really cool,” linebacker Mike Hull said of tutorials in Gaelic football and hurling from players in the top leagues of Ireland's flagship sports. “We all like playing sports, and we all always made up sports like that growing up. It was a lot of fun.”
The tone was light and the mood as bright as the sunshine that bathed Dublin — a rarity in a nation known for overcast skies that left Penn State and UCF players wet during practices Wednesday.
A portion of Thursday's Lions practice, which Franklin described as “full speed,” was watched by athletes from Ireland's top hurling and Gaelic football leagues.
Following a presentation — the American and Irish athletes left with a gift of a jersey from their counterparts — Penn State's players were broken into groups and given quick lessons on the basics of Ireland's national pastimes.
Some of the teachers came away impressed.
“It took me about 10 years to actually strike the ball (properly), and some of these guys had it down in about 10 seconds,” said Brian O'Sullivan, a corner-forward hurler who plays for his county team and the Ballygunner GAA club.
Hurling features a field hockey-esque stick and a ball that has an appearance of a baseball. The ball in Gaelic football looks and feels a lot like a volleyball and needs “dribbled” down the field.
“You take four steps before you have to,” Penn State safety Adrian Amos said.
“It's like a mixture between a lot of different sports — volleyball, you dribble, so basketball, football, handball. Everything.”
After trying out the fundamentals and doing mini-skills contests in one of the sports — and then switching to the other — Penn State players were treated to a skills exhibition from the “pros.”
Lions erupted in awe at shots fired at speeds they estimated at more than 100 mph.
They got even louder, when the goalkeeper made saves — one with a bare hand.
Franklin and PSU assistants and staff members watched, interacting with players of all three sports at times but primarily sitting back and letting them enjoy themselves.
Soon after, Penn State had a group dinner at the Guinness Storehouse. UCF's off-field activities Thursday included a bus tour of Dublin and a visit to the historic Kilmainham Gaol prison.
“Just to see the architecture and the age of some of these buildings and see the age and culture of this old country is nice,” UCF coach George O'Leary said.
Franklin said after a day of jet lag, his players had adjusted to the time change Thursday, and practice tempo reflected that. PSU has a bus tour of its own of Dublin — beginning at 400-year-old Trinity College — planned Friday.
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