American-style pep rally pumps up the fans - and volume


The 10,000-strong crowd at the Notre Dame pep rally in the O2 last night greeted Taoiseach Enda Kenny with wild applause as well as a standing ovation

AMERICA BROUGHT their concept of the pep rally to Ireland this week and given that our only pre-match ritual is Up for the Match on the telly, we were ready to embrace it.

An estimated 35,000 Americans are in Ireland for today’s Emerald Isle American Football Classic between college teams Navy and Notre Dame at the Aviva stadium. Yesterday they held their pep rallies to raise the spirits of their followers and “get the fans pumped”.

The fans needed no pumping when they got to the O2 last night for the Notre Dame pep rally. Chants of “Let’s go Irish” reverberated through the 10,000-strong crowd as they took their seats and by the time RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan came out to host the show, they were all fired up.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny didn’t know what hit him when he came out to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. It was more enthusiastic than any Fine Gael ardfheis and you could tell he liked it. “I’m told that this is the biggest ever overseas mobilisation of US citizens for a single sporting event,” he said in all seriousness and the crowd laughed uproariously.

They applauded wildly when he talked about the ties between America and Ireland and when he told them, “Be sure and rock this town tonight”, they rewarded him with another standing ovation.

The other acts got a similarly rapturous response, from Damien Dempsey’s Rocky Road to Dubb-a-lin to Anúna’s performance with the Notre Dame Folk Choir and Anthony Kearns’ emotional rendition of You Raise Me Up.

Notre Dame’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, put the importance of American Football in context when he said Notre Dame had an 80,000-seat stadium “and we’ve sold out every game since 1964”. The rivalry with today’s opponents Navy was very real, he said, and was “the longest-running rivalry in American college football”.

The night was billed “A Welcome Home” for the football team known as The Fighting Irish and it was also used to promote The Gathering – next year’s festival aimed at getting people to visit Ireland.

But the Americans came a year early and yesterday Dublin city centre was a sea of baseball caps, hoodies and perfect teeth.

The Book of Kells was in big demand and long queues snaked around Trinity College to see it. The tills of the Guinness Storehouse and souvenir shops were also ringing loudly, judging by the bags hanging from the arms of the visitors.

A corner of St Stephen’s Green was annexed by the American invaders yesterday evening as hundreds of Navy fans gathered for their pep rally. They may not have had the Taoiseach or Miriam O’Callaghan, but they did have a revered guest in the form of Ray Mabus, secretary of America’s Navy and Marine Corps.

He said he kept hearing how Notre Dame had brought a lot of people to Dublin. “But look at this crowd. We need a bigger park,” he said to cheers. “As long as we got one sailor, one marine, we got them outnumbered... So on behalf of the Navy, the United States, this is a Navy home game.”

He noted Notre Dame’s fighting Irish nickname but said “our ties to Ireland go way deeper. Commodore John Barry from 1775, one of the founders of the American Navy. Match that, Notre Dame.”

A brass band entertained the crowd as perky cheerleaders sprung up in the air, standing on people’s hands and shaking their pompoms for all they were worth. “Go Navy, beat Notre Dame” was the chant rippling through St Stephen’s Green.

Earlier, Navy’s athletics director, Chet Gladchuck, was presented with a certificate of Irish heritage by Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar.

While his name doesn’t sound particularly Irish, Gladchuck can trace his Irish ancestry to his grandmother, Bridget Thomas who was born in Annascaul, Co Kerry in 1893.

The game starts at 2pm today. If yesterday’s pep rallies were anything to go by, they will lift the roof off the stadium.

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