Navy can't wait to set sail in Aviva
AMERICAN FOOTBALL EMERALD ISLE CLASSIC:THERE’S SOMETHING of a maritime theme to life in Dublin these days. Last weekend it was the Tall Ships that graced the Irish capital. On Saturday the US Naval Academy, or Navy to borrow the sporting derivative, take on Notre Dame in a regular season college American football game at the Aviva Stadium.
Somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Americans will visit Ireland, 10,000 booked on week-long packages. The financial injection to the Irish economy is estimated at €100 million, a projection that may be endorsed by the assertion that Brown Thomas did more business yesterday than on any other single day outside Christmas Eve.
The Navy players and officials were two hours late arriving at the back pitch in Lansdowne Road; their journey from Annapolis extended by a two-hour flight delay. The players were afforded a quick peek at the stadium in which they’ll play tomorrow’s game. They’ll train there today.
The dimensions of the American football playing arena is considerably smaller than a rugby pitch, measuring, a slightly claustrophobic 53 yards wide and 100 yards long, not including the in-goal areas. It’s fair to say the Aviva stadium made an impression on the Navy players and management alike.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo smiled as he recounted a brief conversation with one of his staff moments earlier. “I was getting into an argument with our equipment guy because he was telling us we couldn’t get on the grass (main Aviva pitch) for practice. (I replied): what? We always get on the grass for practice.
“He said ‘coach, you don’t understand, they take their grass very seriously over here’. I said what, what are you talking about? It (the pitch) looks like a golf course. I think our kids were in awe when they saw the stadium.
“We have played in some nice NFL stadiums back home but this is one of the nicest stadiums I have ever seen; unbelievable.”
The pitch was choc-full of Navy’s 80-strong playing roster supplemented by coaches and sundry officials. Every square inch was commandeered as players indulged in a variety of warm-up exercises and also aped some match situations; practising on-side kick-offs, field goals and punting.
While this may be a sporting curiosity for the Irish public that will attend the game, those affiliated to Navy and Notre Dame are treating this as seriously as if the contest was taking place in South Bend or Annapolis. This isn’t a jolly; it is the season opener for two college football teams.
Navy slot back (a running back, a some-time receiver and occasionally special teams) and senior Bo Snelson explained: “Yes it is my first time here. It is my first time over the Atlantic. It is really exciting to be here to get to play in such a beautifully stadium; to be welcomed into Ireland with open arms.
“I have been really fortunate to play in some exciting venues but this one is definitely the most exciting. We are looking to come out here and handle our business.”
So what can the Irish fans expect tomorrow? Snelson offered: “They can come out and get ready for an extremely physical ball game; more akin to rugby than soccer. Hopefully it’ll be crisp on both sides, not very sloppy; that’s not something that we’d like want the Irish people to see.”
Navy are the home team for this fixture but given that their opponents, Notre Dame, boast long standing connections with this country, have tricolours on the heel of their boots, green, white and orange gloves, and whose nom de plume is ‘The Fighting Irish’, the locals are likely to cheer for the away team.
While supporters and fellow students will be able to party and enjoy a bit of the Dublin night life, the players will be preparing for a 7.0am flight home Sunday.