Croke Park looking into American football plan


GAELIC GAMES:THE PROSPECT of staging a competitive American football match at Croke Park has been discussed between the GAA and the Department of Sport. Emphasising that the idea is still at the “concept” stage, stadium director Peter McKenna said that a proposal had yet to go to the NFL.

It has been suggested the Pittsburgh Steelers, who take on the Green Bay Packers in this year’s Super Bowl and who are owned by the family of US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, might be one of the teams involved.

The NFL has staged regulation matches overseas in recent years, with Wembley in London the venue for the past four seasons.

“We have discussed the potential of hosting a seasonal game in Ireland and at Croke Park in particular,” McKenna told The Irish Times. “The Minister, Mary Hanafin, and Con Haugh (secretary general of the department) have been very helpful, and we’ve also spoken to Ambassador Rooney, who has also given generously of his time. He will, of course, have other things on his mind now with the Super Bowl coming up in just over a week.

“We still have to pitch our case to the NFL and even then it would be a difficult task. We would be competing with Wembley, Frankfurt, Mexico and Canada, but we would be selling the idea of a country, a city and Croke Park as the stadium.”

The Irish Echo newspaper in New York, which reported that the match could take place as early as next autumn, contacted a spokesperson for the Department of Sport, who said: “Minister Mary Hanafin would very much welcome such a move to hold a future NFL game in Ireland, which has such a proud sporting tradition. There would be a great welcome for visiting fans travelling with the teams to Ireland as well as huge interest locally and a knock-on boost for Ireland from a tourism perspective.”

The idea originated in Croke Park, as the stadium faces into the future without the lucrative prospect of rugby and soccer internationals now that the new stadium in Lansdowne Road has been completed.

McKenna is cautious about setting a time frame on the proposal without having formally raised it with the NFL.

“There was speculation that the game could take place this autumn, but that’s a bit ambitious as things stand. It’s very much a concept at the moment and there’s a lot of work to be done on the idea.

“It would be an opportunity to put forward Ireland as a destination for global international sports events. We’ve already seen the Tall Ships, the Ryder Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race and the Tour de France. Staging an NFL game would be another feather in our cap.”

Already a college match between Notre Dame and the Navy is planned for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in 2012.

There is unlikely to be much movement on the proposal in the immediate future. With an election due next month, there will be a new Minister for Sport to brief on the project.

The NFL also has its own problems, with a strike threatened for next season and attempts to resolve it will take up the time of Commissioner Roger Goodell once Sunday week’s Super Bowl is over.