Brian Barry discusses the similarities between the players of the GAA, and those partaking in this weekend’s Croke Park Classic.
As the dust settles, Planet GAA has come to accept that the organisation has diverted the All-Ireland semi-final to Limerick, in order for an American Football game to be held at headquarters. Rule 42 is now a distant memory.
Despite the 11th hour controversy, this has been a tie long in the making. The build-up to the big kick-off of the American Football college season is well and truly underway, and, with the bookies unable to separate the sides by more than a two point handicap, we have a cracker in store.
In recent years, the NFL has been spreading the game, and look to Europe to expand. In each of the last seven seasons, there have been games held in Wembley, with 2013 featuring two games in London for the first time. The long term goal? An NFL franchise in England’s capital.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell cautiously suggested that such a franchise might only be five to ten years away. Should there continue to be a growth in popularity for the game this side of the pond, surely this is not optimistic.
However, American sports associations have learned from their mistakes, and recognise that rapid expansion can be hazardous. Be it the failed NFL Europe, or the folding of two Major League Soccer franchises in 2002, there is a warning of hasty enlargement of a sport. Their cautious tactic suggests that they have finally profited their blunders of the past.
While the professional game has been spreading primarily to England, Ireland has been targeted as an ideal base to spread the gospel that is college football. Do not be mistaken, college football is not the second prize. In its own right, the NCAAF (National Collegiate Athletics Association of Football) is the third most popular sport in the United States at 11% according to Harris Poll in January.
Only MLB, by a close margin, and NFL, are more popular. Loyal fan-bases are closely associated with colleges, and the 20,000 Americans coming to Ireland this Saturday is a testament to that.
So where does Ireland fit into all of this? College football is, in name, an amateur sport. Those representing the side do not travel relatively large distances to go to the universities, with many hailing from the city in question.
Interestingly, there is no interest in any other team amongst the fans; if you follow collegiate football, it is likely you pay little attention to the pro game. Despite playing for crowds in excess of upwards of 60,000 week in, week out, college footballers are ordinary people.
They are seen on campus by fellow students, sit the same classes, and are not viewed as celebrities. So, we have amateur players performing at the weekend in front of massive crowds… Sound familiar? What’s not for the Irish to love about it. After the success of Notre Dame v Navy in 2012, college football comes back to Dublin, but this time, in the biggest stage in town.
Despite all the complaints that this match is being held in Croke Park, disrupting the climax of the GAA season, it must be appreciated that this is a massive game which thousands across the US will tune into. Roll on Saturday.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.