Penn State Plays First Game of the Season in Dublin’s Croke Park

By Brendan Clay

“We’re close to 130 years playing football, and this is our first time playing outside country.”

Those were the words of Michael Bradley, Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade director and an active and important member of Penn State’s alumni. Bradley, a familiar face in Philadelphia’s Irish community, brings news that the Nittany Lions will be playing their first game of the season against University of Central Florida’s team, the Knights, in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on August 30th. The game has been dubbed the Croke Park Classic. This will be a special honor, as the stadium is rarely used for anything but Gaelic games. It fielded American football games three times in the past, with the only other non-exhibition game having been played there by Notre Dame and Navy in 1996.

“Two years ago I was in Ireland for a wedding in Dublin and I took my wife and my two boys on a tour of Croke Park,” said Bradley. “And my boys asked me, do you think Penn State will ever play here? And I said, they’ll never play here. I can’t believe it.”

The plan has been in the works for at least a year. Penn State has been coordinating with the Consulate General of Ireland in New York, the Irish government, and the Gaelic Athletic Association. Like many sports organizations these days, the GAA is thinking outside the box in trying to attract new audiences, and Penn State’s formidable alumni association—the largest in the world according to their website—will provide the venerable Gaelic stadium with the audience they are looking for.

“We’ve sold 41,000 tickets to date,” said Bradley, “which is pretty impressive when you’re 3,000 miles away from home, and in a different country.”

Bradley hosted GAA officials at his house adjacent Penn State when they visited the campus for a weekend, and he can report they are excited about the game and the opportunities it will bring. Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former United States Ambassador to Ireland, has agreed to give his name to the Dan Rooney Trophy, the prize for victory in the Croke Park Classic.

“So I get to spend some really quality time with ambassador Rooney,” Bradley told me with audible excitement in his voice. “He’s this fantastic human being. He’s a really interesting man. So it’s funny when the Eagles fans get together with the Steelers’ owner. So you know some sparks are flying at that game.”

To top off all this excitement, Penn State intends to raise funds to fly over their marching band when the schools play each other. They only have a short window to get the money together so there is no guarantee, but with their new coach James Franklin, a man so energetic that Bradley says he makes even him feel like a slacker, the game is sure to be a thrill no matter what. And any excuse to visit Ireland is good one.
“On a personal note,” said Bradley, “I’m taking a lot of my cousins from Ireland—they’re going with us—and taking my wife Linda, and my two boys, Mickey and Colin, who are both Penn State students. So we are beyond excited because we’re going to be staying with the team. And it should be kind of a neat trip for us.”

Caption: Michael Bradley (right) holding the Dan Rooney Trophy with his wife Linda and new Lions coach James Franklin. Franklin’s mother and father, from Manchester, England and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania respectively, eloped in Ireland.