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After months of planning, UCF begins trip to Ireland

With bagpipes playing in the background, UCF football players lined up to board buses and start easily the most exciting road trip of their careers.

UCF graduate assistant Rob Calabrese, a former player for the Knights, held a plastic bag full of passports and handed them to players moments before they left campus Tuesday afternoon. It was the start of a long journey to Dublin, Ireland, where UCF will play Penn State. Kickoff is at 8:30 a.m. ET Saturday, and the game will air on ESPN2.

"Put these in your pockets! Don't lose them!" Calabrese shouted as the players grabbed their passports.

"There's a reason why they're in bags and the players don't have them," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "So they don't lose them."

It has taken months for team administrators to prepare for this unique road trip, and they're not taking any chances on last-minute mistakes.

UCF's vast game-day equipment, including helmets and shoulder pads, that a crew normally drives to and from games in a tractor-trailer had to be shipped to Ireland.

"We'll have about 9,000 pounds of gear get to Ireland a few days ahead of the team," said Marty O'Leary, the head coach's son and UCF's assistant athletic director of football operations. "Five staff members, including myself, will arrive the day before the team to get everything set up and ready so when the team arrives there's very little downtime. Another 3,000 pounds of equipment will be on the team charter."

UCF shipped the bulk of its equipment Saturday, while Penn State reportedly shipped its equipment Tuesday.

Team officials are hoping the gear they need to practice arrives on time so they can be expedited out of customs quickly.

UCF and Penn State conduct their first practices Wednesday just hours after their overnight flights end. The Knights will reside and practice at the Carton House, about 30 minutes outside of Dublin.

The pressure of handling travel smoothly is even greater for UCF, the home team for the game. The Knights are responsible for executing home-game operations 4,000 miles from Bright House Networks Stadium.

In addition to uniforms for the 77 players who traveled to Dublin, UCF had to ship timing equipment because the Gaelic Athletic Association uses stoppage time for all its sports. Referees monitor time on their watches, while college football depends on the prominent use of clocks.

UCF had to do more than simply deliver all the essential game-day equipment to the airport.

To avoid a steep tariff, a tax assessed to goods being imported and exported out of the country, and hours in customs, Marty O'Leary said the school had to get a carnet for each line item of equipment. A carnet is essentially a merchandise passport that allows a temporary importation of various goods.

Without a carnet, customs would go through each container of goods and assign a value to every single item for taxation. UCF shipped 180 containers.

Staff members spent countless hours organizing shipping boxes and creating line items for each section of equipment for carnet documents. They'll repeat this process when the game ends Saturday.

"When you hear stories of stuff being in customs for days or weeks, that's one reason why," Marty O'Leary said, explaining the need for a tedious shipping process. "In order to avoid that whole mess, we had to supply a line-item list for the 12,000 pounds of cargo going over. If we bring 100 sets of shoulder pads, that's still only one line item. The carnets ended up being almost a thousand line items long."

In addition to the elaborate shipping procedure, UCF had to obtain passports for all the athletes on the team. Staff members had to make sure players tracked down birth certificates, and then the Orlando post office sent regional representatives to help expedite the passport process for a football team full of players who have never traveled outside the country.

It's been a long journey for UCF's support staff, but the head coach said it was worth the effort.

"I tell you, it's great for the university … the national attention that you get," George O'Leary said of hosting a game in Ireland. "I think it's going to be a great opportunity just for UCF to broaden [its] horizons and [will] give our players some culture in another country."

Staff writer Alicia Delgallo contributed to this report. sjowens@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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