UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The parking lots around Beaver Stadium were packed full of tailgaters hours before kickoff ahead of Penn State’s game on Saturday evening against UCF — a preview, officials hope, of the environment next season in Dublin, Ireland.
Páraic Duffy, the director general of the Gaelic Athletic Association, said during a pregame press conference that he anticipates the Croke Park Classic will sell out its 68,000 seats for the meeting between these two teams Aug. 30, 2014, in Ireland.
“Ireland is a very sporting nation and Dublin is a very sporting city and there actually is a much higher awareness of college football and American football in Ireland than you’d expect,” Duffy said. “… This game next August will be very attractive to Irish sports fans. We expect to sell the stadium out.”
It will be the first game on the first Saturday of college football in 2014, with kickoff set for 8:30 a.m. It will air nationally on ESPN2.
Duffy was joined at the press conference by UCF athletic director Todd Stansbury, Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner and Dan Rooney, the former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and Pittsburgh Steelers’ team chairman.
Game officials announced this week the winner of the game will claim the Dan Rooney Trophy.
On Saturday afternoon, Duffy said Rooney was so humble that he had to be convinced to have the trophy named in his honor. Rooney was approached by Peter McKenna, stadium and GAA commercial director about being a part of the game.
“It means an awful lot now once I heard what it means,” Rooney said. “It’s a real honor for me to do this and to have the trophy named after me.”
Tickets will not go on sale for the game until next year, Duffy said. And while the main sports in Ireland are hurling and gaelic football, Duffy explained that Irish fans often watch NFL and college football games. The GAA had worked with Rooney to try to bring an NFL game to Dublin, but with the league committed to London, they shifted focus to a college football game.
Penn State, he said, is one of the most well-known college programs in Ireland.
“It goes back a long way, I’m not sure why,” Duffy said. “In terms of college football, if you ask people in Ireland to name college football teams, Notre Dame and Penn State are probably the first two names they’ll come up with. That’s why Penn State was a very easy choice for us.”
UCF hopes that this game will begin to put its program on that same level — both in Ireland and back home in the States.
Cameras flashed as the officials sat in front of a back drop with the UCF, Penn State, GAA and Croke Park Classic logos. Ahead of Saturday’s game in Happy Valley — one that, with a win, had the potential to increase the Knights’ national recognition — Stansbury said the partnership with Penn State and the GAA goes beyond on-field results.
“It’s huge for us,” Stansbury said. “One of our strategic priorities is the elevation of the brand. . . . I think that playing this game here today is part of that, but playing in Ireland takes it to a whole new level.”