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‘Fighting Irish’ to return to Dublin in 2020

Action from Notre Dame v Navy in Dublin in 2012

A five game American College Football series will take place in Dublin, beginning in August 2020, after the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the plans last month.

The series will kick off with the return of the Notre Dame v Navy game, which was last played at the Aviva stadium in 2012.  The fixture is one of the oldest rivalries in College Football and Notre Dame, known as the ‘Fighting Irish’, won the previous Dublin showdown 50-10, with 35,000 fans travelling from the US and giving a huge boost to the local economy.

Notre Dame is consistently recognised as one of the top academic universities in the United States, and is one of just two Catholic universities that field a team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the top level of college football in the United States.  This season Notre Dame are currently 10-0, ranked third in the US, and with a chance to go unbeaten and win their first National Championship since they went 12-0 in 1988.

Game weeks will include a programme of business, academic, cultural and sporting events including a number of US High School football fixtures as part of the overall experience.  Aer Lingus, the flag carrier airline of Ireland, will sponsor the five-game Aer Lingus College Football Series at the Aviva Stadium over five years, from 2020 to 2024.

Speaking at the announcement, Leo Varadkar said: “College football is one of the greatest spectacles in world sport and to bring it back to Ireland for a five-game series is wonderful news for Irish tourism and for sports fans.  I look forward to the first game of the series with the return of Notre Dame vs Navy in August 2020; I have no doubt it will be a hugely popular occasion.”

Leo Varadkar is pictured at the announcement of the Aer Lingus College Football Series    Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Driving tourism and strengthening ties between Irish and US businesses and academic institutions are some of the attendant benefits from bringing American Football back to Ireland. The five-game series is expected to bring an economic boost of over €250 million (£218 million) to the Irish economy.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Nial Ring said: “Sporting events like the American College Football Series strengthen our ties with other great sporting nations and they showcase Dublin as a destination for hosting major international sporting events.”

Commenting on the sponsorship, Aer Lingus Chief Executive Stephen Kavanagh said, “The US is a key market for the airline and one which we know very well.  As a result, we know how important College Football is in American life.  We very much look forward to welcoming the fans from Notre Dame and Navy on-board in 2020.”

It is expected that an estimated 6 million viewers will watch the game via ESPN in the US, providing Ireland with an opportunity to showcase its ability to host large-scale international sporting tournaments while also reaching out to viewers – and potential visitors – in one of its key markets.  The game will kick off at 5pm to give as many Americans as possible a chance to watch from home.

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Jafar Armstrong (centre) of Notre Dame runs with the ball against Navy, during the Notre Dame v Navy 2018 game

Navy is a team made up of players enrolled in the US Naval Academy and with one of the US’s oldest College Football programs. The US Naval Academy and the University of Notre Dame institutions have a long history of solidarity and support. The fixture was first played in 1927 and is contested every year.

Notre Dame Football Team and the University of Notre Dame have strong historical links to Ireland and have established one of the largest and most widespread fan bases in college football. Currently coached by Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has had the vast majority of wins in this fixture (75 to Navy’s 13, with 1 tie) including the two occasions it was played in Dublin – Croke Park in 1996 and Aviva Stadium in 2012.

Notre Dame enjoyed a 43 game winning streak in the fixture between 1964 and 2006, the longest winning streak between two annual opponents in the history of Division 1 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) football.  The Fighting Irish are one of the most successful college football programs in the history of the NCAA, with 8 national championships since 1936, the second-most in college football behind Alabama.

The Aer Lingus College Football Series will have a very strong Irish-American influence. Not only will there be the usual college football fanfare with events celebrating the red, white and blue including marching bands, cheerleaders and tailgating parties, but there will also be a celebration of the close Irish-American links. The teams will compete each year for the Keough-Naughton College Football perpetual Trophy, acknowledging the contribution to Irish-American society of businessmen Don Keough and Martin Naughton.

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Notre Dame sings their University song before their 2018 game v Navy

Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk said: “We are thrilled and excited to return to Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the 94th playing of the Navy-Notre Dame game.  In 2012, it was one of the greatest airlifts in all of sports with more than 35,000 people coming from the United States to witness the beauty of Ireland and the extravaganza that is Navy-Notre Dame and we expect just as many people to return in 2020.  We are looking forward to a great matchup in a country that knows no bounds for hospitality.”

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said: “The University of Notre Dame, our football program, our alumni and fans had such a wonderful experience in 2012.  It wasn’t long after our return from that trip that Navy initiated conversations with the hopes of bringing this matchup back to Dublin. I’m so excited, not only for our student-athletes and those that will travel from the states, but for the people of Ireland and all of those that will make this another experience to cherish.”

U.S. high schools will also have the opportunity to travel and play in Ireland as part of the ‘Dublin Friday Night Lights’ programme.

With four NFL games set to be held in London in 2019, the return of College Football to Dublin the following year looks set to further strengthen the roots the USA’s most popular sport is setting down on this side of the Atlantic.

Edd Oliver
A keen cricketer at various levels since the late 1980s (before most of the other Sports Gazette reporters were born), after a decade working in Sports Administration Edd is finally pursuing his love of sports writing. As well as having a lifelong passion for cricket, as a player, coach, administrator and spectator, he is a keen follower of the NFL and English non league football (mainly in the West Midlands), and takes an interest in most other mainstream British sports, particularly Horse Racing and Snooker, as well as following the rapidly expanding 'E Sports' industry. You can follow him on Twitter at @EddOliver1
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