As long as an Icelandic volcano keeps cool for a few more days or at least doesn’t spew absurd amounts of ash, Penn State will play Central Florida Saturday at Croke Park in Dublin. After two years of bowl ineligibility, this is essentially Penn State’s bowl week. Here’s a quick guide to the game and to Dublin.
Why are these teams playing in Ireland?
American football in Ireland — it makes about as much sense as Gaelic football in America (wait, we have it!) Anyway, a Penn State trip to Ireland had been discussed as far back as two years ago, when former coach Bill O’Brien suggested a destination game for Penn State given the NCAA bowl ban. Former athletic director Dave Joyner said they saw the Navy-Notre Dame game from Ireland in 2012 and that also helped spark the idea.
From there, it helped that O’Brien had a friendship from his Georgia Tech assistant days with Central Florida coach George O’Leary. Both of Irish descent, they discussed the possibility of playing the second game of their home-and-home series in Dublin, and the ball just kept rolling through all the red tape and logistics from there. As new Penn State coach James Franklin put it several times at his coaches caravan this spring, the game made a lot more sense when it was O’Leary vs. O’Brien. But Franklin has some solid Western European roots. His late mother was British, and his parents married in Ireland.
Is this going to be a good game?
As of Friday, Central Florida was favored by a point against Penn State. Central Florida, which defeated the Nittany Lions last year at Beaver Stadium, lost its offensive stars, quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, to the NFL. But the Knights are still considered by many to be the deepest and most talented team in the American Athletic Conference. Central Florida also developed a habit of playing up to its competition, beating Penn State, Louisville and Baylor last year.
What kinds of cool things will the Penn State team get to do in Ireland?
They’ll get to do a couple of things, but not too much. Franklin and players have called this a business trip. Franklin even said they’re approaching this Dublin game the same way they would approach a game at State College Area High School. The organized activities discussed are a dinner at the Guinness Storehouse, a bus tour of Dublin and likely some downtown sightseeing. The team is actually staying at Powerscourt Hotel, 45 minutes outside of Dublin, so sneaking out to a pub late at night won’t even be possible. On the plus side for them, Powerscourt is a five-star hotel and right next to a golf course.
What kind of cool things are happening in Ireland for PSU fans?
Lots more than for the football team. Penn State and Central Florida each have tailgating headquarters in Temple Bar, a bar/restaurant district smack in the middle of Dublin. Central Florida’s official tailgating spot is The Old Storehouse and its Friday pep rally spot is in Meeting House Square. Penn State is going a little bigger. It has three official tailgate spots in Temple Bar: Porterhouse, Fitzsimons and Farrington’s. The Friday pep rally for Penn State is at the intersection of Essex and Parliament in Temple Bar.
What should you do in Dublin if you’re going?
Temple Bar, for all its charms, is generally regarded as the tourist trap of Dublin. This writer visited Dublin a few years ago and can share a little bit of knowledge.
Best museum: Chester Beatty Library. Rare manuscripts and books from Islamic, Western and Asian culture. The Guinness Storehouse isn’t a great tour, but the view and free pint of Guinness atop the building are worth it.
Best pub: The Dawson Lounge. It’s known as the world’s smallest pub and feels like an upscale café that serves very good beer.
Best outdoor activity: Rent a bike. Dublin is flat and bikeable, plus the countryside and coast are a short trip away.
Best food: Alas, Irish food isn’t quite world-renown. But you can never go wrong with fresh seafood. Oh, and eat dinner before 8 p.m. It seems that all the restaurants serve up only drinks after that time.
Which sports are popular in Ireland?
American football, as in all of Europe, is essentially an afterthought. Ireland’s favorite sports are Gaelic football, hurling, rugby and soccer. The day after the Penn State-Central Florida game, Croke Park will host a Gaelic football match.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.