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Dubliners Get Suited Up For Notre Dame-Navy Blitz

October 25, 1996

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ When Notre Dame and Navy come to Dublin next week, the Irish will party and profit with a record crowd of Americans _ and, just maybe, figure out what Yankee-style football’s all about.

``Irish people are absolutely sports mad _ utterly nuts,″ said Dermot Power, marketing director of the Croke Park stadium, where the Nov. 2 game will be played.

``Whatever the game is, we’re total fanatics. But I don’t think people will know what to do at an American football game.″

The 45,000-seat Croke Park in Dublin’s rough north side has played host to a century of Gaelic sporting glory. But this will be its first taste of U.S. college football.

``Of course, Notre Dame are different,″ Power said. ``Notre Dame are the Fighting Irish. If they don’t pull a crowd in Dublin, nobody will!″

Some 20,000 Americans are expected to fly to Dublin for the ``Shamrock Classic″ in what will be the biggest-ever U.S. invasion of Ireland for a single event _ not counting World War II.

The game has lost some of its luster as 19th-ranked Notre Dame has fallen to 4-2, putting it out of contention for a top bowl game. But that doesn’t matter to Irish people, to whom the game will be a one-time curiosity.

And for the cult of Irish and British fans dedicated to following American football _ used to red-eyed nights watching tape-delayed games on satellite or cable _ the Notre Dame-Navy game is a godsend.

``I’ve got all my children sort of brainwashed. The wife’s not shown a bit of interest,″ said Des Farrelly, 58, Dublin director of the Irish Notre Dame Fan Club, which has about 500 members from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Japan. It and a sister organization in England provide the only organized fan clubs overseas for a U.S. college team.

``I’ve flown out to see the last three Notre Dame-Navy games, so this will save me a lot of money. For others this’ll be their first live game,″ Farrelly said.

Farrelly is an NCAA-accredited referee for Ireland’s eight amateur football teams, which play each other with barely enough sponsorship to pay for uniforms.

``The Dublin Tornados won the league last year,″ he said, ``but I reckon a high school from Houston would beat the pick of the Irish teams pretty comprehensively.″

U.S. football fans here describe nights of sitting home alone on their couches or begging bartenders for the remote control.

``Last time Notre Dame was on TV I was at my local, and there was nothing else on at the time,″ Farrelly said. ``I told the barman: `The Irish are playing, could you not put it on?′ He said no one wanted to watch that nonsense.″

Finally the bartender relented, putting the game on with the sound turned down.

Using Croke Park for an American football game has presented a few problems.

Gaelic sports _ Gaelic football, hurling and camogie _ are played on a field that’s much wider than an American football field. And Croke Park’s front rows of seats are at field level, because nobody stands on the sidelines for Gaelic sports. The stadium has six locker rooms that normally accommodate about 25 athletes each.

To keep the view clear for the best seats, the organizers plan to have both Notre Dame and Navy work from the western sideline.

Engineers are adding a bank of lights for CBS, which is providing tape-delayed coverage across the United States.

Navy is officially the home team _ Notre Dame refused to give up a home game for the trip _ but supporters of the 4-1 Midshipmen are certain to be outnumbered.

``We’ve got 500 or so midshipmen and their families coming over, the secretary of the Navy coming in, and a four-star admiral who’s the commandant of the academy. I’m up to my ears in protocol issues,″ said Army Col. William Torpey, the military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

Torpey’s getting things ready for the academy’s drum and bugle corps, glee club, and the Navy brass band based in Naples, Italy. All will be involved in a commemoration in Wexford, southeast Ireland, the day before the game to honor the birthplace of the Navy’s first commander, John Barry.

Dublin organizers have wanted to attract Notre Dame ever since the first ``Emerald Classic″ in 1988 drew 45,000 fans and curiosity-seekers to see Boston College beat Army at Dublin’s other major field, Lansdowne Road. But just 2,500 saw the most recent U.S. college import in 1992, when Bowdoin edged Tufts 7-6 in Galway.

Many expatriate Americans involved in planning the Shamrock Classic hope that visiting U.S. fans and players slow down and soak in some Irish sensibility.

``That would be the greatest tragedy of it all, if this huge crowd of Americans comes over and doesn’t listen to the people here,″ said Paul McGinn, president of the 50-strong Irish Notre Dame Alumni Club.

End advance for Oct. 26-27

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