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Notre Dame Heads to the Hills in Ireland

October 30, 1996

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ After contending with cramped airline seats, jet lag and traffic, Notre Dame’s football team took sanctuary Wednesday in a seventh-century monastery in the Wicklow hills.

The football Irish, who play Navy this weekend, completed their trans-Atlantic journey that began with a bus ride Tuesday from their South Bend, Ind., campus.

The team had planned to inspect Croke Park stadium on Wednesday, but Dublin’s typically clogged traffic defeated such plans.

After checking into their hotel, the players took a bus trip to the Wicklow hills south of the capital. Their destination, the monastery of Glendalough, is one of the region’s most beautiful and serene valleys, though not in fading autumn light of a gray October.

Notre Dame (4-2), which plays the Midshipmen (5-1) at Croke Park on Saturday, had arrived to a muted welcome at Dublin International Airport. But the players were happy just to get off the plane after the eight-hour flight from Chicago.

``Our seats were too small. Some of us stood for most of the flight,″ said Chris Clevenger, a 6-foot-8, 300-pound offensive tackle, sitting in the front row of the team bus.

``But we’re not feeling too bad,″ he said, gesturing to the rear of the bus where several teammates were clowning around in red Halloween wigs. ``We’re looking forward to going to bed whenever the time comes.″

The players’ bulky frames attracted bemused curiosity from the Dubliners there to meet relatives and friends from other flights. Five Notre Dame students hollered their support at point-blank range, belting out the first few lines of the school fight song and even cheering the arrival of a trolley full of the Notre Dame band’s instruments.

``I think it’s awesome that the team’s here, the band’s here, and we’re here!″ said Sara Boblick of Chicago, who like her friends had flown to Dublin earlier Wednesday from Spain, where they are on a Notre Dame overseas program.

Two women from Richmond, Va., were the only people who recognized coach Lou Holtz as he cleared Irish customs, ahead of his players, and stepped into an arrivals lounge decorated with red, white and blue balloons.

``There’s Lou!″ Cathy Stumpf and Karen Nuckols shouted in unison as the coach went straight to the buses outside.

``We consider ourselves lucky to be standing here,″ said Stumpf, whose husband is a Notre Dame alum.

Croke Park, a 45,000-seat stadium in north Dublin, will be holding its first U.S. football game.

Notre Dame is to practice Thursday at the Royal Dublin Society grounds, using a field normally used for show jumping. Navy is to arrive Thursday morning and practice in the afternoon at Croke Park.

An estimated 20,000 fans arriving from North America, many combining the game with tours of Ireland and England. Some are to kiss the Blarney stone near Cork, others are to work their way through southwest Ireland’s several championship golf courses, still others to drink their way through Dublin’s myriad pubs.

``I’ve just fought my way through two weeks’ pneumonia,″ said Phil Kajtaniak of Oconomowoc, Wis., whose plane was delayed for three hours because of heavy rains Tuesday. ``My doctor said to me right before we left, `I don’t think you should go.′ I told him: `I don’t think that’s an option.′

``So I just keep taking a hit or two on my atomizer, and it won’t matter if it rains or snows. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see my team play in Ireland,″ said Kajtaniak, who began planning his $2,500 trip in August 1995.

Standing out in the crowd was retired Navy Cmdr. Jerry Ryan. Or, rather, his Navy sweatshirt was.

``I think we’re going to be outnumbered here about 100 to 1!″ said Ryan, who once commanded a U.S. naval submarine but who on Wednesday was shepherding 500 Notre Dame fans from the Chicago area.

``I’m usually a Notre Dame fan,″ he said, gesturing to the Fighting Irish pewter necklace across his chest, ``but not when they play Navy.″

Ryan has spent his week planning group activities and chatting with locals about what’s about to land on their porch.

``A lot of Dubliners don’t even know about the game despite all the advertising. And they certainly don’t understand how the game’s played,″ he said. ``One girl said to me, So how come you need three hours to play a one-hour game? I guess she had a good point there.″

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