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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO There's no reason Croke Park shouldn't host bigger college games in the future.
# Future
Croke Park Classic has a bright future... with the right teams
There’s no reason Ireland can’t become the home of college football in Europe.

WALKING THROUGH DUBLIN city centre on Saturday and, indeed, in the three or four days leading up to the game, you couldn’t help but notice the impact the Croke Park Classic was having on the local economy.

Pubs, restaurants and twee merchandise shops were all packed to the rafters with fans of both Penn State and the University of Central Florida; the former outnumbering the latter by about four to one.

All told, the Croke Park Classic attracted some 20,000 visitors from the United States and Europe with a further 33,000 locals making their way to the Jones’ Road venue despite both Electric Picnic and the small matter of an All-Ireland semi-final replay both taking place on the same day.

The 53,300 attendance surpasses the 48,820 that filled the Aviva for the 2012 Notre Dame v Navy game but it still falls some way short of the 69,000 capacity for the event. To borrow from the old political slogan, there’s a lot done but there’s still a lot to do.

At  Saturday’s game, I heard quite a few Irish people bemoan the fact this was ‘only’ Penn State versus UCF. That’s a shame. Penn State are twice national champions with one of the most storied histories in college football and the second largest stadium in college football where 106,000 people regularly showing up for their home games.

In short, they’re a pretty big deal.

Vonn Walker has his helmet knocked off in a tackle Morgan Treacy / INPHO The commitment of both teams was never in doubt on Saturday. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

UCF are no small school institution either. They’ve just seen Blake Bortles leave for the Jacksonville Jaguars as the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft after winning the Fiesta Bowl, arguably one of the most important bowl games in college football outside, of course, the national championship game itself.

Another complaint – and both were very much from a minority of fans – was that Croke Park couldn’t attract an NFL game. But given a choice between Alabama or the Jaguars – who seem to be taking up residence in Wembley – I know which team most Irish and European fans of American football would like to see.

Another challenge for Croke Park and the GAA is to attract more Americans here for games. Approximately 20,000 less people travelled to this game than the Emerald Isle Classic in the Aviva. Had they done so, the game would obviously have been a sell out.

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The obvious thing would be to target the likes of Notre Dame and Boston College – potentially both – with a view to bringing the diaspora home. That will work in the short term but, as I’m led to believe, if the goal is to have a game every two years, more creativity is needed from those organising the event.

The appetite for American football is huge in Europe, three sell out Wembley games as well as the Croke Park Classic this year prove that there is a market here only too eager to attend games so – if we take it as a given that London has the NFL sewn up – there’s no reason why the GAA cannot establish Jones’ Road as a mecca for the college game on this side of the Atlantic.

The Croke Park Classic has a place in the Irish sporting calendar but key to any future success will be both the profile of the teams asked to play and just how many people they can bring with them.

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American football captures Dublin’s imagination at Croke Park Classic 

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