1. How did the game come about?
From a couple different angles. The Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland reportedly has had interest in making Dublin the “capital” of college football outside the U.S., similar to how the NFL has produced its “International Series” in London. GAA officials began talks with Boston College last year to play in the Croke Park Classic, which last season featured Central Florida and Penn State.
Stateside, the ACC and member schools have discussed internationally expanding the brand of the conference and member schools under an initiative that the league calls “ACC Worldwide.”
The GAA pulled out in April, asserting that the strength of the dollar against the Euro had made the game untenable. However, Irish American Events Ltd. stepped into negotiations and was able to come to an agreement with Boston College, moving the game from the GAA’s Croke Park to Aviva Stadium.
“We went from, four months ago, thinking it wasn’t going to happen to now, it’s going to happen in a really sound and solid way, and we’re really excited about it,” Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski said Thursday.
2. What was Tech’s involvement in the process?
Not much. As a home game for Boston College, it is under that school’s control. A little less than a year ago, Boston College athletic director Brad Bates asked Bobinski if Tech would be interested. After checking with coach Paul Johnson, who was Navy’s offensive coordinator when the Midshipmen played Notre Dame in 1996 and was enthusiastic about the possibility, Bobinski offered Tech’s interest in continuing the conversation.
The negotiations were conducted by Boston College, with Bates providing updates to Bobinski. In the interim, though, former Tech senior associate athletic director Ryan Bamford was in touch with counterparts at Central Florida and Penn State to gather information and insight about their experience in Dublin in preparation for a possible trip.
“Their general sense was, ‘If you can pull this off, it’s a great thing to do,’” Bobinski said. “’Don’t run from it, run to it.’”
3. Will Tech be compensated for the trip?
Not really, but it wouldn’t have been for a road game at Boston College. However, the team and traveling party will have travel and accommodations provided by the game promoters, and Bobinski has been assured it will be first class. The team will also have the opportunity for sightseeing while in Dublin.
“We wanted it to be a cost-neutral experience and we’ve landed at a place where we feel really good,” Bobinski said.
4. What is the benefit for Tech?
Perhaps primarily, it promises to be a memorable trip for the team and coaches. Bobinski said that Johnson related to him that “it’d be a great experience for our guys, something probably none of them have experienced to this point and some of them maybe never again.”
Further, it will be an unusual exposure for the team. The game is scheduled to be played at 12:30 p.m. local time, which is 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, which means it will obviously be the only game on at that time on the first weekend of the season. It is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2. It will be the first of two seasons that the Yellow Jackets will be featured prominently in the opening weekend. Tech, which has typically begun its season against FCS opponents, is expected to play Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in the new Falcons stadium in 2017.
“It’s nice to have those opportunities for our program to be on a big stage, not that the regular stage isn’t big enough,” Bobinski said. “But, once in a while, to have these opportunities that are unique and are special for our program and Georgia Tech is a really good thing.”
Also, it is valuable marketing for the school, which in the fall of 2014 included almost 5,000 international students (including three from Ireland) among its total enrollment of 23,000.
5. What will the team’s travel plans be?
With the semester already in session, the team will most likely leave Atlanta Wednesday, August 30, three days ahead of the game, to leave time to see Dublin and adjust to the time difference. (Johnson is not much for night games and has been known to say he’d play games at 9 a.m. if he could. It appears he’ll get his wish.) The team would likely return immediately following the game to begin preparations for the home opener against Mercer the following Saturday.
Coincidentally, Bobinski went on a site-scouting trip on behalf of Notre Dame prior to the 1996 game just after having been hired at the school. The school he left was Navy, the Irish’s opponent in that game. (As it turned out, he had left Notre Dame by the time the game was played.) On the trip, he was overwhelmed by the history and beauty of the country and the friendliness of his hosts.
“I think it’ll be really, really something for our guys to experience,” he said.
6. What about fans?
Tech, through a travel agency, is offering packages that begin with a four-day, three-night trip that starts at $1,449 (hotel, tickets and on-site excursions only).
On the travel website Kayak, the least expensive round-trip flight from Atlanta to Dublin for the corresponding weekend this September (leaving Wednesday and returning Sunday) was $970 on Thursday. The Irish sports website The 42 reported that tickets will begin at 30 Euros (about US$34 as of Thursday).
A recommendation from Steve O’Rourke, a writer at the 42, who has covered the development of the Tech-Boston College game:
“I’d stay for four days. Fly into Dublin but get around the rest of the country. You can drive pretty much anywhere in Ireland in four-five hours and there’s a decent public transport service if you don’t fancy driving. September’s a great month to come too because it’s usually dry and warm (the jokes about the amount of rain we get in Ireland are firmly grounded in truth!).
I’d also suggest that fans stay until Sunday when they can see the All-Ireland hurling final. It’s a uniquely Irish sport that is something of a mix between ice hockey, lacrosse and murder! And, like NCAA football, it’s played entirely by amateur athletes.”