Emerald Isle Classic a massive success for the Irish

The efforts of businessman Martin Naughton were lauded nationwide after a week of festivities throughout the country that are said to have netted the economy in the region of €100 million.

The Dundalk native was the central figure in bringing numerous events, ranging from concerts to conferences,  to Dublin before culminating with Notre Dame and Navy playing a college American Football game at the Aviva Stadium. For Naughton, however, there was however a more important reason than sports to bring this game to Dublin.

The entrepreneur used the sporting event as a calling card to American business to bring their leading lights to these shores for a series of engagements in a bid to show the ever increasing value of investing in Ireland.

Speaking during the week to RTE Naughton was keen to stress how valuable having a presence in the Irish market can be for major American companies, “It’s a combination of taxes and talent. We have a very pro business environment, we speak the same language and we are an important bridgehead to Europe.”

However the immediate value to the exchequer came from the travelling fans from both sides. With 35,000 Americans making the journey Dublin was booming with almost every hotel room booked up, restaurants overflowing and shops making record sales.

When asked about having to foot the bill for the weeklong celebrations Naughton instead stressed that the most important thing was how successful the week had been for businesses throughout the country saying, “I heard as a fact that Brown Thomas had their biggest spending day since Christmas Eve so it’s clear these people are coming to spend money.”

The value for Naughton, and the reason that he was investing his money in the project, was clear. He wanted to help stimulate the Irish economy and bring money to the nation. With hotels booked and fans coming for up to two weeks to see numerous regions of the nation it was clear just how successful these efforts have been.

Naughton and fellow organiser, Irish-American Donald Keough-a director at Coca-Cola-were praised by many with numerous editorial pieces commenting on their efforts to raise the profile of Irish businesses and show the value of the Irish economy to major companies.

This was a fact that Naughton was keen to stress throughout the week.

“I will be hosting 50 of the top visiting Notre Dame people and I will also have 50 of the leading Irish business, politicians and academia,” commented Naughton. “They will be enormously impressed by the calibre of people running American businesses here in Ireland. Years ago we were like the China of Europe, cheap labour and taxes and anyone coming in had to bring their managers and supervisors [its changed now.]”

For Keough the festivities were a culmination of the hard work that both Naughton and himself have been doing in recent years. Their relationship started by trying to foster  greater links between Notre Dame, a catholic university with a rich history of Irish involvement, and Ireland. The duo opened the Keough-Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin and ensured that the University offered courses for Irish studies.

With over 400 students studying the Irish language in the University, in Indiana, it is apparent just how successful they have been.  As a result of these successes Naughton was invited onto the board of directors at Notre Dame and although he joked about “being the only Irish born man on the board,” it was clear just how important he viewed this position in allowing him to further the links between the US and Ireland.

Keough also commented that the week also offered a great opportunity to bring sporting and business worlds together. With college sports playing a major role in US life, for a team to give up a home game, one of only six or seven per season, it was clear this sacrifice offered by Navy and the gratitude that the organisers had for both schools.

“In a timeframe where we have a lot of bad news it’s nice to have a week like this where at the end of the day we’ll have a pep rally where people be joyous and have fun and then a game where thousands of people will be here in Ireland,” said Keough.

Notre Dame dominate

The atmosphere was unlike anything seen in Dublin before. With marching bands, cheerleaders and a rabid fanbase a corner of our nation’s capital was transformed into America.

The travelling fans, numbering 30,000 inside the stadium, made their presence felt throughout and while the victor was never really in doubt the spectacle provided a unique insight into the success of sports in the US. The pageantry offered by both teams was unique however the passion of the fans was the same as that seen at GAA matches throughout the country.

Prior to kickoff the 800 midshipmen and women of the US Navy made their way on to the field for  a display but unfortunately for the designated home team this was the only time that they dominated the field. The match ended in a commanding victory for the “Fighting Irish” of Notre Dame.

Although Notre Dame have struggled in recent years, it is four years since their last BCS Bowl berth, the cachet of the school is as impressive and imposing as ever. The golden helmets still instil a tradition of success from an era that ended before most the current players were even born.

However on Saturday they overpowered and outplayed Navy to ease past their bitter rivals. The performance of the Irish, especially their ability to run the ball, was impressive but ultimately the undersized Navy defence could offer only occasional resistance with George Atkinson and Theo Riddick both rushing for 100 yards and two scores.

The main question mark over Notre Dame heading in to the game was to do with their quarterback play. Last year the team made lots of costly errors in the final third of the field and turned the ball over regularly. Everett Golson, making the first start of his career, started the game efficiently but an interception in the opening moments of the second quarter ground a promising drive to a halt in the Navy red zone.

With last year’s starter, Tommy Rees, due to return from suspension next week a change at the most pivotal position looks likely even though Coach Brian Kelly was non-committal on making a change.

If Notre Dame is to be successful this year they will have to eliminate these mistakes and play smart defensively. This was one element that was impressive with the Irish able to stifle the vaulted Navy “triple-option” rushing attack and smother the ball carrier.

It is however early days in the season and greater tests await Notre Dame but having endured a miserable time in recent years it now seems that Brian Kelly has assembled a group of players that have the physical talents to match the requirements of his high paced offence.

For Navy the weekend offered little optimism on the field but provided lots of motivation off the field with their coach, Ken Niumatalolo saying that it “was a great experience for our men but [we have] a lot of work to do.”

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