Irish Moments: Penn State students on lessons learned through Dublin visit
(Editor’s Note: Eight students from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State spent eight days in Dublin covering the buildup to the Croke Park Classic, and the game itself, for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. In this piece, the students reflect on memorable moments from the journey.)
From the moment we touched down at Dublin Airport, the European history and politics of my textbooks came to life.
The first restaurant we ate at was a favorite of noted Irish republican politician Martin McGuinness. We stood on the grounds of Trinity College and heard its story, so deeply interwoven with Ireland’s religious and political history. We watched a Gaelic football match at Croke Park, the field where the Bloody Sunday of the Irish War of Independence took place.
Across the street from our hotel was a bookstore associated with Sinn Fein, the Irish republican political party. On one wall was a campaign poster for Bobby Sands, an IRA member who won a seat in the British Parliament while in prison, and who led (and died from) a hunger strike while incarcerated. Scattered elsewhere around the store was memorabilia from freedom movements around the world.
How interesting it was, while covering an American football game, to be able to soak in so much rich history.
—by Bobby Chen
When Kerry and Mayo ended their spectacular semifinal match in the All-Ireland Gaelic football championship in a tie last Sunday at Croke Park, forcing a replay in Limerick, I was stunned.
Mayo had fallen behind by five points at the break and stormed back to take a four-point lead with minutes remaining. Then Kerry tied the score with less than a minute left. But seeing such a remarkable game rendered meaningless was disheartening.
Imagine if last season against Michigan, after Allen Robinson’s soaring catch and Christian Hackenberg’s quarterback sneak into the end zone, the game was over. No four overtimes. No delirious Beaver Stadium. No Bill Belton game-winning touchdown.
Even a week later, I can’t help but feel a little empty. I’ll always wish I’d seen the end of that match.
—by C.J. Doon
Lay your money down
Downtown Dublin has Burger King, McDonald’s and KFC. One thing it has the American cities don’t? Bookmakers.
There seems to be a betting parlor on every corner here, offering action on everything from horse racing to dog racing to auto roulette to football.
It’s one of the many traditions of this town: If a game is on, it is also bet on. Heavily.
That included the Croke Park Classic. Nittany Lion fans could join locals in collecting their winnings from an activity that they can’t do legally in State College.
For an American, it’s an experience you can’t have unless you make a trip to Las Vegas.
Or, back to Dublin. Which loves its sports. And gambling on them.
—by Greg Pickel
Feeling at Home
The warm-up lasted for four days. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning, when the Penn State football contingent of more than 300 people stepped off the plane though, that widespread media coverage started to intensify. The pictures had greater meaning, the words on the page resonated more deeply and the tweets spread more rapidly. Everyone’s responsibility became amplified.
Fans cheered, media snapped photographs, I tweeted 140 characters faster than I ever had before and fought for the best spot as people walked through the arrivals hall. In only a few minutes’ time, the city of Dublin became the second Happy Valley. Seeing it made a foreign country feel like home.
—by Melissa Conrad
Deep Blue (and White) Sea
The closer I got to Penn State’s pep rally in Temple Bar, the louder the familiar sounds of Beaver Stadium rang in my ears. As I turned the last corner, I found so many Penn Staters I wasn’t sure how to get to the front to make photographs. I moved through the crowd, apologizing.
I bumped into a woman who demanded to know what I was doing. When she realized I was a Penn State student, she pushed me forward and said, “Anything for the university.” I ended up in perfect position, in the center of the commotion, to take photographs of the Nittany Lion dancing with a young Irish girl.
—by Hannah Byrne
Friday Night Lights
At the high school game between Cedar Cliff and Penn Manor, organized as part of the Penn State-Central Florida weekend, there was a decent showing of fans from both sides in the bleachers. There was no band or cheerleaders, but the parents and other relatives that made the trip let the players know they were there.
One dad led the Cedar Cliff fans in a cheer, spelling out “Colts.” It was louder than expected, and the continued support throughout the game made the contest feel more like a typical high school football game in central Pennsylvania.
That genuine excitement from the parents who traveled, along with seeing and hearing the players at practice before the game, showed why all the work to get to that game was worth it for them.
It may have been just football, but it also was an experience that nobody there will forget. I doubt any of the players or parents regret selling as all those subs and PS4 raffle tickets to make the night possible.
—by Eric Shultz
Caught up in the moment
Having the opportunity to not only attend the All-Ireland semifinal match between County Kerry and County Mayo, but also to also photograph it was an experience I won’t forget. As supporters of the teams cheered, jumping to their feet with flags and scarves waving in the air, it was like the sky was painted in green and red.
Despite everything I’ve been taught as a photojournalist, I looked away from the game on the pitch and up into the crowd as a funnel of noise reached my ears on the field. It felt like the student section at Beaver Stadium. It wasn’t just noise from rowdy fans —it was the heart and soul of a community.
—by Kelsie Netzer
Get that story
I expected unique experiences in Dublin. I didn’t expect any would involve sneaking into a jail.
But when I was covering Central Florida, Knights coach George O’Leary gave his team a little history lesson beyond the game at Kilmainham Gaol, a notorious prison that’s now a museum and tourist attraction.
The media had been promised access, but that didn’t happen. At least one reporter left.
I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. And I had already spent 10 Euros on a taxi, so there was no going back.
I pulled the same maneuver I used as a teenager to sneak into R-rated movies, and just followed in the team as if I belonged. It worked. And, after all, we had been told we could take the tour with the team.
I had a great experience learning about the prison’s history, and gathered interviews for a good story. I also inspired some UCF media to follow my lead, and they joined us.
The experience taught me an important lesson: When you’re on a story, sometimes you have to keep pushing.
—by Jake Somerville