A History of College Football in Ireland

College Football makes its long-awaited return to Dublin this August, with the University of Notre Dame squaring off against old rivals Navy. This will be the third time that these sides meet on Irish soil and Notre Dame will be going for the Hat Trick.  Back in 1996, Notre Dame cruised to a 50-24 victory over the midshipmen in Croke Park.  The Sailors didn’t fare much better the second time around either, suffering a 50-10-point defeat to the Fighting Irish in 2012 at The Aviva Stadium.

Image result for college football ireland 1988
Notre Dame wore Tricolor gloves and cleats to mark the occasion.

But did you know that College Football’s history in Ireland goes as far back as the 1980’s?  The first ever college football teams to play here were the Boston College Golden Eagles and the Army Black Knights. The year was 1988, the venue was Lansdowne Road (the Aviva to you Millennials) and Boston College emerged victorious.  Just over a year later, there was a second college football game here as The University of Pittsburgh rolled over Rutgers on a score line of 46-29. Both games were known as the Emerald Isle Classic. The men behind these matches were Aidan Prendergast and Jim O’Brien, who were involved with the Irish American Football scene at the time.

The Golden Eagles and The Black Knights at Lansdowne Road.
Image result for pittsburgh rutgers dublin 1989
A young fan poses with The Pitt Panthers in Dublin, 1989.

The Emerald Isle series was reborn in 2012, as thousands of Americans descended on Dublin. Despite concerns over the time difference, the game was a huge success in terms of ticket sales and viewership back in the States. The third emerald isle classic provided a massive boost to the following of American football in Ireland.  People who would have had a passing knowledge or interest in the sport got to watch a game up close and live for the first time. And not just any old game but two of Americans top college football programmes. The positive effects of the 2012 game (including of course the massive cash influx to Dublin from tourism) inspired two further college football games in Dublin, taking place in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

2 years after Notre Dame sank Navy on Dublin’s South Side, Penn State University took on the University of Central Florida at GAA headquarters in what was dubbed the “Croke Park Classic”.  Despite the lack of an Irish connection, there was still a fantastic hype and atmosphere to the proceedings.  Penn State emerged victorious on the day, stealing the win from UCF with a last second field goal. The overall reception to the match up was positive, with the Penn State cheerleaders being a high point.

Image result for penn state ucf dublin field goal
Penn State with the Win!

The most recent iteration of a college football game in Ireland took place in 2016, with two lesser known teams taking the stage. Boston College returned to Irish shores to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Without the name recognition of Notre Dame or Penn State, the “Aer Lingus College Football Classic” suffered a poorer attendance than its predecessors. It also suffered inclement weather, resulting in a low scoring 17-14 victory for BC.

Image result for georgia tech bc dublin

Ireland’s status as the official home of college football in Europe was cemented in October of 2018, when it was announced that there would be no less than five games taking place here over 5 years beginning in 2020. Two of those slots have already been determined: Notre Dame and Navy in 6 months’ time, followed by the University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois a year later. The latter is an interesting fixture. Neither of these teams boast a huge following outside of their home states, so we could potentially have another low attended game on our hands. A repeat of 2016 is unlikely however, as American Football’s fanbase has increased significantly here in the last 4 years.  Regardless of what teams fill the last three spots, a 5-year commitment is sure to put Ireland on the map as College Football’s home from home.

Image result for aer lingus college football classic 2021

How to watch College Football in Ireland

College Ball is finally back! With 5 college football games taking place in Ireland from 2020 onwards, now is the time to immerse yourself in NCAA action. It  is now easier than ever to watch college football in Ireland, and we’ve complied a list of how you can get your college ball fix every weekend!

  1. BT Sports ESPN

Remember the good old days of ESPN America on Sky Sports? 12 glorious hours of uninterrupted College Football, book ended by College Game Day. Well those days are sadly over and now if you want to watch football on your TV, you’re going to have to pay up. Fortunately, BT Sports college football offering is quite decent and they will normally have the marquee match ups, as well as Bowl games, Playoffs and the National Championship Game!

Image result for college football

2.ESPN Player

The official ESPN player is essentially the College Football Version of Game Pass and gives you access to pretty much any game that ESPN has the broadcast rights for.  With the ESPN player you can stream all kinds of American College sports as well as watching highlights and getting full game recaps. The ESPN player is better value if you are a fan of College Football rather than one team in particular, as your teams game mightn’t always be shown.

Image result for espn college football

3. Streaming sites

Let me begin here by saying that in no shape or form do we condone illegal streaming sites. However, needs must and when it comes to getting your fill of college football, you gotta do what you gotta do! First Row Sports is our go to for streaming college football games, and if you have an Android device, apps such as Mobdro should do the trick as well. Streams can be a bit hit or miss in terms of quality and speed and your patience will probably be tested.

If you’ve been an American football for one year or ten, then College Football is definitely worth getting in to.  Its popularity is growing exponentially both here in Ireland and all over Europe. There’s more passion, more atmosphere and more to lose in College games than there is in the pro’s, and with Ireland becoming the home of College Football on this side of the Atlantic, there really isn’t a better time than now to get involved!

All the ways to watch college football in Ireland

Rivalry. Cheerleaders. Marching Bands. School Spirit. These are just some of the things that make college football great.  And week one of the CFP certainly did not disappoint. Penn State eked out an overtime win against an unranked opponent, while Notre Dame claimed a home win over their Rivals Michigan. With more and more Irish American football fans now opting to support a college team as well as an NFL one, there is growing demand for ways to watch. And while college games are not as widely available as the NFL, there are still ways and means. Read on to find out more…

Image result for penn state vs app state
Penn State won in overtime 

BT Sports ESPN

Does anyone remember ESPN America?  Formally free with Sky Sports, ESPN America aired “College Gameday” (ESPN’s College Football Pregame show) followed by three choice matchups.  I have fond memories of being pasted to the couch for 12 hours straight on a Saturday, soaking up all the College football I could get. Those were heady days.  ESPN America is now BT Sports ESPN, and funnily enough, you need to pay an extra subscription to your Sky Sports package to watch. As irksome as this is, College Football is being broadcast in Ireland and that in itself is huge.

Image result for college gameday notre dame michigan
College Gameday is one of the best pre game sports shows in America.

ESPN College Pass

If you’re more than a casual college fan then the ESPN Player may be for you. With the ESPN NCAA College pass you get access to every game that ESPN has the rights to broadcast. And according to their website, that’s over 700 per season.  The monthly pass start’s at €22 per month and you can get a 7 day free trial here.  The Annual pass also gives you access to the SEC Network, ESPN U, as well as a number of added benefits. And you won’t need a VPN  to watch

Streaming Sites

Let us preface this section by saying that in no way shape or form do we condone illegal streaming sites. Now that we’ve covered ourselves, we can unofficially recommend First Row Sports as the best of a fairly poor bunch. You really have to get lucky to get a decent stream, and you can be sure that it will cut out several times. We’d also recommend having a pop up blocker installed, otherwise you’ll be plagued.  Streaming anything can be a bit hit or miss, so if you’re serious about your college football it is most definitely worthwhile investing in Sky or ESPN online.

Image result for college football fan
College football is for the diehards