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College football’s winning off the field in Dublin

The late Don Keough

By Evan Short

As Boston College’s football team prepares to face off against Georgia Tech in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the college football season opener in September, one of Ireland’s leading businessmen has told the Irish Echo of how the real action happens away from the turf.

Neil Naughton is one of the organisers of the college football extravaganza that over the years has become an important link between Ireland the United States with legions of fans travelling across the Atlantic to cheer on their favourite teams.

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In 2012 the game sold out in four hours but as much as the sport is important, behind the scenes the event is a major driver of tourism revenue and business partnerships.
“This all goes back to Don Keough who has been described as best president America never had,” says Neil.

“He was CEO and director of Coco Cola and a huge influence on business in Ireland, and Irish America and in education.

“He really was an incredible guy, he brought wise counsel and good humour to everything he did and believed strongly in building relationships between Ireland the U.S.”

The late Mr. Keough’s relationship with Neil’s father Martin, who founded the Glen Dimplex group, led to the hosting of the college football showcase in Dublin which is played for the Keough-Naughton Trophy.

“He invited my dad to work on various initiatives and both Don and my father together founded the Keogh/Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame University.

“This game was another such initiative and it offers huge publicity and economic benefits. Directly it contributes about one hundred million euro but the economic impact is around two hundred and fifty million, and that’s really why we do it.“

Although the economic benefits are important, a huge effort is put into ensuring football fans have a good time, and in that regard the 2016 game is set to get even better.

This is the sixth time the game will have taken place, with the first in 1988. Up until 2012, Neil says, the event was organised on an “ad hoc” basis, but in the last four years more thought has been put into the fan experience.

“Six teams, including prep schools, have committed to coming along and one other school is interested but we would have to find someone for them to play.

“Both Boston and Georgia Tech will be bringing their full hundred-plus member bands, which will add a lot of razzmatazz to the event.

“As well as the event in the Aviva we will be building a stadium in Trinity College where some of the games will be played, and other games will be hosted in towns outside of Dublin.

“We are also going to have the ‘tailgate’ experience that U.S. football fans get where they arrive hours before a game and have a party before kick-off.”

In recent years the NFL has aggressively sought to expand its fan base in the UK by hosting a number of regular season games in London. Neil says their Irish event will take place on a staggered basis.

“We are not trying to do this every year – for us every other year feels about right. We expect around 25,000 people to travel from the U.S. and Europe and we want to give them a great experience.”

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