"HUGE CHALLENGE" AHEAD: Seton Hall Prep coach Bill Fitzgerald

Seton Hall Prep coach gears up for Ireland tournament

If you have passed through Dublin Airport in recent years there is a good chance you were greeted by enormous banners enticing you to attend an American college football game, often featuring the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has played Navy twice in the fixture, which has variously been called the Emerald Isle Classic, the Croke Park Classic, and the Shamrock Classic, before settling in as the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. 

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Similarly, the venue has toggled back and forth between Croke Park and Lansdowne Road/Aviva Stadium, although it would appear that Aviva is now set as the venue of choice. 

The event has always been a big tourist draw, with fans from the participating U.S. universities flocking to Ireland’s capital city.

A lesser known component of the program is the participation of High School teams who play as something of an undercard to the Main Event. Known as the Global Ireland Football Tournament, or GIFT, the tournament has been held in 2012, 2014, and 2016, and it will return this August.

High School programs from New Jersey, Tennessee, Arizona, and Pennsylvania will make the trip, bringing high school football’s Friday Night Lights vibe to Energia Park/Donnybrook Stadium, which also hosted the series in 2012 and 2016.

The Irish Echo recently spoke by phone to Seton Hall Prep coach Bill Fitzgerald about his school’s participation in the 2023 edition of the Global Ireland Football Tournament and the first thing that stood out are the sheer logistics.

“Between players, coaches, and staff we’ll be about 110 people, and I think we're going to have close to 1,000 from the Seton Hall Prep community, you know, alumni, family friends, that are going to get over there.”

Fitzgerald continued, “we are hearing a lot of buzz from people with connections to our school, that they're going to be headed over there, that they were already headed over there for the Notre Dame game.”

Adding to the sense of occasion for the New Jersey school Fitzgerald points out, is that, “our school has a tremendous, tremendous Irish heritage, if you look at the families that have come through here, and even on our team. So that is definitely a little bit of an extra bonus for them. We're just thrilled to be part of it and to start off our season this way is incredible.”

Yes, amid all the pomp Seton Hall Prep has a game to win. Fitzgerald’s young men will be taking on Tennessee’s Baylor School in what will be their regular season opener. “Yeah, it's going to be a great challenge competitively because it is not an exhibition, this is a real game for us, it goes on our record and it has all the implications for the playoffs and what that would mean and and all those things.” “So,” the coach noted, “we are preparing to make sure that we are going to compete.”

I wondered if Fitzgerald had any concerns in keeping his young players focused with the distractions of an international trip?

“Well, I think we have a mature group of guys, seniors on our team this year. They understand the competition that we play. And, you know, they should feel proud of themselves that we're able to do this because people think highly enough of the way that we play football.”

Fitzgerald added, “we have a little bit of a reputation to uphold, and to make sure that everybody understands that we're there to compete and compete hard and put our best foot forward. And that is the number one objective for the trip.”

And the coach will be making sure that his team understands what is at stake.

“It's a tremendous game,” Fitzgerald underlines. “It's a national opponent, they have a slew of division one recruits, they’re just coming off a Tennessee State Championship.”

The coach continued, “they've got a great, great program, and it's going to be a huge challenge for us. But it'll get us ready for our very grueling season. And, you know, we have very high goals and in order for us to reach them we have got to play quality opponents, and Baylor is one of the toughest in the country.” 

So, while Fitzgerald says his players “will get to enjoy the tremendous experience, and learn more about the Irish culture and meet some people and see some things that a lot of guys will have never seen before,” he will make sure to convey to his group that, “if it wasn't for football, they wouldn't have this opportunity.

The Seton Hall community is now fundraising for the Irish trip. Any businesses who would like to explore sponsorship opportunities please email the fundraising committee. Donations to the kitty can be made via JustGiving,