Each year, our graduate students have the option of enrolling in European Model of Sport, an elective which features a trip abroad to meet with sports organizations, learn from sports professionals and tour world class venues and arenas in Western Europe. This year’s trip includes stops in Dublin, Liverpool, London and Paris. Our students are blogging about their experience.
by Gillian Abshire, Andrew Brandt & Kayla Watts
Our second day got off to a great start. The Irish play many non-olympic sports and are native to the country, such as gaelic football which is a combination on football, soccer, and rugby and hurling, a combination of lacrosse, soccer, and second-degree murder. We were fortunate to get to see their stadium, Croke Park, which is actually larger than their nations soccer and rugby team stadium. Upon arriving at Croke Park, we really had no idea what to expect. Quickly we learned what it really meant to be an Irish athlete. We were brought up to speed about the history of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and then we were lead through Croke Park by our sweet Irish Tour Guide, Rory. One of the most impressive things of the whole tour was hearing that the athletes of the GAA are all “volunteer” athletes. They work normal day jobs and do not receive a paycheck even though they play in front of close to 60,000 fans almost every game.
Croke Park holds 82,300 people making it the third largest stadium in Europe. It is mostly meant for GAA sports, but they also hold concerts including performances by Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and U2. Currently, they’re preparing to have the Rolling Stones come this summer! Unlike the United States, locker rooms are known as dressing rooms here. The stadium dressing rooms are structurally the exact same as well as how they are decorated. There is no dressing room that is labeled “away” or “home” and both teams are treated the same. This is because most of the club teams are Irish and they want all the teams to feel comfortable and welcome. Another aspect of sport that is a lot different than in the U.S is that there is a player lounge inside the stadium where both teams get to go after the game to enjoy a meal and a Guinness. Obviously, something like this would probably never happen in America.
Another interesting thing about the stadium is that the field or as the Irish say, “the pitch” is treated like the most important grass in the world. Because of the weather climate in Ireland, Croke Park uses machines to give the field artificial sunlight. Every time the machines are plugged in, it costs 2,000 Euro. We had a wonderful time at Croke Park and learned a lot about Sport in Ireland.
After touring Croke Park, we sat down with Julianne McKeigue who oversees the Gaelic Athletic Association Museum within the stadium. She provided an in-depth background of the GAA, which is the governing body for all major Gaelic sports in Ireland. These sports include both men’s and women’s hurling, men’s and women’s gaelic football, handball and rounders. All of these sports have individual chapters within Irelands counties, as well as regional and national teams and competitions. The GAA is completely amateur, which means that none of the athletes are paid. It also means that the referees, coaches, and staff are all volunteers. The reason for this is that all of these sports are so ingrained in the culture of Ireland. Every Sunday the fields all over the country are filled with fans and players enjoying the sport.
Our next stop was Aviva Stadium. The stadium was designed to be a multi-purpose sports venue with an athletic track, a cricket pitch, rugby pitch, as well as facilities for both archery and tennis. Today, the main sport played in the stadium is rugby plus soccer. The first rugby international was in March of 1878 between Ireland and England making the world’s oldest rugby international test venue and the oldest sports stadium in Europe. In 1927, the first international soccer match was played against Italy. Back in 1988, the stadium hosted a really unique sporting event, a college football game. The game was Boston College vs. WestPoint which was the first American Football game in Ireland and is often considered the “Emerald Isle Classic.”
The Aviva stadium that is standing today is considered the new stadium because in 2007, the old stadium was demolished and Aviva Stadium was reconstructed over a three period, opening in May 2010. The total capacity in the stadium is 51,700. The first match played in the new stadium was rugby in July of 2010. The stadium hosts about 30-40 events a year and after all the sports seasons, it hosts concerts which all the staff workers look forward to because it’s a change of scenery and all the operations are a bit different from the sporting events. Aviva is an insurance company in Ireland and paid 40 million euros for ten years to have their name on the stadium and that was recently extended for 44 million euros.
The crowd dynamics between rugby matches and soccer matches are very different. During a rugby match, spectators are mixed in the crowd regardless of which team they are cheering for but that’s not exactly how it works for soccer matches. Due to the tremendous passion and competitive spirit that comes with a soccer match, spectators are spilt amongst the crowd, home team on one side and visiting team on the other. This prevents any kind of violence breaking out amongst spectators during the matches.
Another pretty cool aspect of the stadium was the control room. It was surprising to me how advanced it was in terms of the technology, cameras, PA system, etc. The stadium has cameras everywhere and during matches, they are able to have eyes on anyone no matter where that person is in the stadium. Well of course not restrooms, I would assume.
Following the tours and lectures, from Croke Park & Aviva Stadium, and lunch in the town, the CSL cohort loaded up on the bus to go to the final destination, the National Sport Campus. This 5 acre land was once owned by a British aristocrat but is now home to an athlete’s wonderland.
Upon arriving, we first got a quick lecture on the history of the building and then the tour began with us overlooking a gymnasium that was hosting the National Badminton Tournament for those 16 and younger. The CSL cohort was fascinated by an 11 year old girl, who was warming up, because of her incredible ability to play the game. It was during this time in the tour that we learned the gym has three basketball courts and can hold 3,000 fans in their high tech mobile bleachers.
From there we moved onto the third largest gymnastics facility in Europe. We were thoroughly impressed by the automatic adjustable windows, which moved based on the temperature. However, the real highlight of this facility was jumping on the trampoline and into the foam pit. While some students, and faculty, struggled to regain their footing, the remaining members were completely entertained. It was also here that we learned about their commitment to inclusiveness, especially for those with disabilities.
The National Sport Campus is also home to an amazing indoor track and field facility, an olympic swimming pool, and a stable with a horse training arena. The track and field facility impressed us with its adaptability. The Olympic swimming pool was not only heated, but carefully designed to be divided into 4 smaller pools to be versatile. The Horse stable area proved to be a great place for selfies, as well as for Thomas Keller to disprove the myth about the length of the gravel area being double that of the grass area.
The National Sport Campus, voted best Sport facility in the country for wheelchair users, shows a commitment to child development and inclusivity. The thing that impressed us the most was that they allow children athletes, starting at age 5, the ability to train with local Olympic athletes. This location was definitely an athletes dream, and we had an amazing time on this tour.
After getting an exclusive tour at the National Sport Campus, we got the chance to play the worlds fastest game on grass, also know as Hurling. Hurling is an outdoor team sport of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin. The game has been played for 3,000 years and is part of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The sport is a combination lacrosse, soccer, and “second degree murder,” as described by our instructor. The object of the game is for players to use a wooden stick, called a “Hurley,” to hit a small ball, called the “Sliotar,” in the opponents goal post for one or in a net guarded by a goalkeeper for three. We had the opportunity to run a few drills and take a few practice shots for an hour. After a few drills, some relays races, and being natural born athletes, we all got the hang of the Hurling and had a fantastic experience learning how to play a new sport.