George O’Leary has one thing planned for when he eventually decides to retire from coaching.
Central Florida’s coach will sit down and go through the paperwork required to apply for Irish citizenship. He hopes one day to hold a passport from the United States as well as Ireland, the country his grandfather emigrated from in 1907 and the one O’Leary is in currently to coach Central Florida against Penn State in the Croke Park Classic on Saturday.
Recently, O’Leary got closer to gathering all the required documents as he was able to locate his grandfather’s birth certificate after his brother was able to find the file in New York’s city records.
“He came over through Ellis Island. I’m proud of the heritage,” O’Leary said of his grandfather.
Then UCF’s coach grinned and cracked:
“And I think it’s going to be easier to get through the airport.”
O’Leary will leave Ireland following the game at Croke Park closer to his goal. He was honored by the Irish government with a certificate of Irish Heritage on Friday.
Peter McKenna, who serves as the Commercial and Stadium Director for the Gaelic Athletic Association which is hosting the game, called it a “massive” honor.
“It is a huge honor for the government to bestow upon somebody so we’re very, very proud of that,” McKenna said. “He’s a canny, wily manager. He doesn’t say too much. He just smiles and you learn a lot from George by what he doesn’t say. We’re effectively saying that he’s an honorary Irish person. For George, I suppose that’s full circle.”
O’Leary was grateful but was more focused on the game.
He’s starting a rookie quarterback less than four months removed from UCF’s former star quarterback Blake Bortles being selected as a first round NFL Draft pick. Pete DiNovo, a redshirt freshman, will take over an offense that boasts a collection of reliable and talented wide receivers — J.J. Worton, Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall — and a running back in William Stanback that emerged over the last few games last season as a reliable option behind the departed Storm Johnson.
O’Leary’s advice for his young quarterback?
“Relax and don’t try to do anything you’re not supposed to do and don’t try to take something that’s not there,” O’Leary said. “Just go through your reads and deliver the ball. Hand it off. And if we punt the ball we punt the ball on fourth down, I don’t have a problem.”
Both O’Leary and his Penn State counterpart James Franklin have preached ball security since arriving in Ireland.
Franklin is particularly wary of a UCF defense that helped force 26 turnovers last season.
“I think the biggest thing is they’ve got nine guys returning from a team that won 12 games,” Franklin said. “They’ve got experience, they’ve got confidence, they know how to win. And I think more than anything else, they play sound and they play fast. They’re not going to find very often where they’re misaligned or outleveraged. And then they’ve done a great job of recruiting and developing.”
The Oldest “New” Trophy in Sports
Depending on the game’s outcome, Penn State or UCF players will get the chance to hoist the oldest, new trophy in sports.
The winners of the Croke Park Classic will take ownership of the Dan Rooney Trophy, named for the Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Found in an Irish swamp, the trophy has been carved from a 4,200-year-old bog yew — or petrified wood — that was carbon dated by scientists at Trinity College in Dublin.
The laces are from a piece of steel taken from the demolition of the Steelers’ Three Rivers Stadium, which stood for 30 years before it was imploded in 2001.
The Rooney Trophy made its debut at Beaver Stadium shortly after it was created last year. With Rooney beside him, GAA Director General Paraic Duffy announced the game in State College and presented the Rooney Trophy that was then sitting loosely on a wooden platform. It is now affixed to a steel structure.
“I want it in my house,” O’Leary said.
Nittany Nation alive and well
A Penn State spokesperson estimated nearly 10,000 fans showed up for a pep rally in the Temple Bar area late Friday afternoon.
A handful of Penn State players took to the stage on the cobblestoned-lined corner of Essex and Parliament to greet the fans. Sandy Barbour, Penn State’s new athletic director and Nittany Lion great Jack Ham also spoke to the crowd.
The Blue Band, cheerleaders and the Lionettes dance team also performed at the event.
UCF staged a brief walk-through practice at Croke Park mid afternoon while Penn State remained on the outskirts of town at University College Dublin for its own walk-through.
Neither practice was open to reporters.
Penn State opted not to take a final walk-through at Croke Park but did get a chance to take in more of the city. The Nittany Lions took their planned bus tour through Dublin and ate lunch at Trinity College.