GAA president hopes Croke Park will host an NFL game within five years

Pittsburgh Steelers played the Chicago Bears in a pre-season game at Croke Park in July 1997

Larry McCarthy hopes Croke Park will host a regular season Pittsburgh Steelers NFL game within five years.

The GAA president believes a fixture can be arranged during the lifespan of the partnership announced earlier this week in which Pittsburgh attained the NFL marketing rights for the island of Ireland.

Through the NFL’s global markets program, franchises apply for access to selected international markets and are awarded those rights for at least a five-year term. Representatives of the Steelers travelled to Croke Park on Thursday to formally launch their arrival in the Irish marketplace, and McCarthy believes an American Football game is likely to take place at the home of the GAA within that five-year window.

“I think it is, yeah,” he said. “They were here before, in 1997 they had a preseason game here. There are deep roots and connections between the country and the family and the organisations, so I think it is achievable.”


The Steelers played the Chicago Bears in a preseason game at Croke Park in July 1997, which remains the only NFL match to be played in Ireland. Now, McCarthy reckons bringing a regular-season NFL game to Dublin for the first time is the next step.

“As I’ve said to them privately, it has to be a game, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a competitive game, it has to be a game in a competition,” added McCarthy.

“We have sent teams abroad for many years to places like New York where they have gone over and played friendlies. That’s gone, people have no interest in those any more. They want a game in a competition, even though it mightn’t transpire to be a competitive game, it has to have relevance.

“Would you take a preseason game? Yes, you would. But an NFL regular season game is the ultimate what you are looking for.”

The Steelers brought a touch of razzmatazz to the launch at Croke Park on Thursday – two American Football field goal posts were erected on the pitch, while Kordell Stewart, the former Pittsburgh quarterback who played in that 1997 game, was among those in attendance.

In the shorter term, the arrangement will see NFL watch parties hosted at Croke Park for Pittsburgh games in the US. But Daniel Rooney, director of business development and strategy with the Steelers, was non-committal when asked how long it would take to arrange the logistics for a game to take place in Ireland.

He also said no decision had been made as regards the venue for a possible game – but given how they used Croke Park as their launch pad in Ireland, and with the GAA clearly open to hosting an NFL fixture, it would be a surprise if it took place elsewhere.

“Can’t make any predictions,” commented Rooney. “I know our aspirations long-term are to play a game in Ireland, certainly.”

With the NFL regular season running at the back end of the calendar year, utilising Croke Park for an American Football game would be less impactful on the GAA season than at the height of summer.

“It would work in context of the club intercounty season because the NFL is a Fall season,” added McCarthy.

“Particularly in the context of the NFL’s marketing strategy of going abroad, getting out of the United States. Five games in Europe is significant, they’ve played in Mexico, I think they played some preseason games in the Far East, I don’t know if there have been any regular season games in the Far East. Why not here? No bias here, we’ve the best stadium in Europe.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times