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Putting pep in their step in run-up to the main event

PERHAPS the GAA should give these American football pep rallies a try.

They could invite all the supporters for a major Croker playoff to a big party the night before, sell them beer and hot dogs and play them some rabble-rousing tunes.

The trouble is, how many of them would make it to the match the next day? But for American football fans the pep rally is an intrinsic part of the game.

For many fans, if they're going to the match, they can't miss the build-up at the pep rally the night before.

Last night at the O2, the event resembled a cross between a US presidential rally and a concert they put on when the Yanks come home.

Fiery speeches, drum rolls and the chanting of American voices mixed with some diddley-eye, a few haunting songs and a few effusive words from the Taoiseach.

Even in a venue accustomed to ear-shattering decibels, the walls shuddered to the deafening sound of the Notre Dame marching band and then the cheerleaders started their routine, kicking sky-high in their tiny skirts -- it was enough to get any man's blood racing.

Some 14,500 Americans, corporate guests and the odd Irish fan jammed into the arena for a unique blend of battle cries and entertainment.

Among them were James Bailey and James Bailey, two cousins who share a name, from Chicago, and whose grandfather hailed from Kilkenny.

They were loving how friendly the Irish are, but thought the food was dreadful -- "no wonder you guys are so thin".

Patrick Donahue had travelled all the way from Wyoming with his brother Daniel, from South Dakota, and they too had explored their ancestral home -- this time in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Patrick hasn't been at many pep rallies but he said it was "part of the game, it's part of the act and I'm going to enjoy it".

Most of the crowd seemed to be made up of families, among them the Biddles from Michigan, who included mum and dad Kay and Jeff and sons Stevie, John and Jeff Jnr.

They were delighted with their front-row seats which were thanks to Stevie's late-night internet surfing habits -- he was one of the first in when they came online at 3am.

Dreamed

Americans seem to enjoy an almost childlike enthusiasm for homeland and history so Taoiseach Enda Kenny was preaching to the converted when he told them: "You are our people, our distant cousins, you are part of us because you are part of who we were in past times, difficult times in rebellion, in famine and emigration, while our people hoped and dreamed of a new life and a better future.

"In the name of your forefathers, your foremothers, we welcome you home.

"It's going to be a mighty few days, showcasing all Ireland is and all we have to offer."

He added: "Let me assure you in the United States that Ireland and its people, in true Fighting Irish style, are fighting back in the face of economic challenges, which we are determined to overcome."

Miriam O'Callaghan was the MC for a line-up which included Damien Dempsey, Brian Kennedy and a finale from the High Kings.

The game today between the Navy and the Fighting Irish side of Notre Dame has brought about 35,000 American visitors to Ireland for an average stay of a week. Some €70m is expected to be added to the economy over the course of the event.

They should make it annual.

Irish Independent