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US ambassador gives boost to Croke Park's bid to stage €50m NFL bonanza

GAA top brass are keeping their fingers crossed that Croke Park can secure a €50m boost to Ireland's beleaguered economy after the staging of a major American football game moved a step closer.

US ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney revealed a visiting delegation were "very impressed" after a tour of the stadium last Friday to give a major shot in the arm to the bid to host an NFL match.

The home of the GAA has competition for the right to stage a regular NFL season game, with Frankfurt's Commerzbank-Arena and the Olympic stadium in Munich thought to be Croke Park's main rivals. Edinburgh's Murrayfield is considered an outside bet.

Wembley stadium in London has hosted NFL matches recently, but with the Olympics coming to the English capital next summer, its suitability is in question. With a capacity of just over 82,000, the Jones's Road venue holds a distinct advantage over its rivals.

"They were very impressed," Rooney said in an interview with Newstalk's 'Off the Ball'. "I did talk with them and they thought the stadium was excellent and that the professionalism and management of Croke Park (was good) and that they could work with that as well as anywhere."

Rooney is chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but warned that his side would not be in a position to move a 'home' game to Dublin due to contractual obligations -- though he left the door open for the Steelers to play an 'away' game here. The Steelers played in Croke Park in 1997 when they beat Chicago Bears 30-17, before the stadium's multi-million euro facelift.

"The league does want it to be successful, so they would try to pick teams that would generate interest," said Rooney. "I think the Steelers would generate more interest here, but I'm a little biased."

"There are a number of clubs in the NFL that are willing to (give up home games). So that wouldn't be too major a stumbling block."

That Dublin is already due to host an American football match in 2012 when Notre Dame face Navy at Lansdowne Road on September 1 may count against the city, but Rooney insisted Ireland is in a strong position.

"The commissioner of the NFL is an Irishman and you have me and a lot of other other (Irish) guys involved in NFL teams. And here you have a great stadium and a great city that people want to come too. And the Irish get up for a big event, especially sporting events, so there have been a lot of plusses without question."

Croke Park Stadium director Peter McKenna revealed that they expect to learn of the NFL's decision by early February.

"We have to have our submission in by December 16. It's a joint effort between Dublin Tourism, Dublin City Council and the GAA, a sport, city, state venture. We were very happy with our presentation and we'd expect to hear the outcome around Superbowl time (February 5). "It very much depends if they (NFL) are going to expand beyond London and whether that happens in 2012 or 2013."

May's Europa League final in Lansdowne Road generated an estimated €30m for the economy.

Irish Independent