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Lazerus: ND trip to Ireland not all fun and games

SOUTH BEND IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits enter field with his team

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits to enter the field with his team before a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brian Kelly R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\16-Sep-10_102306225JD056_Michigan_v_N.jpg

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Updated: September 24, 2012 7:52AM



SOUTH BEND — Tens of thousands of Notre Dame fans can’t wait for next week, when they board a plane for Ireland, throw back a few pints of Guinness, maybe play a round of golf or two, then watch their Fighting Irish take on Navy in the unique setting of a Dublin soccer stadium.

But Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly can’t wait until it’s over, when he and his players get to come back home to prepare for a run-of-the-mill home game against Purdue.

“I love everything about Ireland,” Kelly said. “I’m not a big fan of playing football games in Ireland.”

Indeed, the once-in-a-lifetime event for fans and players has been a once-in-a-lifetime headache for the people who run the day-to-day operations of the football program. And it goes far beyond Kelly trying to figure out his practice field situation in Ireland, how to best prepare his team for what will be a 9 a.m. Eastern time start next Saturday, and how to ensure his players don’t feel the effects of this trip into weeks 2, 3 and 4.

“It is incredibly challenging,” ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “The logistics of it are something else.

“Not every 18-year-old has a passport. So you start with basic things like that — we have to get everyone a passport.”

From there, it only gets more unwieldy. Sure, there are customs issues to think about. But what about making sure ND’s players can have the kinds of meals they’re accustomed to in the land of black pudding (pig blood and barley, if you’re curious) and bangers and mash? What about preparing for a grass surface unlike anything the Irish will see stateside? And what about that notoriously soggy Irish weather?

Well, director of football operations Chad Klunder and equipment manager Ryan Grooms have been working on answering all those questions since May, when they took a scouting trip to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

The good: The team hotel did a nice job of “Americanizing” their meals (the locker room snacks and Gatorade have to be shipped ahead of time). Event organizers will provide outlet adaptors for every room in the hotel, every headset in the press box, and every piece of equipment on the sideline. And the coaches’ locker room and training tables will be better than any road game the Irish have in the States.

The bad: There are 28 locker stalls in the Irish locker room, while Notre Dame is bringing about 100 players. The offense will use that room, likely doubling up each locker — ND even requested that six “Hall of Fame” lockers be taken down to free up some room — while the defense will be in an auxiliary room next door. Also, the laundry situation is uncertain, so the team will simply pack a different workout outfit for each player for Thursday and Friday, along with the game uniform on Saturday.

Then there’s the grass, for which Grooms will be packing at least two different types of cleats. His biggest concern is how well the field will drain should it rain.

“If you get one of those soaking games, it can make a bad day for the equipment guy,” Grooms said. “We’re hoping for sunny skies in Dublin.”

Those extra cleats are part of a cargo load that weighs between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds, which the Irish already began forklifting into the bowels of their chartered, 300-seat Delta Airbus 330 on Wednesday afternoon at the South Bend airport.

The team leaves next Wednesday evening, arriving in Dublin early Thursday morning.

Usually, the equipment load is much lighter — this trip is a day longer than most road trips — and usually, it travels by truck, not on the team plane.

“It’s a lot,” Grooms said.

At least the Irish have a week to get the plane loaded for the trip there. They’ll have considerably less time to pack it back up for the flight home. In fact, the team will be using four trucks — one will be packed up and taken to the airport on Friday night, one will leave the stadium when the game starts, and one will leave the stadium a little after halftime to get a head start on the lengthy customs process, which involves the team listing and figuring out a value for every jersey, every football, every screwdriver and every headset they’re bringing along.

“If we brought everything to the airport that we have for a domestic game at one time and had to go through customs, we’d be there for a very long time,” Swarbrick said.

As for the on-field product, Kelly originally scheduled early morning practices all this week to get his players acclimated to the time difference, but he changed his mind and switched to afternoon practices for this week. Early morning workouts begin next week now.

“We know our clocks will be all screwed up when we get over there,” said ND lineman Zack Martin, who’s hoping for an exit row seat on the plane to give him any hope of sleeping on the flight. “And we need to be prepared for it.”

Grooms probably won’t get much sleep at all during the three-night stay in Dublin. He’s just glad the Ireland trip is the season-opener, and not midseason when he wouldn’t have training camp to prepare. That said, like Kelly, he wouldn’t mind never having to do this again, either.

“I’d much rather play here in South Bend any day of the week,” he said.



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