Pairing a Nebraska football game with a trip to Europe was the perfect combination for Omahan Lucas Kopietz.
“It was an easy sell,” he said. “There are so many cool sites and things to do.”
He and his girlfriend Hailey Jeratowski will join thousands of other Husker fans at Saturday’s Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Ireland.
Around 36,000 people are expected for the match against Northwestern at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Approximately 13,000 tickets were sold in the United States, including 9,000 to Husker fans.
“It’s going to make the city red,” said John Anthony, executive vice president of On Location and director of Irish-American Events, the game’s organizer. “Every pub operator and taxi driver will know Nebraska for still.”
Anthony expects the game to have an economic impact of around $50 million and said it will be the biggest tourism event of the year in the country.
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Best of all, he says, the Irish are just as excited for the fans to come for the game as the fans are for the Emerald Isle.
“They love Americans. They love the impact of tourism on their economy and they love the razzmatazz of college football,” he said.
Those who will share a passion for Husker football. But the other reasons for the trip are innumerable.
Kopietz and Jeratowski will celebrate their first anniversary by traveling to Portugal, Naples, Florence and Barcelona after a few days in Dublin. Terry and Kelly Thielen celebrate their retirement from teaching. Tom Lynch will open the new Father Flanagan Visitor Center. Trish Longacre and her family will end the trip with the wedding of a friend’s son.
For many of them, it’s almost like coming home.
Kelly Thielen’s maiden name is McGill. Longacre has O’Sheas and Tobins in his past. Monsignor James Gilg, who travels with people from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Omaha Sister Cities Association, comes from O’Donnells.
“My family is from there,” Kelly Thielen said. “It’s pretty neat to see where they come from.”
“I can’t wait to see the Irish campaign,” Gilg said.
Longacre said she has funded many trips for her children and this is finally one she can enjoy too. Friend Pat Barrett, a veteran visiting Ireland, helped them put together an itinerary that includes St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals, the Guinness Storehouse, O’Connell and Ha’penny Bridges, Dublin Castle, Trinity College and Temple Bar. And that’s right in Dublin.
They take short drives out of town, then travel further afield to places like Killarney and Kinsale, the Dingle Peninsula and then County Wicklow for the wedding.
“We’re going to do your typical fabulous tourist things,” she said. “I think probably for me, I really want to see the Cliffs of Moher. The Irish History Museum. I want to see lots of countryside and geography. I want to have a Guinness in the Guinness brewery.
Lynch hopes a couple of Husker fans will drive around two hours from Boys Town’s sister town of Ballymoe in County Galway in the west of Ireland. Lynch, Director of Community Programs at Boys Town, traveled with Boys Town Director, Father Steven Boes, to open Father Flanagan’s Visitor Center there today.
“It will be the story of Father Flanagan’s life in Ireland and his creation of Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska,” Lynch said. “I have been working with the people of the village for years. It was a dream to open this. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Honoring Father Flanagan and then going to see Big Red win in Ireland, I think will be exciting.
Gilg has previously visited the center and was traveling around the south of Ireland with his group ahead of the game. He also planned to travel to North Donegal with his sister, Mary Clare Haven, to visit the homeland of his maternal grandmother.
“Getting a sense of Irish culture,” Gilg said.
Even though the trip ended up costing more, the Thielens say they’re doing it instead of having a retirement party. Both taught for several years at Millard Public Schools and then at Skutt High School.
After the trip to Ireland, they plan to spend a few days in London and Paris. Before the match, they head to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Terry Thielen. “We have to win the game first. This is the most important thing.
Kopietz has been to Dublin before. Must-stops for him and Jeratowski are the Irish Whiskey Museum, the epic Immigration Museum, and the haunted and dark secrets of Dublin tours.
He saw the Aviva Stadium on a family trip a few years ago.
“I could never have dreamed that Nebraska would play there,” he said.
Photos: Husker Fan Day 2022