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Sláinte: Celebrating the Steelers presence in Ireland

Editor's Note: Michael McQuaid is based in Ireland and is the co-host of the Irish Steelers Podcast

It has been a busy year for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the island of Ireland. With today being St Patrick's Day, it seems like a natural point to reflect on the work done by the organization over the past year.

Steelers awarded rights to the island of Ireland

Last May, the Steelers were awarded the rights to expand their team activities in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This initiative is part of the NFL's Global Markets Program. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney family are synonymous with the island of Ireland, a point in which President Art Rooney II expanded on at the time. "My family has deep roots throughout Ireland and being able to connect with our fans across the Island is something special to our organization", he said. "My father did so much in Ireland during his lifetime, first as one of the founders of the Ireland Funds, then as Ambassador. We look forward to growing our fan base and the love of American football in the years to come."

Irish Eyes Were Smiling

A mere two days following the announcement, the Steelers celebrated the news in an iconic setting: Dublin's Croke Park Stadium, where the team played a preseason game against the Chicago Bears in the American Bowl series in 1997. To this day, it is the only NFL game that has taken place in the stadium. Former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who played in the game was in the stadium for the announcement, alongside Steelers Director of Business Development & Strategy, Dan Rooney - the son of Steelers President Art Rooney II and grandson of the late Steelers owner Daniel M. Rooney, who also served as the United States Ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012.

For Dan, the connection between the Rooney family and Ireland was clear to see at Croke Park. "For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ireland is a special place. It's part of us. It's part of our being", he said. "We're proud to say it's not only part of our past, but also our future. We look forward to engaging Ireland with our fans across the island, those that are already members of Steelers Nation, twirling their Terrible Towels, or new fans that will learn about the Steelers through the events and initiatives we plan to bring."

In the following days, the Steelers also visited Northern Ireland and held a launch event in Belfast, as Dan and Kordell Stewart met with business and political leaders in Newry, an area close to the Rooney family heart, where the family emigrated from in the 1840's.


Continued Momentum

On the day of the launch announcement, the Steelers debuted dedicated Irish social media handles. Then just a few weeks later, the Steelers launched a dedicated podcast for the island of Ireland. "The Irish Steelers Podcast" aims to bring fans closer to the team.

Soon after the podcast was launched, the Steelers worked with various broadcasting avenues, allowing fans to view Steelers preseason games on the GAAGO platform across the island of Ireland and the team also welcomed Sky Sports to Acrisure Stadium for the Week 1 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. The trip from Sky Sports to Pittsburgh was a standout element of the first week of coverage in Ireland, with Max Starks, Santonio Holmes and other faces appearing on the broadcast, which was warmly received.

Steelers host an American Football Clinic in Ireland

The Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin is synonymous with Irish Olympians preparing for the Summer Olympics in Paris, alongside the Irish Rugby team. During a weekend in November, the Steelers hosted an American Football Clinic at the Campus, where approximately 60 youth took part, which included All-Ireland Minor Hurling Champions from County Clare and American Football Ireland athletes from across the island. Super Bowl XVIII MVP Holmes and Pro Football Hall of Famer Alan Faneca were in attendance alongside Dan Roone. The event allowed Irish youth to learn skills from legends of the game - one which Faneca thoroughly enjoyed. "We had so much fun with these kids," he said. "We are out here sharing knowledge, spreading the joy of American football and watching them grow. They are like sponges. They want to learn, and they want to know. To be out here sharing it has been exciting."

Outside of the American Football clinic, the trio of Faneca, Holmes and Rooney visited Croke Park, the GAA museum, the Guinness Storehouse and the EPIC Museum, which allowed each person to explore their ties to the island of Ireland. They also traveled to County Down to play a round of golf at Royal County Down.


A historic watch party in Croke Park

Less than six months from the initial launch for the Steelers in Croke Park, the team returned to put on the first-ever event of its kind organized by an NFL franchise on the island of Ireland - a watch party for the game against the Cleveland Browns. There were approximately 500 fans in attendance on the evening, with tickets selling out in under 24 hours of going on sale. Fans had the opportunity to meet and get autographs from Faneca and Holmes and the area was transformed into a Acrisure Stadium-like experience, with food, music and other elements that were similar to a game in Pittsburgh. Phoebe Schecter and Hannah Wilkes from Sky Sports NFL were also in attendance on the night, which took place in the Hogan Suite in the iconic stadium. Images of the game were also shared on the national broadcast in the United States on CBS.

For Newry native and lifelong Steelers fan Mickey Brady, it was an experience that will live with him forever. "It felt like a genuine homecoming party for the Rooney family and the Steelers organization", Brady said. "The moment you walked through the doors - it was on point. The decor, the music and hosts were superb. I had the chance to meet Santonio Holmes and Alan Faneca - a memory I will cherish forever."

For Dan Rooney, the evening was a culmination of the efforts put in from the franchise throughout the year. "The turnout by Steelers fans at our Watch Party was amazing," he said. "Seeing so much black and gold show up to cheer on the team at Croke Park made for a really special night."

Holmes has had many nights to remember - but the evening in Croke Park was right up there. "This atmosphere was amazing," said Holmes. "The Watch Party was off the chain. The reception that these fans in Ireland have given to me and Alan has been tremendous."


Future Steps

As we reach St Patrick's Day, the offseason takes another turn. There is no doubt that 2024 will be another busy year for the team on the island of Ireland, with events to be announced in due course. One event that will take place is the Steelers "Kicking Clinic" on Tuesday, April 16 at the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin, where former Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham will be in attendance alongside former punter Jordan Berry, as well as Ireland's Tadhg Leader of Leader Kicking.

One thing is for sure - Irish eyes continue to smile for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Happy St Patrick's Day - Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh.

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