A short drive from Aviva Stadium, site of the game dubbed the Emerald Isle Classic, and the team hotel are some of the most iconic landmarks in the country’s rich history, including the childhood home of Oscar Wilde, Trinity College and the Guinness brewery, makers of Ireland’s trademark export.
The Midshipmen won’t be visiting any of them.
“This is not a bowl game,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said last week.
Niumatalolo and his staff have been delivering that message consistently and forcefully as Navy embarks on a season of redemption. The Midshipmen went 5-7 last year, their first losing record since 2002.
Last season was particularly disheartening because Navy lost five games by a combined 11 points. The most infamous among them was a 35-34 defeat to Air Force on Oct. 1, when the Midshipmen stormed back from an 18-point halftime deficit to force overtime.
Navy scored the first touchdown in overtime, but an unsportsmanlike conduct call against quarterback Kriss Proctor moved the extra point kick back 15 yards. The Falcons’ Alex Means blocked place kicker Jon Teague’s attempt, and on the ensuing possession, Air Force scored the tying touchdown and won with the extra point.
Following the season, Niumatalolo determined that discipline and attention to detail had diminished from the coaching staff down to the players, and he made sure spring practice and training camp reflected a renewed commitment in that regard.
“There’s a time and place for vacationing and sightseeing, and I feel like that will come later in life,” senior slotback Bo Snelson said. “But right now, I’m looking forward to being able to play a game. It’s going to carry some weight being able to say I played in Ireland, but being able to say I played and won in Ireland is a whole lot better.”
Underscoring Niumatalolo’s pledge of a more rugged disposition, he did not permit a handful of players who failed their physical-readiness test to be a part of training camp. Those players eventually passed and rejoined practice, but Niumatalolo subsequently announced starting senior wide receiver Brandon Turner would not be accompanying the Midshipmen to Ireland.
Turner had been one of three players who failed the physical readiness test, and his absence on Saturday leaves Navy without both its starting wide receivers. The other is senior Matt Aiken, who injured his knee during a preseason scrimmage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Fighting Irish also will be short-handed after Coach Brian Kelly suspended quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese. The two were arrested in May for incidents stemming from an off-campus party in May.
Then early this week, Kelly announced the suspensions of running back Cierre Wood and reserve defensive end Justin Utupo for undisclosed violations of team rules.
In their annual game last season, Notre Dame dismantled Navy, 56-14, behind wide receiver Michael Floyd’s 126 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. Floyd also had a 10-yard touchdown run to help end the Midshipmen’s two-game winning streak against the Fighting Irish.
“I’m excited to get out of school for a few days and go to a foreign country. Who wouldn’t be?” Navy senior linebacker Brye French said. “We’re excited, but at the same time for us it’s a business trip.”