J. Thomas McNamara

     Illinois is going to Ireland to open its 2021 football season with Nebraska its opponent in Dublin.
Director of Athletics Josh Whitman and Ireland officials made the announcement earlier today (Monday, Oct. 14), and then met with the media prior to Lovie Smith’s weekly press conference in the Memorial Stadium press box.
     The Fighting Illini will pack up and head to Ireland when opening the 2021 season against Big Ten-foe Nebraska as part of the Aer Lingus College Football Series in Dublin. The University of Illinois, the University of Nebraska and Irish American Events Limited are partnering to take an American Football game to Aviva Stadium in Dublin for a Week Zero game on Aug. 28, 2021.
     “The University of Illinois, our football program, our alumni and fans, and the entire Fighting Illini family are in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Emerald Isle,” Whitman said. “When first approached about this game almost two years ago, we had immediate interest. This game will provide an incredible educational opportunity for our football student-athletes who, because of their schedule, generally do not receive the same international experiences as many of our other student-athletes.
     “For our fans, I hope they will journey with us across the Atlantic for a wonderful trip and a major football game, all set against the beauty of Ireland.”
     Speaking about the announcement, An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar T.D. said, “It’s great to see new teams getting involved in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. Ten of thousands of fans are expected to make the journey for each game in the series over the next five years, bringing with them a huge boost for the economy. Illinois and Nebraska players and fans can look forward to the best of Irish hospitality.
     The series will showcase Ireland as a location for international events and tournaments and put our world-leading tourism sector front and centre. The 2020 game between Notre Dame and Navy is fast approaching and now sports fans have another great occasion to plan for in 2021.”
     Lord Mayor of Dublin, Paul Mc Auliffe said, “It is a privilege to be here at the University of Illinois for the announcement of the teams for the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic. I welcome the news that both the University of Illinois and University of Nebraska teams and fans will travel to Dublin in 2021 and I look forward to seeing the colour and energy that they will bring to the city of Dublin. Dublin and Ireland are ready to welcome you! This fixture is an important date in our calendar and showcases Dublin as a destination for hosting major international sporting events.”
     The Illinois-Nebraska game is the second in a series of games in the Aer Lingus College Football Series and will be the first Fighting Illini game played outside the United States.
     “Irish American Events was formed in 2015 with a goal to establish Ireland as the European headquarters of college football,” said John Anthony, of Irish American Events Limited. “Today as we announce the Fighting Illini versus Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2021, we are thrilled to have these programs pursue this tremendous opportunity for their student-athletes, fans, and universities.
The 2021 Aer Lingus Classic will be the second game in an annual five-game series, as they will proceed Notre Dame and Navy visiting Ireland along with ESPN College GameDay in 2020. This is the first time in history that there will be consecutive years of American college football games in Ireland. We are honored that these universities recognize that the Aer Lingus College Football Classic is much more than a game and Irish American Events is thrilled to promote and operate this prestigious series.”
     The teams will travel to Dublin earlier that week to practice and acclimate to the different time zone, as well as enjoy various cultural experiences. Television assignment and game time has yet to be determined.
     The original date for this game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign was Nov. 13, 2021, and with the change, will give Illinois two bye weeks that season.
     I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

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