Content Warning: This story contains mentions of suicide
DUBLIN — One of the biggest steps in Northwestern’s journey to the Aer Lingus College Football Classic came on a busy day in February.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his wife Stacy traveled to Ireland in February, six months before the Wildcats’ victory over Nebraska on the Emerald Isle. Fitzgerald’s grandmother emigrated from Ireland to the US and spent the first day of her trip talking to relatives and visiting personal family history sites for her.
The trip had an instant impact on the NU coach.
“We went to dinner that night and I looked at (Stacy) and she looked at me, and we were like, ‘That was amazing,'” Fitzgerald said. “We couldn’t even describe it in words.”
Only a handful of college football teams have competed in Ireland. The programs featured have tended to have strong ties to Ireland, from Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish mascot to Boston’s large number of Irish immigrants to Boston College.
NU’s participation in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic had its own connection to Fitzgerald’s Irish heritage. For him, Saturday’s game against Nebraska was not only a decisive victory, but also a homecoming.
Fitzgerald’s father arrived in Ireland, making his first trip to his mother’s homeland, along with his youngest son, Brendan, and dozens of other relatives. The team took a photo at Aviva Stadium after the matchup, which Fitzgerald said he hopes will be “lasting.”
GO CATS ??
What an experience supporting our cousin Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats at the Aviva yesterday.
Dad’s aunt, Bridget, left Nurney many years ago for Chicago. Little did she know that her grandson would return to Ireland in 2022 as head coach! What a day! pic.twitter.com/4kYM16dJUX
— Lorna Merrins (@lornamerrins) August 28, 2022
The trip was just as emotional for junior quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who was named the starting quarterback less than a half hour before kickoff.
His parents write him a note before every game, he said, and when he opened the card before Saturday’s matchup, a green stain fell off. The shamrock-style emblem read “Ireland 2012” and had been worn by his brother Tyler during a youth tournament in the country in 2012.
Tyler, who later played quarterback at Washington state, committed suicide in 2018. For Hilinski, wearing the patch on his pants during the game was a way to get his brother another win.
“As soon as I saw my mom (after the game), I thought, ‘Hilinskis is now 2-0 in Ireland,’” Hilinski said. “Ireland has a special place in my heart, a special place in the Hilinskis’ heart, for sure.”
His family has other ties “here and there” in Ireland, he said. Hilinski noted that his first-year coach owns a restaurant in Dublin, where his parents dined during their trip and met with his coach.
Before Saturday’s showdown, the UN trip to Ireland had the hallmarks of a business trip. The Cats ventured out for dinner and fun at a local restaurant and a University-sponsored event at the Guinness Storehouse, but balanced the fun with practice and game preparation.
The win against Nebraska gives NU permission to let loose in the days to come. Fitzgerald said he was ready for “good, clean Irish fun” after the victory. Junior defensive back Cam Mitchell put his priorities more clearly: He said in the postgame news conference that he was ready to party.
On Sunday, some players went exploring with family, like second-year offensive lineman Jackson Carsello and junior defensive lineman Jaiden Cameron, who visited the seaside town of Howth and went out for seafood.
Fitzgerald’s postgame plans included even more football. He said he followed his son Ryan’s high school game in Illinois after Saturday’s game and planned to watch his eldest son Jack play high school football on national television Sunday morning. the night.
“In the middle, I might have a little bit of Guinness,” Fitzgerald said. Something by Jameson or something.
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