WATCH: ‘Strong relationship’ exists between GAA and the Steelers says Dan Rooney

The Pittsburgh Steelers held the camp at Deramore Park in south Belfast

Daniel Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers throwing a football with kids at Deramore Park in Belfast during the Steelers Youth Camp
Daniel Rooney at the Pittsburgh Steelers Youth Camp which was held at Deramore Park in Belfast. PICTURE: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

RELATIONS between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the GAA are really strong, according to Dan Rooney, Director of Business Development and Strategy.

The Steelers held two youth camps over the weekend in Deramore Park in Belfast and the MTU Stadium in Cork.

The Belfast camp was well-attended with a mix of ages and various levels of experience, with GAA, Rugby and NFL jerseys spotted around the Belfast Harlequins ground.

Former Antrim hurler Neil McManus was in attendance as a guest of Dan Rooney, with the two having built up a relationship when McManus represented the GPA in a recent visit to Ireland’s fund centre and Steelers facilities in Pittsburgh.

Rooney is a member of the family, originally from Newry, that founded the Steelers organisation and his family has always had close ties to Ireland.

“The GAA has been incredible to us in the past year, opening the doors to Croke Park for watch parties and our announcement back in 2023 and allowing us to learn from their great reach across the island of Ireland,” said Rooney.

“We were able to have a group of GAA staff [including GAA president Jarlath Burns and McManus] into our fund centre in Pittsburgh a few months ago so back and forth between both parties, a really strong relationship there.”

Recently, the team has used their extensive links to Ireland to grow the game of American football nationally through events.

“We want to cover the island with events and you know bring our content and our game to the Irish fans,” said Rooney.

“The fact that two of our current players have made the trip over is very significant to us and we’re looking forward to doing more of these in future.

“I think it’s very significant for the Irish to see that our current players are taking an interest in Irish culture and I can already tell that these guys are really enjoying the trip.”

One of the players who made the transatlantic trip was Connor Heyward, a tight end and fullback for the Steelers.

Heyward has played in the league for three years and caught for 167 yards last season.

“Growing up in Georgia, playing college at Michigan State and getting drafted by the Steelers, I’ve been a lot of places playing the game I love, but I’ve never been overseas,” said Heyward, who played 17 games last year.

“Being able to come over here and teach [the kids] the game, watch them, see where they’re at, it’s extremely cool, it’s humbling to be in this position.

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward high fiving a participant at the Steelers Youth Camp in Belfast
Steelers tight end Connor Heyward was humbled by his experience at the Pittsburgh Steelers Youth Camp held at Deramore Park in Belfast. PICTURE: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

“It’s extremely cool to see multiple games be played all over every year, whether that’s Germany, whether that’s Spain, I would definitely love to play here [in Ireland] if given the opportunity.

“You guys have the stadiums, you guys have the stadiums, you have everything we need, we just need to bring our helmets and our pads and we’re ready.”

With the growing interest in the sport in Ireland, helped by Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth being signed by the New Orleans Saints, there is more of a call for an NFL game to be held in Ireland, with college football already being played here every August.

The NFL is currently conducting a feasibility test for a game in Dublin, with the Pittsburgh Steelers outlining from the start their ambition for the franchise to play a regular season game at Croke Park.

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a welcome return to Croke Park today, where they played in the first ever NFL game in Ireland in 1997. The Steelers plan to grow their fanbase and the game of American Football in Ireland as part of the NFL’s ‘Global Markets Program’. Pictured is former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart who played in 1997, with, from left, Dublin GAA legend and NFL fan Hannah Tyrrell, Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Business Development & Strategy Daniel Rooney and Kerry All-Ireland winner and Steelers fan Paudie Clifford. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Former GAA President Larry McCarthy (not pictured) was confident that the Steelers could host an NFL game in Croke Park by 2028, with the Steelers still keen on fulfilling that dream. PICTURE: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rooney said: “It’s really an NFL call.

“We’re anxiously waiting for word from them in terms of their findings.”

It is safe to say that an NFL game in GAA HQ is a way off yet but the events that are happening around the island of Ireland can only help the cause with more fans, particularly Steelers fans, being born with every event put on.