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For some Northwestern alumni, a home game like no other

Northwestern grads living in Dublin cheer on the Wildcats
Leslie Jabara Wrenn and Lisa McCarthy at the Northwestern pep rally in Merrion Square Park, near the center of Dublin.

It was a seven-and-a-half-hour flight from Chicago to Dublin for Saturday’s season-opening football game against Nebraska, making it an incredible journey for many Wildcats fans.

But for a select few, it was something a bit different: The ultimate home game.

“This is so special,” said Lisa McCarthy ’16, who grew up in Dublin and returned here for medical school three years ago. McCarthy, who was a two-time All-American on Northwestern’s field hockey team, first heard that Northwestern would be playing in her hometown through a notification on her phone.

‘This is all of my worlds colliding’

“When the notification came through, I was like, ‘No way!’” she said. “I was thinking, ‘This is all of my worlds colliding.’”

Leslie Jabara Wrenn ’95 had a similar reaction. Wrenn, who played tenor sax in the Northwestern University Marching Band, moved to Dublin in 2015, two years after meeting her future husband, Dubliner Tony Wrenn. When she heard her ’Cats would be playing here, she was at work. Her phone and social media accounts blew up. 

“Everyone was like, ‘Did you hear? Did you hear?’” Wrenn said. “I was literally beaming the rest of the day.”

Both Wrenn and McCarthy were beaming Friday at the Northwestern pep rally in Merrion Square Park, near the center of Dublin. Looking out over a sea of purple in her adopted hometown, Wrenn could hardly believe her eyes. Since moving to Dublin, she has watched Wildcats games on streaming services and friends’ Roku devices, sometimes staying up until the wee hours of the night for late-starting games.

‘I really miss the band and the cheer squad and the crowd’

“I haven’t been back to the states in six years. This is the first game I’ve seen in person since I moved here,” she said. “People ask what I miss (about the States), and I know it’s going to sound cheesy, but I really miss the band and the cheer squad and the crowd. It’s hard to explain to people here. Autumn is the hardest time of the year for me because I just want to go to college football games and hear the marching bands.”

For McCarthy, having the game in Dublin is yet another stop on her Northwestern journey. After graduating in 2016, she worked for three years at LinkedIn in San Francisco, a job she landed in part due to connections she made at Northwestern — a fellow Wildcat who was working at LinkedIn coached her through the interview process. Once she arrived at LinkedIn, she found a welcoming environment. “There was such a huge Northwestern contingent at LinkedIn,” she said. “People would finish meetings by saying, ‘Go ’Cats!’”

Having the football game in Dublin has allowed McCarthy more opportunities to practice her “Go ’Cats!” — and to bring her two worlds together. She plans to hold a tailgate at her house for about 40 people Saturday, a mix of Northwestern friends in town for the game and Irish friends who live in Dublin. It will not be without some significant effort.

‘I’m trying to get as many of my Irish pals to go as possible’

“No one knows what a tailgate is,” McCarthy said. “You can’t go to Costco and order 60 sandwiches for an event. We’re not that kind of commercialized society. I’m trying to get as many of my Irish pals to go as possible.”

Wrenn, too, is working hard to turn her Irish friends into Wildcats. She bought a block of 32 tickets for the game and plans to spend Friday night and Saturday night with friends at a local hotel, while her husband and daughter watch from home.

“I want to have pints and pretend I’m still in college,” she said. “This is a home game for me. It’s been a tough year for a lot of reasons, including COVID. This is the universe saying to me, ‘Here you go: This is your gift.’”