New football leprechaun reflects on journey
Courtney Becker | Friday, September 23, 2016
For junior Joe Fennessy, being the Notre Dame leprechaun is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“I didn’t really have too much of a purpose freshman year,” he said. “I went to sports all the time. They used to count points for going to sports, so I came second in the school for that and I was always at the games, but this finally gave me an opportunity to be part of a team again with cheerleading. … It was a great outlet for being a lunatic. It’s been awesome.”
Fennessy wasn’t sure whether or not he would try out to be a leprechaun at first, he said, but once he got comfortable during the tryout process he knew he was a good fit for the job.
“There’s a bunch of cheerleaders in Stanford Hall, so I approached some of them … and they said to come out for [tryouts],” he said. “I had a lot of fun. … The last 15 minutes to half-hour are a spontaneous event. The first day I did it there was a dance-off, and I knew I could bust some moves.”
Fennessy spent his sophomore year as a Notre Dame leprechaun who handles sporting events other than football and men’s basketball — a role currently filled by junior Tom Helios — and one Fennessy considers just as valuable an experience as the position he is in now.
“No matter what level you are, what sport you’re doing, you mean a lot to some people,” he said. “They are crazy happy to see you. You forget how happy a single person can make someone sometimes, so that’s always a cool thing to see someone light up.”
Being suited up as the leprechaun on campus during home football game weekends, however, is a completely new and overwhelming experience for Fennessy. His game day starts at 9:30 a.m. for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff time and is extremely action-packed, he said.
“Pretty much all day it’s a ton of photo ops,” Fennessy said. “Going from location to location can be crazy so the male cheerleaders form a pod around me and the female cheerleaders line up and we kind of maneuver the crowds doing that.”
Fennessy said he appreciates the support his teammates on the cheerleading squad offer him during these weekends.
“They’re fantastic,” he said. “They’re my teammates, my bodyguards, my friends.”
Not that Fennessy minds fan interactions. They’re his favorite part of the job, he said, particularly interactions with kids.
“Anytime you see little kids it’s a blast,” Fennessy said. “Some of them will hug you or they’ll ask for autographs, cool things like that; some of them will run away from you, so little kids are awesome.”
Fennessy said the moments that really stand out, however, are the ones that have a visibly profound effect on a fan.
“The other day … there was a lady and her child clearly had a disability, he was in a wheelchair, and we were in our pod, cruising through campus, trying to get from point A to point B and she asked for a picture,” he said. “Of course we immediately stopped and we all took a picture, myself and the cheerleaders, and she actually started crying, so that was a pretty cool interaction just to see how much it means to some people.”
Fennessy said he also has some positive memories of run-ins with away fans, who are often just as excited to see him as Notre Dame fans are.
“Away fans and I definitely take a lot of pictures and have some good banter,” he said. “I make sure to always keep them on their toes. I’ll throw some shade on them or at first sometimes I’ll be like, ‘No chance,’ and then be like, ‘Just kidding, get in here, let’s take a photo.’ … I’ve never had a bad interaction with away fans.”
Once he makes it to the football field on game days, Fennessy said he most looks forward to leading the team out of the tunnel and pumping up the student section.
“I get psyched for the moments before the football team runs out of the tunnel,” he said. “When the student section gets rocking, like when we were coming back against Michigan State, I was losing my mind pretty bad.”
Even as the leprechaun, though, Fennessy is not immune to the disappointments every fan experiences when something doesn’t go Notre Dame’s way.
“I take it hard when we get scored on,” he said. “I don’t pretend to be happy when things aren’t going well, and it’s great because I can be myself, I can be the leprechaun and I keep things positive, of course, but I’m just as much losing my mind as anyone else, if not more.”
Fennessy said the hardest part of being the leprechaun is simply spending all day smiling for pictures, but he has come up with a solution for this problem.
“You’ve got to be happy because every time you’re in the suit you’re representing Notre Dame, so sometimes it hurts to smile,” he said. “Then I’ll go with my serious leprechaun face, instead.”
After experiencing two home games already, Fennessy is still in awe of the power the leprechaun suit has to turn him into a public figure.
“It’s cool to think that you are one of the biggest faces of Notre Dame by being a lunatic that dresses up in a green suit,” he said. “I’m just a 21-year-old kid that’s like everyone else, but I throw on a green suit sometimes.”