For WWE's Sheamus, Notre Dame football provides a little slice of home

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Sheamus was nervous.

This is a man who, at Wrestlemania 28 in April 2012, delivered a leaping bicycle kick to Daniel Bryan’s jaw to win the World Heavyweight Championship in front of 78,363 fans inside Miami’s Sun Life Stadium and more than 1.2 million people watching the event at home.

This is a four-time World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) World Heavyweight Champion, a two-time United States Champion and the winner of the 2012 Royal Rumble match. This is a 6-foot-4, 267-pound slab of pale white concrete, with an orange Mohawk that stretches skyward towards the heavens and a wild beard twisted into a series of dangling braids. This is the deliverer of the “Brogue Kick,” the “Irish Curse Backbreaker,” “White Noise” and the “Beats of the Bodhran” — signature wrestling moves designed to break the body and extinguish the soul.

This is a man who claims 3.4 million followers on Twitter. That’s more than Michael Phelps, Jordan Spieth and J.J. Watt. It’s more than Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Kris Bryant combined. It’s nearly 21 times more than seventh-year Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly. Sheamus has more Twitter followers than the countries of Jamaica and Lithuania have residents.

This is a man who appears prominently on the USA Network every Monday, who has spoken and wrestled in front of sold-out arenas from Tupelo, Miss., to Shanghai, China.

This is also a life-long Notre Dame football fan.

So, yeah, he was nervous.

“I got to talk at the pep rally which was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done," said Sheamus, who made a return to trip to Notre Dame this past weekend. "It was hugely nerve-wracking. I was very nervous.”

It was Nov. 13, 2015, a day before Notre Dame hosted Wake Forest for its Senior Day game in South Bend. Sheamus was invited to attend his very first Irish football game and address the team and its fans at the weekly pep rally.

This is a man who, besides booting heads off of necks and body-slamming overmatched opponents into oblivion, speaks in front of thousands of people on a weekly basis.

But even that couldn’t prepare him for a few thousand fans jammed inside the Joyce Center on a Friday night.

“I’m a visitor coming in here. I wanted to make sure it was impactful,” Sheamus said. “Some people might think that I’m not a real fan or a fair-weather fan. I wanted to show how passionate I was about the team winning and beating Wake Forest. Last year, we were hoping we were going to go on and become national champions. So it was nerve-wracking for me.

“With Brian Kelly there and all the players, I wanted to make sure I represented WWE and myself well and basically show that I’m passionate about Notre Dame and Notre Dame football.”

Donning a green Notre Dame hat that suffocated his signature orange Mohawk, Sheamus stood in front of the Irish football team on an elevated stage, holding a microphone in one massive hand and a WWE championship belt in the other.

“I have to say, I’m truly pumped right now,” Sheamus began. “This has been a day to remember for the rest of my life, to be honest. I come straight from Dublin, Ireland, and there certainly is no more famous football team than the football team from Notre Dame.”

The professional wrestler known as “The Celtic Warrior,” who grew up in Dublin hearing about Notre Dame football from uncles who lived in the United States, offered one end of the championship belt to Kelly, and they held it over their heads as the crowd’s applause grew into a rowdy roar.

“Be loud!” Sheamus bellowed. “Be proud! Go Irish!”

BE LOUD.

BE PROUD.

GO IRISH!

One of the best pep rally speeches ever, thanks to @WWESheamuspic.twitter.com/Fb8xYhIyZQ

— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) November 14, 2015

“I don’t rehearse stuff too much,” Sheamus explained nearly a year later. “I have a couple ideas of what I want to say, but to go there and have a speech … it has to come from the heart.

“I spoke from here,” he added, tapping on his enormous chest.

In Notre Dame, the Irish wrestler sees elements both of his past and present. Before he began wrestling, Sheamus — whose name away from the ring is Stephen Farrelly — grew up in Dublin playing Gaelic football for Erin’s Isle, a local club team.

The passion that courses through college football in the United States exists also in the Gaelic football clubs that represent their counties and regions in Ireland.

“There’s a lot of pride,” Sheamus said. “Our players are not professional. They’re amateur players. But they train like professionals, whether there’s wind or rain or snow. They have that dedication to the team. They’re not worried about, ‘What team can I got to next?’ and ‘Where can I make money next?’ It’s about being proud of your county.

“There’s a big relationship there. There’s the same kind of vision with college (football) teams, and especially Notre Dame.”

That’s why, when Notre Dame running back Josh Adams tip-toed along the boundary for a 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest, Sheamus was trailing behind him, running giddily along the sideline. That’s why he locked arms with the players following the 28-7 victory, smiling wide and singing the alma mater.

That’s why he returned to campus for the game against Michigan State.

WWE wrestler Sheamus attended Notre Dame's game against Michigan State on Saturday (SBT Photo/Jared Hamsher).

Saturday marked nine years to the day since Sheamus first arrived in the United States.

The Celtic Warrior knew just how and where to spend his anniversary.

“I wanted to get down for one game,” Sheamus said. “I leave Sunday morning, and I fly straight to Memphis for (“Monday Night Raw”). I’m missing a couple live shows in Kentucky.

“But I had to make sure I got here for this.”

Saying a few Hail Marys with Grandpa Cena at the ND Grotto... #jeanshortspic.twitter.com/DuB7I45A0k

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) September 16, 2016

Under the @NotreDame gold dome... #FaughABallagh#GoIrishpic.twitter.com/h0wRSU0USt

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) September 16, 2016

Bit of home... @AVIVAStadium Dublin at the @NDFootball GUG Athletic Complex... #GoIrishpic.twitter.com/em48uMiFsT

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) September 16, 2016

The best fans in College Football packed the Joyce Center to see WWE superstar Sheamus present NDFB w/ THE BELT. pic.twitter.com/L4OaEhZNtV

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) November 13, 2015

Loving the Joyce Centre @NotreDame@FightingIrishpic.twitter.com/TNNw7cZVP8

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) November 13, 2015

Iconic #NotreDame#TheFightingIrish... Put 'em up. pic.twitter.com/MQNaemcsxQ

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) November 13, 2015

Great meeting this boss @WWESheamus#GoIrish!! pic.twitter.com/fwrgZ1Dh1x

— Romeo Okwara (@RomeoND45) November 14, 2015

All hail #touchdownjesus@fightingirish@katiemattie#ndvswfpic.twitter.com/ex0KXP030g

— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) November 14, 2015

The sideline's never been cooler.@WWESheamus, you're invited to all of our games. pic.twitter.com/IfwRPul8Nk

— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) November 14, 2015

Big ups to @WWESheamus on supporting the Irish this weekend; can we get a meet up before you leave? pic.twitter.com/SfnW4s63Yq

— GoreSports (@GoreSports) November 14, 2015

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

WWE wrestler Sheamus sings the Alma Mater with players following the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 28-7. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN