In the early 1980s, when John "Whitey" Sullivan was in charge, Father Judge kicked off its football season with a two-hour drive to Wildwood, N.J., and a clash at Maxwell Field, just blocks from the beach, against St. John Neumann.

Since the Beach Bowl days, the Crusaders mostly have stayed close to home in Week 1, usually playing a suburban foe such as Neshaminy or Council Rock North.

Now, Judge, setting the season-opening bar for future years at an incredibly high level, will take a 7 1/2-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean and play in Ireland.

On Aug. 31, at a 20,000-seat, grass stadium in Navan, County Meath, coach Tommy Coyle and the Crusaders will battle Notre Dame Prep, of Scottsdale, Ariz. The game will be played at 7:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. Eastern).

Judge is part of a 12-team tournament, run by Global Football Inc., that is being dubbed Dublin Friday Night Lights. Navan is about 30 miles outside of Dublin.

Coyle, also the school's admissions director, said the plan has been in the works for more than a year.

"There were a lot of hurdles to clear at first," he said. "We had to get the OK from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the school. A lot of people were willing to step up and help us make this happen."

Bill Gallagher, a 1968 Judge graduate who has been involved for several years with Global Football, will serve as game director.

Gallagher recently returned from Rome, where he helped coach Team Stars and Stripes, composed of 32 players from six states, to a 50-0 victory over a 19-and-under all-star squad from Italy in the sixth annual Global Bowl.

To ensure that things run smoothly, Gallagher and his wife, Mary, plan to arrive in Ireland a week earlier than Judge's travel party, which is expected to include around 160 people.

"It's going to be a big thing over there," Gallagher said. "Europeans love the game of football."

A bonus for those who book the trip through Global Football is a ticket to watch Notre Dame play Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sept. 1. In 1996, at Croke Park in Dublin, the two schools were part of the first NCAA Division I game played in Europe.

Gallagher is especially excited about the matchup, as he played running back for Notre Dame under coach Ara Parseghian in the early 1970s.

Judge is expected to take 52 players and 16 coaches to the Emerald Isle. Cost per person is in the neighborhood of $2,700, which includes hotel, airfare, meals, and admission to Notre Dame-Navy.

With fund-raising efforts, which have included the sale of raffle tickets and a recent benefit at the Sprinkler Fitters Union Hall, trip organizers hope to trim the out-of-pocket cost for each player to between $600 and $900.

"I was really excited when I first learned about this trip," said Vince Lostracco, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior and two-way lineman for the Crusaders. "I can hardly wait for it."

And what does Lostracco, who is receiving interest from the likes of Boston College and Temple, know about Ireland?

"I heard it rains a lot there," the 17-year-old said with a laugh.

Also making the trip will be Lostracco's parents, Vince and Grace, and 19-year-old sister, Christina. "I've been saving up all I can," young Vince Lostracco said. "At home, I have a jar full of quarters and dimes."

Junior Matt Robinson, a 6-1, 180-pound safety, said a trip to Hawaii is his longest to date. His parents, Robert (a defensive back for Judge in the mid-1970s) and Ann, and 14-year-old brother, Tom, are also bound for Ireland.

"My mom has cousins who live there," said Matt Robinson, who will be among the Crusaders' captains next season.

Brandon Spatz, a 6-1, 200-pound junior wide receiver and linebacker, is being recruited by a number of Division I-AA programs, including William and Mary, Lehigh, and Lafayette.

"To play football abroad, that's a real special opportunity," said Spatz, whose parents, Lee and Valerie, will be joining him. "It's something we'll cherish and talk about for a long time."

In organizing the trip and raising money, Coyle, a 1987 Judge graduate, said he has received solid support from Judge's 12th Man Club, school president Rev. Joseph Campellone, and his coaching assistants.

Outside of the immediate Judge family, Seamus Boyle, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the folks at Lloyd Sixmith Sporting Goods, a fixture for more than 50 years on Frankford Avenue, have played key behind-the-scenes roles.

"A lot of people have bought into what we're doing," Judge assistant coach Fran Costello said. "We still have some fund-raising to do, but we've made good strides. We're getting there."

Judge plans to leave for Ireland on Aug. 28 - some sightseeing is planned - and return Sept. 2. For more information or to contribute, go to www.fatherjudge.com (click on Athletics and then Football) or www.globalfootball.com.

Contact Rick O'Brien at robrien@phillynews.com, or @ozoneinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "The O'Zone," at www.philly.com/ozone