Sports Update: ‘I didn’t know anything about the game really’ – Harry Redknapp on his GAA adventure

The former Premier League manager has spent part of the summer coaching West Cork side Castlehaven.

Updated at 09.37

HARRY REDKNAPP HAS found himself in some unusual situations of late.

Star Wars actor Hayden Christensen is not someone you would immediately associate with the 71-year-old former manager of Tottenham, QPR and West Ham, nonetheless their paths crossed recently.

Redknapp — whose last permanent job in football management was a brief stint as Birmingham City boss last season in the Championship — had agreed to coach one of the sides for Soccer Aid. And Canadian actor Christensen was one of his players.

“The last penalty taker was the boy who had been the star of Star Wars and he said to me when he turned up on the first day of training: ‘I’ve never kicked a soccer ball,’ and I went ‘right’.

“Anyway, he had to take the last penalty at Old Trafford in front of 76,000 people. Now, I knew he was going to miss. So he says to me ‘what do I do?’ and I said ‘kick it as hard as you can at the goal, just kick it at the goal’. [I said] ‘don’t try to put it in the corner, just kick it towards the goal’. I thought that would be a miracle.

“He hit his best shot ever, and he kicked it over the bar, which was much better than I expected.”

Often portrayed in the media as a somewhat old-fashioned football man, Redknapp’s career has not always been as straightforward as the conservative image suggests. In 2016, he briefly managed Jordan, overseeing an 8-0 win over Bangladesh and a 5-1 loss to Australia.

And now, he has agreed to undertake perhaps his most left-field challenge yet. As part of AIB’s new series, The Toughest Rivalry, Redknapp will take charge of Castlehaven in West Cork, with former Chelsea and Juventus star Gianluca Vialli managing Erin’s Isle in Dublin. The two teams will consequently renew their rivalry, having taken part in an infamous 1998 All-Ireland club semi-final, where Erin’s Isle prevailed in dramatic circumstances.

Redknapp was in Dublin to launch the series yesterday and spoke about his new experience learning about GAA and its culture.

“When they came and asked me to come over, I’d never seen a game, or didn’t know anything about the game really,” the former Tottenham boss said. “I thought: ‘Well, it’s going to be difficult.’ But then when they said Gianluca Vialli was going to manage the other team that we were playing against, I thought: ‘Well I must have a chance, what would he know about it?’ He’s Italian, he’ll know even less about this game than me.

“But no, it’s great. Doing something different in your life, coming over to somewhere I’ve never been before, meeting different people for a few days, I loved every minute of it.

Having spent so many years managing millionaires in the Premier League, Redknapp said it felt refreshing to take charge of a team of amateur athletes who were competing primarily for the love of the sport.

“They’d come in and train and trained hard. But they were just doing it because they loved doing it. They give up their time to be part of it. It’s all part of the community, they grew up, probably come through the U10s, all the way through to the first team.

“I couldn’t believe how good [the standard] was. People volleying balls to each other from 40 yards, bang — into people’s hands, great skill.”

AIB GAA #TheToughest Rivalry
Harry Redknapp pictured during a training session.


Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

And what did Redknapp feel he could bring to a world that had been largely alien to him up until recently?

“I tried to adapt things from soccer training sessions, into a GAA game. It’s very similar in lots of ways — you’ve got to volley that ball to score, you’ve got to beat the ‘keeper if you’re not kicking it over the bar.

“I did go and watch a training session before I went over. I watched [London GAA] train one night, and again, that was amazing watching the attitude of the players there, the way everything they did in training, they did to the absolute maximum.

“Then when I came to Castlehaven, people there were exactly the same.

“Everyone was involved with the team. The lady who ran the pub, the man who ran the corner shop, everybody had some part of the football club, all involved with it somewhere.

“It was only a few days, but it was a good few days. The weather, it rained every single day, all day. [I was] ankle deep in mud. But even the little U10s, watching them train, the little girls, they love it.

“And this game coming up, they’re still talking about the [previous] game. When they got beat before, I’ve watched a video of it — they showed it to me about 10 times. So I’ve got to make sure we won’t get beat. I saw Gianluca Vialli a couple of weeks ago, and he’s dead keen to win, we both are. Neither of us are going to want to lose.”

Harry Redknapp was in Dublin today at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Toughest Rivalry. The series, airing exclusively across AIB’s social channels, stars both Redknapp and former Italian footballer and Premier League manager Gianluca Vialli.

AIB’s Toughest Rivalry series will chronicle both Redknapp and Vialli’s journeys as the two powerhouses will take charge of two rival GAA clubs. Vialli with Erin’s Isle in Dublin, and Redknapp with Castlehaven in West Cork. The two teams faced off in an infamous 1998 AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Semi-Final, where Castlehaven were defeated by a last-minute questionable goal. The controversial ending left both teams with unfinished business.

The first episode of The Toughest Rivalry will air on Friday, July 13th and every Friday, exclusively on AIB’s social channels.

For exclusive content and behind the scenes action from The Toughest Rivalry follow @AIB_GAA on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and AIB.ie/GAA.

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