Thursday 12 December 2019

Anfield turns to Antrim native steeped in GAA history

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

WHEN they decided to target a young, talented sophisticate to replace Kenny Dalglish, few would have imagined that Liverpool's American owners would turn to a man steeped in the GAA.

Antrim native Brendan Rodgers may be best known for his slick-passing Swansea City side, who took the Premier League by storm last season, but he has spoken previously about how he took to soccer late and was more interested in hurling and Gaelic football as a child growing up in Carnlough, Co Antrim.

Although he grew up with his father Malachy extolling the virtues of the great Brazil teams, Rodgers was too busy playing Gaelic games to take soccer seriously. It was only when his cousin, Nigel Worthington, made it as a professional that his head was turned and his life changed forever.

"I played Gaelic football and hurling, but not soccer, except in the street, until I was 13," he explained.

It was when he went to school at St Patrick's College in Ballymena -- the same school as Liam Neeson -- that Rodgers took soccer seriously. He found he was quite talented, attracting attention from Manchester United, where he spent his school holidays as part of their youth set-up.

However, Rodgers felt he couldn't fulfil his ambitions at Old Trafford and, after playing for local club Ballymena United in the Irish League, he earned a move to Reading in 1990. His playing career was cut short at the tender age of 20 when he was forced to retire due to a genetic knee condition.

He gravitated towards coaching and took up a position as the Royals' youth team coach, while he also spent time visiting the set-ups at Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla.

Jose Mourinho recognised his coaching gifts and lured him to Chelsea to become reserve coach.

Watford handed him his first job as first-team manager and Reading brought him back in 2009. But things didn't work out at the Madejski and he was sacked after a series of poor results.

When Roberto Martinez left Swansea City a year later, the Welsh club took a punt on the Antrim man and both parties never looked back.

Now, he's set to follow in the footsteps of Monaghan man John McKenna, who is the only other Irishman to manager Liverpool. He shared the role with WE Barclay between 1892 and 1896.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport