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The Life Of An Ireland Kit Man: Superman, Invisible Goals, And Eating Ice Cream With Roy Keane

The Life Of An Ireland Kit Man: Superman, Invisible Goals, And Eating Ice Cream With Roy Keane
By Gary Connaughton Updated

And so ends the strangest of years. 2020 will live on in infamy for the rest of our lives. So much has happened in the last 12 months, and yet, at times it felt as though nothing was happening at all. 

Our annual look back on our articles on Balls.ie reveals a year filled with frustration, anger, and disappointment, but also one full of joy and inspiration. 

Over the course of the week, we are sharing some of our favourite pieces from the maddest of years to relive some of what you may have forgotten or missed in 2020. 

You can read more of our favourite pieces here.

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21 years is a long time in any job. In football, it's a lifetime. Very few in the sport manage to hold onto a post for over two decades. In an industry where things can change so quickly, displaying such longevity is remarkable.

When the news broke that Dick Redmond would step down from his role as Ireland kit man, it truly was the end of an era. The Dubliner had spent 21 years with the Irish U21 and senior teams, experiencing every emotion that football has to offer somewhere along the way.

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Redmond will walk away with some incredible memories. He spent time under a number of different managers, went to major tournaments, was the only Irishman in the France dressing room on that night in Paris, went viral for wearing a Superman costume, and frequented the cinema with Roy Keane.

Safe to say it's been an eventful two decades, and it all started with a phone call.

How does one become a kit man for an international football team? Speaking to Balls, Dick revealed that like all great journeys in the sport, it started at grassroots level:

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Believe it or not, it came from my Whitehall Celtic days. I ran Whitehall Celtic for 21 years with Brendan White.

You do the exact same things apart from hanging the nets and marking the pitch, but everything else is to look after the players.

I remember getting a call about the U21s from Bernard O’Byrne, who was the CEO at the time, and I asked 'what do I have to do ?’

He said do exactly what you done with your club. It took off from there.

Of course, football has changed somewhat in the intervening years. Players are now asked to conduct themselves in an ultra professional manner, with more demands placed on them than ever before. The same can be said of kit men.

Gone are the days of ill-fitting jerseys, with players now expecting custom gear to suit their preferences perfectly. That ultimately falls to the kit man and his team, but it is far from the only duty that Dick carried out in the camp.

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He also catered to players' superstitions, and over the years he became the joker in the squad. It is a role he gladly filled, allowing helping in his bonding with the players. It is also an important one. He explains:

That’s very important, to have a bit of a joker in the camp and raise the mood, especially when the lads are down a day or two after a game.

The serious end of it was serious, but when it was time off it was time off. We partied and enjoyed it...

"There are superstitions. Robbie Keane and Seamus Coleman, the last thing they would do before they leave the dressing room is call me over and say ‘Dick, put on the armband’. It was things like that.

"Other players would sit down and listen to the music, others would put their earphones in and they are in their own little zone.

"Then you have the bit of banter when I put my Joe Dolan music on!"

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His role as kit man also took him to unexpected places. He became an internet sensation after he donned a Superman costume in the aftermath of Ireland's win play-off win over Bosnia in 2016. However, he actually had the outfit in reserve for six years.

It was originally purchased with a trip to the World Cup in mind. Dick had been planning to wear it in Paris if Ireland overcame France in their World Cup play-off in Paris back in 2009. He had no idea that game would become one of the most infamous nights in the history of Irish football.

He would actually be the only Irishman to enter the French dressing room that night. For a team who had just qualified for a major tournament, the atmosphere was remarkable.

Look, nobody said we were definitely going to win the match, there was still extra time. But we had the upper hand in that game, we were all over them.

I was the only Irish person in the French dressing room after that match, Gerard Houllier brought me in to swap the jerseys and that. There was no music on, no champagne.

I was in the Denmark dressing room a few months ago and there was music blaring, drink flying, that’s what you do to celebrate going to a major tournament.

I went into that French dressing room and there was none of that. It was unbelievable.

Bizarrely, it was an atmosphere not all that dissimilar to the one in the Ireland dressing room. The initial anger of the injustice that had taken place was soon replaced with the realisation that they had been robbed of a place in South Africa. There's not much you can do to console them.

"You can’t say 'hard luck’ or ‘you done your best’, you just leave them in their own thoughts. It was soul destroying, especially when they saw what happened.

"That was the worst thing about it. John O’Shea saw what happened because he was off the pitch after pulling his hamstring. He was sitting on the bench beside me with bundles of ice and he was distraught, absolutely freaking out. None of the players on the pitch knew that."

It would be another seven years before he broke out the costume.

Ireland did bounce back with qualification to Euro 2012, but that is not a tournament that is fondly remembered by Ireland supporters. The road to France in Euro 2016 is certainly at the forefront of Dick's memories.

Robbie Brady's goal in Bosnia in particular is a moment that stands out, even if he never actually saw the ball hit the net. In fact, he was told he could have a big role to play if the referee the conditions worsened:

Nobody saw the goal because of the fog! I remember the manager saying to me ‘ if this gets worse and the referee blows the whistle, get the captain and go missing with him’. There was a rule that if that happened after a certain time and the match was abandoned, the score would stand. Before that it’s a replay.

We couldn’t see a thing. We came out after halftime and I said to one of the lads ‘I can’t see the far goal there’. You couldn’t see it.

We heard the roar from the Irish fans, but we couldn’t see who scored. Then we didn’t see their goal. It was a great journey home knowing that a lot of the hard work had been done. We weren’t there yet, but we had a great chance. Then we finished it off in Dublin.

The memories of that campaign, the play-offs, and the tournament itself are ones he will hang onto.

While many know him for donning that superman costume, he never intended for it to be seen by anyone outside of the dressing room. It was something he did to get a laugh from the players, a common theme throughout the 21 years.

Dick said he got always got on with the players and management, despite the different mix of personalities. It seems that one of the people he was closest to was one not many would have suspected.

"I never had a problem with Roy Keane," he said.

"OK, one morning you would get a crank and one morning you would get Roy, but that’s his character. You can deal with that. Me and Roy just got on no problem at all.

"He never had a cross word with me and I never had a cross word with him. You could always have a laugh and a joke."

When you’re out going to the cinema with the public, I just knew when to get him away from it.

You could see when he was starting when people were coming up to him, and I’d just say ‘come on and we’ll go in’. We’d watch the film, have an ice cream or that and he was great.

He’s a very funny bloke. When Roy gets serious he gets serious, and you just need to know how to handle that.

That’s all a part of growing up over 21 years, you learn to deal with different types of footballers. Roy was fantastic to me.

What a 21 year it was, a dream job for an Irish football fan.

Dick had thought about hanging up his cape after the Euros, but the postponement of the tournament and changing of the management team accelerated that process. He said he wishes Stephen Kenny and his team all the success in the world.

What will he miss the most? The craic, the couple of pints with other staff members, having all the kit ready to go. The little things.

I suppose you miss getting together. You’re there for nine or ten days, sometimes three weeks, so you’ll miss the buildup, getting the kit ready, making sure everything was ready for the day.

You’d miss sitting in the corridor, telling stories or having a quiz....

The staff would go down and have a couple of pints every evening because you were working hard, working for 14 hours. The players are so professional, they’re not interested in that.

They want to be at the top of their game. Fair play to the players, there was no prima donnas.

 

SEE ALSO: Red Cards, Trashed Dressing Rooms, Armed Ultras: When Aiden McGeady Went To Russia

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