KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City captain Johnny Russell is used to being approached by starstruck fans, but he found himself a bit consumed Friday at training with a celebrity presence on the sideline.
Ardal O’Hanlon can wander the streets of Kansas City in relative anonymity, but that’s not the case in his native Ireland or Russell’s native Scotland.
O’Hanlon starred as Father Dougal, one of the most-beloved characters in the history of British TV, in the award-winning and critically acclaimed “Father Ted” during the late 1990s.
Russell grew up watching the show.
“I think it came out when I was about 5 or 6 probably,” Russell said.
O’Hanlon quickly replied, “You shouldn’t have been allowed to watch it at that age.”
As Russell cracked up, he said, “I know, but it wasn’t a strict household.”
Russell jumped at the chance to meet O’Hanlon, forming a quick bond over a shared love Celtic FC, a Glasgow-based powerhouse side in the Scottish Premier League.
“‘Father Ted’ was big in my house, so as soon as (Sporting KC Press Officer and fellow Briton) Patrik (Bergabo) said there was a chance to meet him I was all over it.,” Russell said. “Absolutely delighted, great guy as well.”
He added, “It’s surreal just sitting talking to him and, obviously not seeing him in character, it’s a bit weird. But it's a lot of good memories. Obviously, growing up and watching that show, it's just great to meet him.”
The feeling was mutual.
“It's such a thrill for me to meet the likes of Johnny, because I'm a huge football fan,” O’Hanlon said. “I get, honestly, I get giddy and childlike when I meet professional footballers. They're my heroes.”
O’Hanlon invited Russell to his stand-up performance Friday night. The Irish sitcom star has been a regular through the last two decades at KC Irish Fest, which continues through Labor Day weekend at Crown Center.
“I love coming back to KC,” O’Hanlon said. “It's a great place to do comedy. American audiences are just very appreciative and they're very supportive. They whoop and holler. We don't whoop and holler back home. I mean, it's just we that never learned how to whoop properly.”
Sporting KC gave O’Hanlon a custom personalized No. 10 jersey and Russell was asked what he’d accept in a trade for his practice jersey. The two men shared a laugh about the Kansas City heat and being too sweaty for such an exchange.
“I’m hopefully going to be able to get to the show tonight, so that's enough for me,” Russell said.
O’Hanlon’s wit was evident as he interacted with Russell, so it’s safe to say comedy fans will enjoy his set — he described it as observational humor — at KC Irish Fest.
“Irish comedians tend to be storytellers by nature, so it's sort of about my life,” O’Hanlon said. “I play these very stupid characters in sitcoms, so I'm kind of trying to show the audience that I'm not that stupid. I'm kind of a normal enough guy. So, you just share your experiences. I have a little bit of a reflection on the pandemic life that we went through. But generally, it's about it's about the normal stuff — family, raising kids, sex. Usual.”