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Colour me sceptical as we reach the pinnacle for adult GAA jersey wearers

The success of a fine Tipperary number seems to have led to a questionable cottage-on-a-shirt industry

I cannot have been alone in breathing a large sigh of relief as I turned on the Clare-Kilkenny game on TG4 on Sunday afternoon to see, in stark relief on a dark afternoon in Ennis, the royal blue of Clare’s away jersey.

For far too many Kilkenny-Clare games, including successive All-Ireland semi-finals, we have suffered through yellow fever, looking at the blue and gold take on the black and amber. Amber, gold, yellow, saffron ... whatever the hell you want to call it, it’s all far too much of very similar colours.

The royal blue then, was a definite improvement for the watching public. And Clare were killing two birds with one stone, because the live broadcast was an ideal advertisement for the new kit, which far from being your common or garden alternative, is in fact their Michael Cusack commemorative jersey.

This newly released blue kit is steeped in history, according to the O’Neill’s website, and has been designed to honour and commemorate the founder of the GAA. It “takes inspiration from his cottage located in the heart of the Burren”, there’s a watermark image of Cusack on the left sleeve, “while the cottage is showcased front and back” ... all of which leads me to suggest that the closer one gets to this thing, the less inclined you’d be to buy it.


Clare’s footballers will wear it next Saturday against Antrim, but this is the last time it’ll be worn by the hurlers. I don’t know why they wouldn’t wear it again if they play Kilkenny in this year’s championship, but then again the GAA has never seemed overly bothered by jersey clashes, as anyone who’s ever had to sit through Galway-Cork, Kerry-Limerick or Dublin-Laois games (off the top of my head) would testify.

Galway have a new top getting its first competitive outing against Limerick this Saturday too. This new dark blue number commemorates the county’s first ever All-Ireland hurling final win in 1923 ... although that final wasn’t played until 1924, hence its delayed arrival. It will serve as Galway’s alternate jersey for the year in football and hurling.

I refer you once again to the breathless commentary on the O’Neill’s website – “history is woven into the jersey with the names of the players, management and board officials from Galway’s first All-Ireland proudly displayed in gold”.

Commemorative kits are a growing trend. There was a quite frankly hilarious Dublin tribute jersey that featured a burnt-out GPO and a complete reproduction of the 1916 Proclamation to “celebrate” the centenary in 2016 – a history lesson on a football shirt – which never fails to make me laugh when I see it, which eight years on is a lot more often than you’d think.

If that remains one of the dafter items of GAA apparel (even one not worn by any Dublin representative team obviously), Tipperary’s Bloody Sunday green and white jersey, in which they won the 2020 Munster football final, was legitimately very nice, although an image of Michael Hogan on the sleeve highlighted the obsession with watermarking in GAA jerseys that seems to show no sign of slowing down.

It was the popularity of that Tipperary jersey in particular that led to county boards more recently checking their history books in the search for something, anything, to commemorate. That new Galway jersey is €85, for instance, and as I bought it for my nephew last Christmas I realised anew how deeply important it was to me that he learn about those 1920s county board apparatchiks, without whose vital clerical work that first All-Ireland may never have crossed the Shannon.

Cork were at least more upfront about the arrival of their black and red alternate jersey in recent weeks, which was introduced purely as a prerequisite of their sponsorship deal with a sports company. It met with some disapproval, and will not be worn again this year ... but sales have been strong, so the county board can probably live with the brickbats.

I believe my last day wearing a county jersey to a match may have been the All-Ireland hurling final of 2015, and given I was 31 by the time that game was played, I really have no excuse. There’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule in relation to these things, but surely your 30th birthday is as good a time as any to say good night to that particular habit. A limited-edition commemorative kit is in ways an attempt to circumvent this, to present an acceptable middle-ground for the hesitant – but a county jersey with Cusack’s cottage on it is still a county jersey, let’s face it.

I know I do not have the unqualified support of the Irish public in this matter, and I certainly don’t have even a simple majority for it in Mayo. But as The Players Championship in Sawgrass begins this morning, with the US Masters hot on its heels a couple of weeks later, we should realise that we are entering the year’s pinnacle for the adult county jersey wearer.

There, far from home, they will insinuate themselves into the coverage of a multimillion dollar sporting event, and they know that in at least one corner of this septic isle (and it’s almost always Kerry or Mayo, let’s be honest), they will be heralded as heroes. “We get everywhere”, they’ll say ... and they will declare this to be a good thing. The world at large may be unsure.