Paul Galvin and the GAA fashion crisis

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In 1996, a 23 year old college grid-iron player from the University of Maryland named Kevin Plank came up with an idea for a sweat-absorbing undershirt to be worn while playing sports. He started a business in his grandfather’s basement, called the company Under Armour and less than two decades later, presides over a billion dollar a year corporation. To gauge how big his brand has become, count how many footballers and hurlers are wearing Under Armour beneath their county jerseys at the conclusion of any championship match this summer. Better yet, check out Spurs’ kit, the company’s first foray into English soccer.

Against this background, the news last year that Kerry footballer Paul Galvin might be planning to launch a brand of GAA sportswear should have been welcomed, not greeted with sniggering and guffaws. As if a bogman in too-tight jeans and pointy shoes could design anything! Those laughing at Galvin filing patents for the “Galvinise” brand were forgetting something important. It’s nearly always athletes who change what athletes choose to wear. Phil Knight was a runner looking for a better running shoe when he created Nike with Bill Bowerman and he started out selling his prototypes from the boot of a car at athletics’ meets across America’s north-west.

As an outsider looking in, it seems that GAA sportswear has been in dire need of a shake-up for decades and, given the way he straddles both the fashion and the sports worlds, Galvin could just be the type of crazy character to do this . Far from poking fun at his fashionista credentials and his fondness for collecting footwear, we should be desperately hoping he is the man to drag the jerseys, shorts and everything else into the 21st century. It’s about time somebody did because, with all due respect to O’Neill’s, who have been trying harder yet in vain in recent years, the county jerseys could still do with a serious makeover.

This much was hammered home to us recently by the belated unveiling of the new Cork jersey, replete with Chill.ie (an insurance company) emblazoned too largely across the chest. This happened with more of a whimper than a bang. The overwhelming public response seems to have been “blah”, the latest edition just one more variation on a very boring theme. Indeed, the biggest reaction to the whole business has been from people who are unhappy the jersey is not blood red enough for “the blood and bandage”. In our opinion, the entire event was just one more missed opportunity.

Yes, we know there are certain colours that must always be incorporated, and the GAA’s decision to have its own initials on the chest of the shirts rather than on the sleeves (as is the norm with soccer leagues around the world) doesn’t help the look but even still. When was the last time anybody, not just in Cork, saw their county’s new jersey and thought to themselves “that looks fantastic?” I’d venture a lot less often than fans seeing the latest design and muttering words like prehistoric and outdated.

As an outsider looking in, some of what’s going on with the GAA shirts just baffles me. What’s with all those futuristic lines going off at weird angles? Who came up with that innovation? Most of them look like they were created by somebody sitting around in the mid-nineties (the decade fashion forgot) doodling what the future of inter-county jerseys could look like if everything went terribly wrong. Whether by O’Neill’s or Azzurri (as the new boys they should be a tad more modern but they are not), too many seem to be all taken from the same awful template.

The Waterford hurlers took on Cork last summer wearing jerseys that looked way too much like the design on the front of a bottle of Yop. Where is the style or does our Irishness preclude us from having any? Do the companies involved just assume we’ll buy any old tat so they don’t need to waste money making them look good?

Maybe Galvin the style guru is the man to revolutionise this staid world because somebody with a keener eye for fashion needs to be involved in putting better shirts on the backs of the nation’s hurlers and footballers.  One of the first things Umbro did when trying to revitalize its brand a few years back was to bring in Aiter Thorpe, one of Britain’s brightest young designers, and to import the values of bespoke tailoring to the process of revamping the England shirt.

After a succession of ghastly kits, Umbro also went back to the future, delving into the past for inspiration. They figured out the simpler, plainer white England jerseys from long ago were much classier than the busy horror shows of the nineties and more recent years. The same thinking could easily apply to the GAA.  This year’s Cork shirt isn’t the worst in the O’Neill’s catalogue (several other unfortunate counties are vying for that title) but it can’t hold a candle to the classic worn with such distinction by the county hurlers back in 1984.  Which Limerick shirt is better, today’s gaudy version or the one from 1973? It’s no contest.

I know somebody who goes to Cork matches in a replica of the 1984 jersey and he is constantly badgered by people wanting to know where he bought it. The conversation usually culminates in all present agreeing that it’s a far superior-looking garment to the more recent editions. Anybody with two eyes should be able to see a throw-back, genuinely blood-red, design with no unnecessary shades or lines defacing it, and a simple white collar, would go down a storm with fans. This isn’t just a Cork thing either. You think the Dublin fans prefer what they are buying today to the classic shirt worn in the seventies?

This is a situation where less can definitely be more. Given how little material Galvin uses for the jeans he wears, maybe he realises that too.
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