Analysis: from collars to crewnecks, flatcaps to helmets and Ciarán McDonald to Brian Cody, the GAA has a fashion history all of its own

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For as long as the GAA has existed, there has been iconic fashion statements made by individuals on the field. From collars to crewnecks, flatcaps to helmets, the GAA has a fashion history of its own. As the commercial power of GAA thrives, we are faced with new fashion trends and the desire to wear the latest kits. But in the heel of the hunt, which is more memorable: the fashion or the personality? 

The summer of 1999 saw Meath's Trevor Giles astonish the football world with his modified aero-dynamic jersey. The All-Star half forward chopped the sleeves off his jersey in the dressing room to the soundtrack of slagging from his fellow teammates. The sleeveless jersey Giles wore during Meath’s All-Ireland winning season in 1999 is now displayed in the GAA Museum and in 2015, it was voted the top GAA accessory of all time by viewers of Second Captains. 

From RTÉ 2's Second Captains, the Top 5 GAA Accessories of All Time

Off the pitch, former Kerry footballer (and hurler) and current Wexford senior manager Paul Galvin turned his hand to fashion design and launched an ongoing clothing collection with Dunnes Stores. In 2017, Galvin collaborated with kit manufacturer O'Neills to design the retro-style jersey for the Kerry team, which was inspired by the jersey worn by the 1985 All-Ireland winning side. Galvin is not alone in his professional exploits in the fashion industry. In 2015, Oisín Murphy appeared in the Paris edition of Vogue magazine modelling a GAA jersey the same week he lost a senior county hurling final with Birr.

From RTÉ News, report on Birr hurler and model Oisín Murphy's 2018 appearance in Vogue magazine

Nothing says championship like the traditional haircut. "The Championship Haircut" is a part of many GAA player’s pre-game ritual ahead of the start of the season, offering a moment for reflection and preparation. But Mayo’s Ciarán McDonald took this many steps further during his career with an array of extraordinary hairstyles. Ponytails, corn rolls, skinhead and bleached blonde hair: McDonald has had more hairstyles than All-Ireland medals, yet his classy style of play always surpassed what's on top of his head.

From RTÉ 2's Second Captains, Mayo footballer Ciarán McDonald's first ever TV interview

There has been a common thread throughout history of the use of facial hair to display masculinity and the sports world is crying out for statistical analysis of the ratio of moustaches and winning teams. The 1980s and 1990s saw moustaches find a semi-permanent home on GAA fields. Mayo’s Willie Joe Padden (and his moustache) playing against Tyrone in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final with a bandage over his head and a blood-soaked jersey is an iconic image of Gaelic football. Wexford’s 1996 All-Ireland winning hurling panel fashioned several legendary moustaches, many of which still endure to this day, not least from the captain Martin Storey and stalwart George O'Connor, otherwise known as "Gorgeous George".

"Brian Cody is to baseball caps as the Rubberbandits' Blindboy is to plastic bags"

In 2008, the Tyrone footballers famously used beards as a psychological ploy on their road to All-Ireland success. After being defeated by Down in the Ulster championship, captain Joe McMahon and many of the Tyrone players began to grow beards and refused to shave until they were beaten. Ryan McMenamin later remarked "I was thinking of going for a handlebar moustache, but my girlfriend said she’d finish with me if I did that." Whether Tyrone’s beards asserted masculinity against opponents or gave them a "warrior’s edge", their extended facial hair will always be partly responsible for extending their summer. 

Brian Cody is to baseball caps as the Rubberbandits' Blindboy is to plastic bags. Unyielding and eminent, both figures are unimaginable without their distinctive headgear. Cody’s baseball caps have long been a staple of his sideline attire. The fiery Kilkenny manager adjusts his cap more aggressively when the game is in a melting pot and this is often the easiest way to figure out if he is stressed. Cody without a cap is like Santa Claus without a beard.

Clare hurler John Joe Doyle's 1932 goggles. Photo: Siobhán Doyle

John Joe "Goggles" Doyle captained the Clare hurling team in the 1932 All-Ireland final, which they lost to Kilkenny by 3-3 to 2-3. Using bicycle spokes, Doyle designed and made his own goggles to protect his glasses, which are on display in Clare County Museum. Doyle would likely have had a more forgettable nickname had he worn contact lenses instead. By and large, it is the remarkable personalities that revolutionise fashion in the GAA, rather than vice versa.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ