Pre-tax profits at the main firm behind the O'Neill’s sports brand here last year increased by 46% to €1.9m despite the impact of the shortened GAA All-Ireland series and increased energy and freight costs.

New accounts filed by Balbriggan Textiles Ltd show that the O'Neill firm achieved the increase in pre-tax profits as the company’s gross profit increased by 12.5% from €11.76m to €13.25m.

Finance Director with O’Neills, Paul Towell, said that the sales of GAA replica jerseys are down again this year due to the condensed GAA All-Ireland series resulting in the firm further expanding into markets overseas.

He confirmed that O’Neill’s is going to open its first retail outlet in France next year with a new store at Pau in the south of France and this in addition to the 10 outlets in Northern Ireland and four in the Republic.

Sales of replica GAA county jerseys were down 16% last year and Mr Towell said that sales of GAA county jerseys are down another 5% in 2023.

"The shortened season is disappointing but we are adapting," he said.

Mr Towell said that Dublin, Limerick and Kerry GAA replica jerseys were the best sellers this year in Ireland but he added that the company’s best selling replica jersey is Australian rugby league team, the Penrith Panthers.

Mr Towell said that with All Ireland hurling and football finals taking place in late July early August, "you sell very little replica jerseys until Christmas".

"We now have to chase markets overseas as we employ 1,060 here and and you have to provide production for the workers in manufacturing. You can’t turn production on and off like a tap," he said.

Mr Towell said that 2022 was a difficult year due to increased energy and freight costs.

"Our gas prices went up 100% and transport costs for raw materials went up nearly 600%," he said.

"A 40 ft container bringing raw materials from the Far East was costing €3,000 before the war in Ukraine and for most of 2022 it was costing between €18,000 and €20,000."

Mr Towell said that business is up in 2023 on 2022 while energy and freight costs have reduced. Balbriggan Textiles employs 135 and staff costs totalled €5.56m

At the end of December last, shareholder funds were €23.85m. Cash funds totalled €5m.

Separate accounts for the Northern Ireland based O’Neill’s Irish International Sports Co Ltd show that pre-tax almost doubled from £993,026 to £1.76m (€2m) as gross profits climbed 30% from £9.72m to £12.3m.

Numbers employed increased from 720 to 760 as staff costs rose from £14.55m to £17.43m. Shareholder funds totalled £15.43m that included cash funds of £3.3m.

The company recorded a post tax profit of £1.6m after paying corporation tax of £111,966.

The directors state that during the year, the company opened a new a superstore at Omagh as part of the retail expansion in Northern Ireland.

The directors add that while Brexit risk has been reduced, there still remains ongoing uncertainty for businesses operating in Northern Ireland as issues remain over the protocol.

- reporting by Gordon Deegan