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How ‘box office’ duo Clifford and O’Shea pushed Kerry’s brand into overdrive

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Adam Moynihan caught up with Kerry GAA Store manager Luke Quinn to find out how the Killarney-based business made record profits in 2022

It was a sad day for the parish when Killarney’s famous Nike Factory Store closed its doors in March of this year. That big, white Swoosh had attracted locals and visitors to the Killarney Outlet Centre since both the store and the centre first opened in 1999. Having a brand that large in a town so small was pretty cool. We were all sorry to see it go.

It wasn’t the only sports brand to call the Outlet Centre home, though. As Nike shut up shop, just across the way, on the other side of the escalator, the Kerry GAA Store was gearing up for what would turn out to be their best year ever.

The official retail outlet of Kerry GAA racked up €200,000 in profits in the financial year up to November. Not quite Nike numbers – the US sportswear giant made €21 billion globally – but the store’s record revenue certainly came as a welcome bonus for the county board.

Preparing intercounty teams has become hugely expensive (Kerry spent almost €1.5 million on their footballers and hurlers in 2022) and plans are in place to redevelop the Fitzgerald Stadium at an estimated cost of €72 million. Every cent counts.

The unprecedented success of the business is also a sure sign that the Kerry brand, which has been developing in one way or another for over 100 years, has now slipped into overdrive.

I recently called into the Kerry GAA Store to speak to manager Luke Quinn and find out more.

OFFICE

After selling a half-zip tracksuit top to a customer and handing over to his assistant, Luke invites me into a narrow office down the back. Myself and Luke actually know each other a long time. As kids we were neighbours down in Whitebridge Manor. I recall borrowing his Schmeichel-era Man United keeper jersey once so I could play in goal. It wasn’t the last jersey he gave me (although, in fairness, these days I pay).

A popular figure at his club, Dr Crokes, Luke experienced great success as a player and he is currently part of Brian McMahon’s senior management team. After chatting a bit about football, we get down to business.

I get the impression that I’m embarrassing him somewhat when I ask for the official amount that the store handed over to the county board, but he readily admits that he is delighted with the 12 months he and his team have put down.

“I think with the new jersey being released, and with Kerry reaching and winning the All-Ireland final, all those things combined and led to a very profitable year,” Quinn says.

“Any time you bring out a jersey, especially a home jersey, it gains traction - not alone in Kerry but all over the world.”

The popularity of that new O’Neills home jersey is an interesting one because it actually received quite a poor reception when it was unveiled in January. For his part, Quinn attributes that initial reaction to the imagery that accompanied the release. The sublimated background graphics on the body of the shirt were exaggerated in the launch photos, which made it look far louder than it actually was in real life.

“When people saw it in reality and when the team wore it, sales went through the roof. I remember the first weekend they wore it on TV against Kildare, the jersey gained unbelievable traction. I think people’s minds were changed.

“I know that O’Neills were very confident that it was going to sell well and, to be honest, we were as well. It’s like anything when it’s new, it takes a bit of time to seep in.

“I think the return of white trim was a factor. The bit of white just makes everything pop. It’s subtle enough but it makes a huge difference; it makes the green and gold more prominent.”

Perhaps even more significant than the design of the jersey itself was the talent wearing it. Kerry ended their eight-year drought by defeating Galway in the All-Ireland final in July with Man of the Match and Footballer of the Year David Clifford to the fore. At just 23 years of age, Clifford is now the sport’s standout superstar and Quinn says that he and semi-final hero Seán O’Shea are now driving the Kerry brand on a national and global level.

“Kerry is a worldwide brand at this stage. It’s a known brand and it’s not only Kerry people who want to buy the shirt, it’s people in the midlands, up the north, all over the world really.

“This Kerry team is relatively young and they’re after building a nice relationship with the public. The more you win, the more you’re going to be in the news and the media and the likes of David Clifford and Seánie and these guys, they’re box office now. The boys really do give [the brand] that extra push.

“It’s very hard to quantify but one thing you’d notice is that this year we had parents coming in who might have no interest in the GAA, in particular foreign nationals from places like Eastern Europe, and they had kids who were mad to get the jersey. They would actually point to the photos of David and Seánie and say they wanted the jerseys that those guys wear.

“You can’t really put a figure on it but you can see that these players are reaching out to a large audience because of who they are. At this stage, if they wore a black plastic bag, the kids would want a black plastic bag.”

The GAA is different to sports like soccer in that players don’t have squad numbers or their names printed on the backs of their shirts. If the GAA went down that road, Quinn has no doubt about which jersey would be the most popular.

“You’d just be stocking up on Clifford jerseys, wouldn’t you?” he laughs. “I’ve heard squad numbers being mooted but intercounty GAA is so different. The panels change so often, especially the higher numbers. Kerry could have 40 different players training with them throughout the year so it would be hard to nail down numbers.

“We possibly will bring out a number 14 and a number 11 shirt ourselves (Clifford and O’Shea’s usual numbers). Maybe a number 8 too. The more prominent ones. There is a demand for that. But as for names on the back, that might be a bridge too far.”

Aside from the jerseys, many items from Kerry’s leisure and training wear collections are also big sellers. The store receives four ranges from O’Neills every year, two of which are exclusive to the shop (i.e. the National League range and the Championship range). These collections include the same hoodies, jackets, half-zips and polo shirts the players wear travelling to games, as well as the clothing that team manager Jack O’Connor wears on the sideline.

The training jerseys sported by the players when they warm up before matches are also popular.

STRONG RELATIONSHIP

After a turbulent period in the nineties when they changed kit supplier three times (adidas to Emerald Active Wear, then to Millfield, and then back to adidas), Kerry have now been with O’Neills for 22 years straight. The relationship between the two parties is strong. Quinn certainly doesn’t see it ending any time soon.

“O’Neills are a great company to deal with. They have a lot of stuff in the pot – 30 or 31 counties – but they’re good at what they do. They wouldn’t be at the top of the game for this long otherwise. Their production is very streamlined, they have a good marketing team, and a good design team. The reps on the ground are very helpful and I can see them going from strength to strength to be honest with you, and further afield in other sports as well.

“The issue with another company coming in instead of O’Neills – for example if we took on another smaller producer – I think the bottom line is that if the team gets to an All-Ireland semi-final or final, the demand for jerseys and leisurewear goes through the roof. I don’t think there’s any other company in the country that could accommodate that demand in such a short space of time. Especially with the season being shortened, I just can’t see anyone else being able to take on that production.

“O’Neills have a monstrosity of a factory up in Strabane as well as the one in Dublin, which is no small factory either. And even at that, when it comes to the summertime, they would be at capacity. I can’t imagine another company taking on a county like Kerry or Dublin or Mayo who are GAA mad and are always at the business end of the season. Other companies will find it hard to dip into the big hitters.”

At a national level, O’Neills jersey sales were actually down 16% in 2022, something the company has attributed to the shorter intercounty window. Thankfully for Quinn and for Kerry, the Kerry GAA Store didn’t experience the same drop in sales once the season ended in July.

“I suppose with Kerry getting to the final and winning it, we weren’t affected as much,” he reflects. “There was a nice little buzz after the final. We brought out some different bits of merchandise on the back of winning as well so that’s always going to help. I also think people are getting ahead of Christmas that bit earlier this year.

“It would be different if Kerry lost earlier in the year but I can’t say the split season affected us too much.”

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK

Quinn took the reins five years ago and although he describes it as a busy job, it’s one he’s massively enjoying.

“I’m loving it. I took over from Botty (Niall O’Callaghan) and Seán O’Sullivan so I had big boots to fill but the boys were great on the handover. I’ve got some good bosses who help me out big time. The county board leave me to my own devices but they’re always there when I need any help.

“It’s busy and we’re open seven days a week. The only days we’re closed are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so it’s gung-ho all the time. With new ranges and new jerseys and new fashion trends, you have to keep your finger on the pulse at all times. So it is busy but it’s the way I like to be.”

What does a normal day look like?

“It’s always about planning ahead. Today I’m ordering next year’s Christmas range. I don’t even know how exactly Christmas is going to go this year in terms of sales but O’Neills need to plan so far ahead in their production that I’m already ordering for Christmas next year. You’re always trying to keep ahead of the game.

“There are new training jerseys coming out pre-Christmas. There’s a National League range coming out pre-Christmas. There’s an away jersey coming in January. You have to get your numbers right, get your system set up to take in all that stock, organise staff, and make sure everything is streamlined.”

That mention of a new Kerry away jersey will no doubt pique the curiosity of our readers. The outgoing away top, an eye-catching blue and lime green effort, has been in use since 2020. I pressed Luke for details.

“I haven’t even seen samples yet. If you’re talking to O’Neills tell them to send them down as soon as possible! I genuinely don’t know what it will look like. The design team at O’Neills will develop a good few prototypes, they’ll be sent down to ourselves and the county board, and we’ll go through them. O’Neills will give us a good idea of what they feel will work.

“Some of the players will have an input and then a final decision will be made. At the end of January, Kerry will be out against Donegal and hopefully we’ll see the new away jersey then.”

It's hard to imagine Kerry footballers from bygone eras having (or wanting to have) too much say in the design of the kit but, generally speaking, the modern player is more into fashion than his predecessors. In that regard, it makes sense for them to have their say.

“There would definitely be an input,” Quinn reveals. “Some of the players just want to concentrate on the football or the hurling but other guys would be very style conscious in what they want to wear. Colm Whelan, the kit man for the footballers, and Tim Daly with the hurlers have a big interest in what ranges and training jerseys and playing jerseys are coming in. They know the guys [on the panel] who would be into the fashion side of things and we have a couple of WhatsApp groups to get the players’ opinions.

“O’Neills would definitely take it on board,” Quinn says, before jokingly adding, “I suppose if the best footballer in the country wants a certain thing then you’re going to have to go with it, aren’t you?!”

FOOTBALL TALK

One thing I’ve noticed from my trips to the Kerry GAA Store is the constant flow of GAA-related chat between the customers and the staff. Admittedly you could probably overhear football talk on any premises in a town like Killarney, but the store is the perfect setting for it. And that’s something Quinn and his employees relish. 

“You have all these business things going on in the background but the main thing in all this is the customer. We can’t lose sight of that. You still want to give the customers coming in the best experience, to chat about Kerry football, and engage with the public. That’s what it’s all about.

“This shop is bucking the trend. We do have an online store but it’s still very much a kind of ‘shop local’ set-up. All profits raised go back to the county board and we have so many repeat customers. Some people don’t even buy stuff, they just come in and shoot the breeze about how bad the Crokes were last weekend or whatever. From my point of view, I love it.

“My staff are great too. Seán House from Tralee is the assistant manager. He has been here a year and a bit and he has been excellent. We have eight or nine part-timers and most of them are in college but they’re all very invested in the place. They’re all here four or five years which is a good sign. They get excited when new stuff is coming in, they get a kick out of that.”

As a Kerry native who played the game to a high level, Quinn is naturally a massive fan of Kerry football. I was curious to know if the nature of his line of work, specifically the fact that the fortunes of the business depend so heavily on the fortunes of the team, affects the way he watches the games.

“A couple of years ago Kerry lost to Cork and we were out so early. Maybe not during the game but shortly after you’re saying to yourself, revenues are going to be a lot further down now. So definitely after the game it would be one of the first thoughts to come into your head. But it's more the county board and the revenues that go back that I’d be thinking of.

“It would pop into your head afterwards but I’d be a normal Kerry supporter as the game is going on.”

Ultimately, it’s all about facilitating the continued growth of football and hurling in the county and Quinn is full of praise for his bosses who help make that happen.

“The chairman Patrick O’Sullivan - the store was his idea first day – as well as John O’Leary, John Joe Carroll and Liam Chute, they’re all very successful in their own professional careers. They’re very much doing this on a voluntary basis because they’re so proud of the shop and how well it has done. We’re all in it together.

“When you have a successful year financially it means you can develop Currans further, you can develop the pitches, you can bring in more Games Development Administrators. You can keep pushing on.”

The brand has a long way to go to reach Nike levels but with talented individuals on the pitch and in the boardroom, Kerry GAA appear to be ticking all the right boxes.

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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