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Kerry X adidas: A forbidden love affair that changed the face of the GAA

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by Adam Moynihan

 

Back in the 1970s, adidas attempted to break into Gaelic games. They were shot down at every turn by the GAA, who had (and still have) strict laws that prevented teams from wearing non-Irish brands.

Despite Croke Park’s hostility, the German sportswear giants found a willing partner in crime in Kerry boss Mick O’Dwyer, and together they forged a groundbreaking deal.

The arrangement would spark over 20 years of controversy.

 

Chapter 1: For free?

In 1972, Michael O’Connell came to Kerry with a bootload of three-stripe boots and a dream. The Corkman had beaten off competition from O’Neills to secure the Irish distributing licence for adidas and, even though the GAA had strict laws against foreign playing gear, he was hell-bent on breaking into Gaelic games.

The footwear would not prove to be a problem. Croke Park had already been turning a blind eye when it came to boots, and some county players had been wearing non-Irish brands for years. In fact, when he got his first shipment of adidas boots into Ireland, O’Connell’s very first customer was Kerry’s star player and one of the greatest Gaelic footballers of all time: his namesake, Mick O’Connell.

With that first sale very much in mind, O’Connell (of adidas) teed up a meeting with Kerry GAA and when he arrived in The Kingdom he outlined his plan to county board officials. He wanted to supply adidas boots - free of charge - to the Kerry footballers. The proposal left his audience slightly bemused.

“They couldn’t believe it,” O’Connell says. “I was the first person to come down and offer them products for nothing. They had to pay for O’Neills. The players had to buy their own boots. And I was giving them boots for free? They were wondering what was going on. The county board were looking at me like, ‘what is this fella’s motive?’

“I said, ‘look, you have superstars in your team who are known throughout the country. When these guys are wearing adidas, it helps our business. I want you in adidas’.”

The county board quickly got over their initial bout of scepticism and agreed to O’Connell’s deal. The Kerry/adidas partnership was born.

The Kerry footballers (among them future Kerry manager Mick O’Dwyer) received free adidas boots and they wore them in that year’s All-Ireland final, which they lost to Offaly after a replay. The year may have ended in disappointment, but the footwear was a hit amongst the players.

 

Kerry great Mick O'Connell wearing adidas boots.

 

“Blackthorn was the most popular GAA boot at the time and I distinctly remember the difference,” Kerry’s goalkeeper in ’72, Eamonn Fitzgerald, says. “The adidas boot fitted like a slipper and was far more flexible and much lighter. You could never go back.

“Up to then, adidas was for cross-channel soccer players; that was the official party line by the GAA. We got the boots, but there was no publicity about it.”

Buoyed by the success of the Kerry boot deal, O’Connell and adidas (operating in Ireland as ‘Three Stripe International Ltd’) set their sights on jerseys. In stark contrast to the footwear, this would, in O’Connell’s words, be a “huge problem” as far as the GAA were concerned.

The rule about foreign-made gear would make it difficult for Three Stripe to find an entry point into the Gaelic games apparel market, which was dominated by O’Neills. With this in mind, O’Connell set up a partnership with clothing manufacturers McCarter’s, who were based in Buncrana, County Donegal. This meant that all of the adidas gear being distributed by Three Stripe was made in Ireland by an Irish company providing Irish jobs. Problem solved? Not quite.

THE AFFAIR

adidas' first attempt at kitting out an intercounty team was so infamous it even earned the dubious honour of being referred to as an affair. It started in 1976 when O’Connell approached the Cork footballers about wearing adidas jerseys in their Munster final replay against Kerry.

If they agreed, they would be joining a prestigious club. adidas had staked its claim as the world’s premier supplier of soccer jerseys just two years earlier when 10 of the 16 teams at the 1974 World Cup wore their kits, including both finalists (Germany and the Netherlands).

The Cork players decided to try it out, though they opted to black out the adidas trefoil logo (from the Latin ‘trifolium’, meaning ‘three-leaved plant’) as the move was not sanctioned by the county board. With a round collar, adidas’ three stripes on the sleeves, and an undersized number on the back, the new shirts certainly caught the eye. It was not dissimilar to the adidas jersey worn by the reigning European champions, Bayern Munich.

An investigation by the county board followed but no action was taken. The players were simply warned not to do it again.

A year later, in 1977, O’Connell asked the Cork players to do it again. The team agreed to wear adidas tracksuits, shorts and socks, but not the jerseys. All O’Connell wanted in return was a promotional photograph of the team kitted out in the three-stripe gear. The agreement and its fallout became known as The Three Stripe Affair.

“It was a crazy situation,” O’Connell recalls. “When Frank Murphy (Cork GAA secretary) saw Cork coming out in adidas clothing for the Munster semi-final against Clare, he erupted. For the final against Kerry, he warned the players not to go out in adidas shorts even, and the players at that stage had to buy their own shorts.

“The pressure was too much for the jerseys so I said to the players, ‘let’s avoid the controversy. But if ye want to wear the shorts, here they are’.”

After lengthy deliberations, the Cork players were leaning towards shelving the controversial adidas gear when a member of the backroom team made an ill-judged intervention. At a team kickaround the day before the final, Morgan proposed that the squad stand down and wear the board-approved, non-adidas shorts as requested. Jimmy Barry Murphy, the team captain, agreed. At that point, a selector interrupted the meeting.

“This was a selector,” Morgan later told the Sunday Tribune, “who never came to training. He said we were a crowd of creepers, players who crept around looking for free gear. I had a bandage in my hand and I threw it at him.”

The selector had made his mark, but not in the manner he had hoped.

Cork came out for the final wearing adidas shorts and were subsequently well beaten by their near neighbours. The following week, the Cork county board suspended the entire squad for six months.

The story made headlines at home and abroad and although the suspension had little material effect (the ban only applied to county football and the season had ended, so the suspended players did not miss any games), the episode left a sour taste.

Years later, Morgan said he learned a valuable lesson that day. “Teams should fight their battles on the pitch, nowhere else. While we were fighting about jerseys, Kerry were thinking about how they would beat us.”

O’Connell points out that there is something quite ironic about that fateful day in July 1977. The Cork players were suspended for wearing adidas shorts, but their opponents, Kerry, were dressed head-to-toe in unbranded adidas socks, shorts and jerseys.

The former chief of adidas’ Irish operation says that 1977 was the first year Kerry took to the field in adidas teamwear, a fact which might surprise some Kerry fans who could be forgiven for assuming that the high-profile jerseys of the early eighties were the first adidas shirts worn by the team. As all jerseys and shorts were generally unbranded at the time, save for the Guaranteed Irish logo which sometimes appeared on the chest, it would have been extremely difficult to identify kit suppliers without checking the label.

So, if both sets of players were wearing adidas, how was it that only the team in red got in trouble?

O’Connell laughs. “Kerry GAA didn’t have a secretary like Frank Murphy!” It was Cork GAA who handed down the ban, not Croke Park. Although it wasn’t spoken about publicly, Kerry officials were fine with the team wearing adidas gear, so long as the players were being looked after.

Three Stripe were having no difficulty getting into Irish soccer, rugby, basketball or athletics but with county boards hesitant to break with tradition and deal with adidas, establishing a place in Gaelic games alongside O’Neills was proving to be a challenge.

THE OTHER BRAND WITH THE THREE STRIPES
At the beginning of the eighties, the German company’s Irish wing was dealt another significant blow. adidas brought O’Neills to court for allegedly passing off their goods as adidas products by using adidas’ famous three-stripe branding. Over the course of a two-year saga, which started in the High Court and ended in the Supreme Court, it was revealed that adidas had been using three stripes since 1952, while O’Neills had been using them since 1965.

O’Neills’ Managing Director Paul O’Neill stated that his company had decided to use three stripes “because it was fashionable and looked very well on a garment”.

The fact that O’Neills had been overlooked for the adidas contract back in 1970 was also discussed, with the MD admitting that he felt his company were treated badly by adidas at the time.

Despite a number of sportspeople testifying that they couldn’t tell the difference between O’Neills and adidas clothing, the three judges on the case eventually ruled 2-1 in O’Neills’ favour. The outcome meant that O’Neills could carry on displaying three stripes on their jerseys, which they did throughout the eighties. After largely shelving them for much of the nineties and early 2000s, the company brought the stripes back in a major way around the mid-2000s.

Nowadays, the three stripes are a constant fixture on all of the brand’s intercounty jerseys in the Republic of Ireland. O’Neills jerseys sold in Northern Ireland and everywhere else in the world have two stripes as the 1982 ruling is only valid in the Republic.

Meanwhile, as the battle between adidas and O’Neills was rumbling on in Dublin’s courts, a businessman from Waterville was fighting tooth and nail for the German brand in the GAA arena. And all it took was the promise of a nice sun holiday.

 

 

Chapter 2: A good deal

As a trainer, Mick O’Dwyer was cruel. When preparations for the championship began around March, O’Dwyer would subject his charges to punishing training sessions that would physically push them to the absolute limit of what they could handle. His preferred style of play, a running game which incorporated a lot of interplay and quick handpassing, demanded extremely high levels of fitness. Players, especially the ones who “enjoyed” their off-seasons, found the regime torturous.

But O’Dwyer also appreciated the effort his amateur players were putting in and the sacrifices they were making. He worked them to the bone when it was time to work, but he also wanted to reward them when the work was done.

Before long, the perfect opportunity to do just that would present itself.

By 1977, Kerry’s boot deal with adidas had developed into clothing and playing gear but, despite the fact that the apparel was being manufactured in Buncrana, the GAA were still resistant to the idea.

“Croke Park were putting unbelievable pressure on the Kerry county board [to stop wearing adidas],” O’Connell recalls, “so I upped the ante.”

adidas pledged to make a significant contribution towards an end-of-season “world tour” to thank the players for their dedication. O’Dwyer saw the proposed vacation as both a “carrot” (after giving his players plenty of the “stick”) and a sign of appreciation for his hard-working panel. At a time when international travel was a real luxury, the end of year trip proved immensely popular with the players.

The plan, O’Connell says, “worked like a charm”. Kerry’s ties to adidas were reinforced and O’Dwyer’s team would wear unbranded adidas jerseys on the pitch, and branded tracksuits and leisurewear off it, throughout what would later become known as Kerry’s Golden Years.

Speaking in the critically-acclaimed ‘Micko’ documentary in 2018, O’Dwyer outlined his thought process at the time. “Any sponsorship that was coming in had to go through Croke Park. We made a decision that it was about time for the players to get a little bit out of it.”

“It was Micko who really set it up,” says Seán Kelly, the former Kerry GAA chairman (1987-1997) and vice-chairman (1982-1987). “He talked about it and got the county board to agree with it. He saw that there was an opportunity there and he would have felt that maybe the Kerry team’s brand wasn’t used enough, and not enough came back to the county board and the players themselves.

“Being a businessman himself, he saw an opportunity to give the players some rewards for all their efforts.”

O’Dwyer and the players were rarely seen out of adidas apparel, particularly at press nights where the gear was very much on show. The squad also wore specially commission adidas-branded jerseys for official team photos, which was part of the agreement with Three Stripe International.

 

Kerry in adidas gear for an official team photo in 1980.

 

If you look a little closer at some of these promotional posters you might also spot some adidas Gaelic footballs. O’Connell says his company tried to produce an official match ball called the ‘adidas Peil na hÉireann’ for the GAA market, even going so far as to establish a football-making factory in West Kerry. Again, he found Croke Park unreceptive to the idea.

On matchdays, Kerry warmed up in adidas tracksuits, which substitutes also wore on the bench. However, the adidas logo was frequently covered quite conspicuously with white tape, a measure which might actually have attracted more attention than it diverted. On at least one occasion, adidas labels were cut from the inside of jerseys to throw GAA officials off the scent.

CONSTANT ISSUES

The adidas deal was certainly popular within the Kerry camp, and O’Dwyer’s team were achieving incredible success on the pitch, but O’Connell recalls “constant” issues with the GAA during this period.

Some observers speculated that Croke Park feared the adidas/Kerry deal as it had the potential to edge the sport away from its amateur ethos and into the realm of professionalism. Whether it was their intention to stamp out commercial sponsorship in its infancy, or whether they simply felt they were enforcing the rules of the Association, the friction with adidas persisted.

O’Connell tells a story which perhaps sums up how O’Dwyer felt about Croke Park’s interventions.

On the eve of the 1980 All-Ireland final between Kerry and Roscommon, GAA officials arrived at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Kerry’s regular pre-match base. In their possession they had a bag of green and gold O’Neills jerseys as well as shorts and tracksuits. They were determined to prevent Kerry from wearing adidas in Croke Park the following day.

Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Liam Mulvihill and Uachtarán Paddy McFlynn pleaded with Kerry to “do the right thing” and wear the Irish product.

“Look, we’ll put them in there to the cupboard and we’ll go away and we’ll have a meeting,” O’Dwyer assured the GAA contingent. “We’ll make a decision and we’ll let you know.”

The Kerry manager placed the gear inside the cupboard and locked it shut. When Mulvihill and McFlynn left, O’Dwyer walked to the window, opened it up, flung the keys out into the Dublin sky, and turned to face his colleagues.

“Are we going down now looking for the keys, or are we going to talk about tomorrow?”

The following day, Kerry wore their adidas gear as planned as they secured their third All-Ireland in a row, and their fourth since O’Dwyer had taken over in 1975. Whatever Kerry, O’Dwyer and adidas were doing, it was working.

 

Former Kerry manager Mick O'Dwyer. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile.

 

 

THE BROTHER

While O’Neills were clearly adidas’ main rivals when it came to the GAA, there was no denying who the real enemy was. In the 1920s, two brothers called Adolf and Rudolf Dassler started a slippers and sports shoes manufacturing company called ‘Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik’. Things started well but the pair fell out after World War II and in 1948 Rudi left and opened his own company called ‘Puma’. Adolf (or ‘Adi’ for short) renamed his company ‘adidas’, a combination of his first and last names.

Puma and adidas were in direct competition with one another so conflict naturally followed. Perhaps the most famous sucker-punch in the pair’s long and ill-tempered sparring match came at the 1970 World Cup, and the blow was dealt by Puma. The warring brands had agreed to an unusual truce in the sixties: neither of them would try to sign the world’s best soccer player, Pelé. The thinking was that the astronomical fee they would have to pay the Brazilian would inflate the cost of similar deals with other players in the future.

The so-called ‘Pelé Pact’ worked, until it didn’t. Puma secretly agreed a deal with Pelé during the World Cup in Mexico and they devised the perfect scheme to announce it to the world. Just before kick-off in Brazil’s quarter-final match-up against Peru in Guadalajara, Pelé stooped down to tie his laces. The match couldn’t exactly start without the man everyone was there to see, so the referee waited for him to finish. The television cameras zoomed in on Brazil’s number 10 and, lo and behold, he was lacing up a pair of Puma boots.

It was a marketing masterstroke by Puma and one that, no doubt, left adidas reeling.

Fast forward 11 years and Puma and adidas were at odds once again, only this time they were fighting over a young man from Tralee. In 1981, Kerry’s scorer-in-chief, Mikey Sheehy, was a Puma man, but the Kerry players were supposed to be wearing adidas. Speaking to John Fogarty of the Irish Examiner last year, Sheehy explained what happened next.

“Micko had done a deal with adidas and I had a deal done with Puma because I was the free-taker, no other reason. Whoever was taking the frees would have got it because they’d be seen in clips and running up to the ball. They were giving me stuff and looking after me fairly well in those times.

“In fairness to Micko, he said to me, ‘I don’t care what you wear. The important thing is the team and you don’t need to do anything. Keep wearing what you’re wearing but give them to me. I’ll do a job on them.’ So he de-stitched the Puma strip on the side and painted on the three stripes.

“Micko being the boss, I would have done whatever he wanted but it showed how much of a player’s man he was. The team was being well looked after by adidas anyway so I didn’t care but Micko took it upon himself to keep me happy and doctor them. He could have railroaded me but he didn’t and nobody knew anything about it only himself and myself.”

Sheehy got to wear his Puma boots, but the outside world thought he was wearing adidas. A win for Adi. Pelé 1-1 Mick O’Dwyer.

Somehow adidas either spotted or got wind of Sheehy’s altered footwear and requested that he wear proper adidas boots for the rest of the championship. The Austin Stacks man didn’t mind.

“I changed to adidas for the All-Ireland semi-final and final. I can’t recall if I went back to Puma but I wore Adidas a lot of the time after that.

“When we went on the World Tour in October ‘81, I don’t know whether it was in Sydney or Melbourne we were on such a tailspin, it had been arranged for me to visit Puma's factory and they gave me all the gear I wanted. But boots weren’t a big thing for me. If a gun was put to my head I probably preferred adidas. They just felt more comfortable.”

 

CHANGES

Kerry could often go several championships in a row without requiring a change strip but in the early eighties, several colour clashes meant they needed a number of alternate jerseys. After wearing two different blue change strips against Offaly in 1980 and Mayo in 1981, adidas used the ‘81 final to try something new. Kerry were gunning for a record-equalling four-in-a-row and with Offaly changing to all white, the holders took to the field in green and gold, but in an unorthodox arrangement. The new shirt was yellow from the chest up with yellow sleeves, a green collar and a green lower half.

As the team posed for their traditional pre-match photograph, some players turned around and gestured towards the dugout at the far side of the pitch. They were calling for their stricken comrade, the injured Pat Spillane, to join them for the picture. His fellow substitutes and members of the management team joined in, at one point practically attempting to drag the Templenoe man off the bench, but he refused to budge. It was a bizarre turn of events and the eyes of everybody inside Croke Park, as well as half the country watching at home, were firmly fixed on the Kerry dugout. Legendary commentator Micheál Ó Hehir provided a running commentary.

Eventually, after much cajoling, Spillane emerged from the dugout and ran out across the pitch to great fanfare. With the TV camera tracking him closely, he jogged across to the opposite sideline. As he made his way over, he fiddled with the zip on his bright green hoodie, which had a large adidas trefoil logo on full display on the chest (no tape). The nation was watching and they couldn’t but notice the Kerryman’s adidas clothing. Michael O’Connell couldn’t have planned it any better if he tried.

The '81 jersey was an unusual design, but it was also a winning one. Kerry defeated Offaly and captain Jimmy Deenihan lifted the Sam Maguire trophy in possibly the yellowest Kerry outfield shirt ever produced.

Offaly kept coming back for more and another meeting, this time in the 1982 All-Ireland final, necessitated yet another away jersey. Kerry were now going for an unprecedented five-in-a-row and adidas had grand ideas for the momentous occasion. A mint-green shirt with thin, gold pinstripes was commissioned but, on the Friday before the final, Croke Park stepped in again. The new design, they said, did not conform with the official alternate colours registered by the county board. The flashy adidas shirts could not be worn.

With just 48 hours to go before the biggest game of their lives, the champions had no jerseys.

Three Stripe International called McCarter’s up in Donegal with simple instructions. “We need a set of green jerseys with gold trim and we need them to be in Dublin by tomorrow night.”

It was All-Ireland final weekend and the Kerry team had to set off from Killarney train station jersey-less, and without knowing what the new jerseys would even look like. In a county known for its footballing piseógs, it could hardly be seen as a good omen. And with all the hype surrounding the five-in-a-row, another distraction was the last thing they needed.

To their credit, McCarter’s duly delivered and the new shirts arrived at the Grand Hotel on the eve of the decider. But, as Michael Foley details in his outstanding account of the ’82 final ‘Kings of September’, more drama was to follow in Croke Park on the Sunday.

“The new jerseys were missing,” Foley writes. “[County secretary Gerald] Whyte swept the dressing rooms. Nothing. He remembered bringing them out to the bus. Now, they were gone. He struggled back out to the bus and searched the baggage hold. He looked in the overhead racks and around the seats. Nothing. Then, at the very back, piled up in a tatty cardboard box, he found them. He sighed, lifted them up and headed back inside. As the jerseys were given out, the players looked at them but didn’t pause to consider their sartorial merit. It was just as well. They were green. Lime green. The yellow collars and cuffs didn’t distract from the horror of the jersey that was being foisted on them for the biggest day of their lives.

“‘They were hideous,’ says Tom Spillane. ‘They weren’t even a proper green. There were issues with that jersey. It didn’t affect us, but our preparations were blighted.’ But in the end Tom didn’t care. None of them did. Kerry had been chopping and changing jerseys for a few years against Offaly.

“‘The jerseys could be purple with pink spots,’ said Mikey Sheehy. ‘Whatever the people might say at home, Kerry jerseys wouldn’t win a game against this crowd.’”

In spite of all the hassle, and the questionable shade of green, the ’82 jersey was just seconds away from becoming the most famous Kerry jersey of all time. Instead, Séamus Darby broke Kerry hearts with a last-gasp, match-winning goal, and the shirt’s sentimental value plummeted.

"Jerseys were left dripping on the benches for whoever wanted them," Foley noted. Mikey Sheehy gave his to a girl from Armagh who had asked for his All-Ireland final jersey after the semi-final. He thought twice about promising it to her – he knew it would mean a lot to him if Kerry won – but, in the end, he didn’t have to think twice about handing it over. The last-minute lime green shirt would forever be associated with Kerry’s worst ever defeat.

In March of 1983, Kerry were fined for wearing adidas jerseys throughout the 1982 campaign. The reason given by the GAA management committee was not that the jerseys were foreign-made (for they were made in Donegal), but that the adidas shirts fell under the category of “playing gear for promotional purposes” as they were not “generally available to retail outlets in Ireland”.

It was also pointed out that this was not the first occasion that Kerry had ignored this particular directive, and that “no apology for their actions” was received. O’Dwyer, for his part, was unperturbed by the punishment.

“The Association came down on us,” he said in ‘Micko’. “We were fined £500 for wearing the adidas gear, but we had got £20,000. So, it was a good deal.”

 

Chapter 3: The Rise and Fall

After the disappointment of 1982 and a hangover year in 1983, Kerry returned with a bang in 1984. A comprehensive victory over old foes Dublin kickstarted another remarkable run as O’Dwyer led his rejuvenated team to victory again in 1985 and 1986. This brought their tally to eight titles in 12 years, a feat which undoubtedly singled them out as the greatest Gaelic football team of all time. adidas shirts were worn for seven of those eight victories.

Ambrose O’Donovan was captain in 1984 and he says the jersey Kerry wore in the GAA's centenary year was a personal favourite, and not just for the obvious emotional reasons.

“I thought the quality of the jersey for the ’84 final was excellent. It was light and it was easy on the skin. It was a beautiful jersey. The fact that it was the centenary final made it special for all of us. I’d say every one of us kept that one – I don’t think anyone gave away their jersey that year.

"We had two sets of adidas jerseys: one was a heavy cloth and the other was a light, nylon synthetic. The light one was ideal for warm weather, and that was a big thing for us. Their football boots were very high quality as well. It was predominantly the World Cups that were worn. They were a fantastic boot. I think we all wore them.

"It was a win-win situation because their gear was good and they had no problem donating to the team training fund as well. They put their money where their mouth was and made life very easy for us. We didn’t have to go to the public for fundraising or anything like that; adidas were able to look after it. If you needed a new pair of boots or a bag or a top or anything sportswear related, you didn’t have to worry about it. adidas supplied everything that was required, free of charge. That was brilliant for us at the time because it was an extra cost that we didn’t have to worry about.

"Certainly none of us could say a bad word about adidas. They supported us in every way they could."

 

Ambrose O'Donovan about to receive the Sam Maguire trophy in 1984. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile.

 

That ’84 shirt was also notable as it was the first to feature a Kerry GAA crest.

The following year, Páidí Ó Sé was captain and he didn’t give away his adidas jersey from that final either – at least not right away. But when Dolly Parton showed up at his pub in Ventry in 1990, Páidí felt moved to present the world-famous country singer with a memento.

“I was thinking what would be the best present to give you,” Ó Sé said on stage before a large crowd. “The last big night we had here was in 1985 when I captained the Kerry team and we won the All-Ireland. And this is my jersey.”

Ó Sé handed the green and gold adidas shirt over to his guest.

“And it hasn’t been washed since.”

BENDIX

1985 was also the year of the notorious Bendix washing machine advert. On the morning of the All-Ireland final, two Sunday papers ran large advertisements showing the Kerry squad standing around a washing machine, half-clothed, with the tagline: ‘Only Bendix could whitewash this lot’.

The ad caused quite a furore but for O’Dwyer and Kerry, it was another lucrative deal.

“We got something in the region of £15,000,” O’Dwyer later said. “Croke Park were going on over that as well, but I didn’t give a damn.”

In the late eighties, more money started to roll in as Kerry signed a sponsorship deal with local food company Kerry Group. The arrangement was worth £45,000 over three years.

The Kerry/adidas connection was again placed under the microscope in 1989 when Liam Mulvihill came across a magazine advertisement that showed a model wearing a Kerry jersey, replete with the new Kerry crest as well as the branding of adidas and Kerry Group. This was over two years before sponsors’ logos were first allowed to be displayed on GAA jerseys, and Croke Park indicated that it appeared to be in breach of GAA guidelines.

Kerry GAA defended the arrangements with adidas and Kerry Group, with Kelly, who was by now the county chairman, stating at the time that the board had “right on their side”.

“They are ordinary sponsorship deals that are beneficial to the organisation. There is no question of anyone trying to pulling a fast one.”

The county board were receiving 5-10% of the jersey sales.

“Kerry were so strong, we were able to sell a pile of replica shirts,” O’Connell says. “But we had to be very careful promoting it because of the rules.”

In 1991, intercounty teams were officially told that they could put their sponsors' logos on their match shirts. adidas saw a window of opportunity. Kerry Group was now the county’s main sponsor so their logo would be placed front and centre across the chest. The adidas logo would be left off the shirt itself, but Three Stripe also produced adidas-branded shorts. For the All-Ireland semi-final against Down, the adidas shorts were worn in Croke Park. It was a victory for Three Stripe, albeit a small and short-lived one.

Adidas training and leisurewear continued to be worn off the pitch and for that ’91 semi, new manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, who had replaced O’Dwyer in 1990, was fully decked out in adidas apparel. Wearing white adidas sneakers, black eighties/nineties-style adidas tracksuit pants, and a white adidas t-shirt, O’Sullivan wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Run DMC music video.

Unfortunately for O’Sullivan, Kerry and adidas, the following year would prove to be an annus horribilis.

The 1992 Munster final defeat to perennial also-rans Clare is considered by many to be the nadir of the so-called “lost years”, a period from 1987 to 1996 when Kerry failed to win an All-Ireland title. To make matters worse, adidas shut down its Irish operation towards the end of the year due a change in EU trade policy.

“It was disappointing at the time,” Kelly recalls. “We had a very good relationship with adidas. Michael O’Connell was a great man to deal with and he had great regard for Kerry.”

EMERALD/MILLFIELD

For the first time since 1977, Kerry were in the market for a new kit supplier. O’Neills seemed to be the obvious choice, seeing as how they kitted out the vast majority of county teams. But, instead, they opted for Emerald Active Wear, a new Cork-based company that had been formed by three former adidas employees. Emerald took over the adidas licence from Three Stripe International but rather than supplying Kerry with adidas jerseys, they supplied jerseys under their own brand name.

Though Kelly describes the company as “dead sound”, the forced switch from adidas to Emerald was a costly one. The books noted an increase in overall team expenses of £33,198 in 1993, a figure secretary Tony O’Keeffe attributed in part to money spent on purchasing equipment and apparel.

However, “general sponsorship was opening up at the time so it wasn’t as big a blow as it might have been five or six years previously,” Kelly explains.

Emerald went under in March of 1996 so, once again, Kerry were left searching for a new supplier. Again, O’Neills would have been the frontrunners on paper, but the county board went with another start-up: Cork firm Millfield Textiles. Kelly, who would go on to become president of the GAA, says the decision to go with a smaller company was intentional.

“[O’Neills] were keen to come on board, and they probably would have been the favoured company generally, especially in Croke Park and so forth. But it was good to see other businesses [getting a chance] as well. We did a lot for competition over the years and I think Tony O’Keeffe as secretary deserves great credit. He put a lot of work into that side of things.

“It was good to be able to say, ‘look, there are other companies around that can fit the bill as well’. Monopolies are not good.”

Kerry’s victory in ‘97 will always be associated with Millfield, who produced special jerseys for the final that had an extra-large gold hoop so as to alleviate the colour clash with Mayo, who wore their traditional green and red.

But it wasn’t all about Millfield. Old friends adidas provided training wear and boots to the champions and when the cameras cut to manager Páidí Ó Sé on All-Ireland final day, he was wearing a yellow adidas polo shirt. The German brand remained on the sidelines, but they still harboured dreams of making a proper debut on the hallowed Croke Park turf.

 

Páidí Ó Sé in an adidas polo shirt during the 1997 All-Ireland final. Pic: David Maher/Sportsfile.

 

 

The Final Chapter

The summer of 1998 was not going all too well for adidas. At the World Cup in France, their major athletes were struggling. Alessandro del Piero was injured. Patrick Kluivert had been suspended for two games after elbowing an opponent. David Beckham used one of their Predator Accelerators to lash out at Diego Simeone as England crashed out at the hands of Argentina. And here in Ireland (not for the first time), the GAA were proving to be a major thorn in their side.

After Millfield ceased trading at the beginning of 1998, Kerry and adidas negotiated a major deal that would allow the German company to return and start making the county’s jerseys again. This time it would be different, however. This time, the logo would be there for the world to see.

Dublin company JA Hickey’s were enlisted as the necessary Irish manufacturer, and they were given permission to make the jerseys after paying a £10,000 licencing fee to the GAA.

Kerry, Hickey’s and adidas were under the impression that this was a green light to produce six sets of adidas-branded shirts for the various Kerry teams, but Croke Park later disputed this, saying the agreement did not include the use of the adidas logo. The new jerseys could only feature the Hickey’s logo, which naturally was of little use to adidas. Writing for the Independent, Liam Horan said that things took a “dramatic turn for the worse when Croke Park demanded a ‘substantial’ donation from adidas, and this later mutated into ‘very substantial’”. Adidas are believed to have paid an additional fee of £10,000.

Horan also revealed that in 1997, O’Neills, who produced the vast majority of intercounty shirts, “contributed a figure substantially less than £10,000” for all of their jerseys combined.

Kerry wore Millfield jerseys in the league as the negotiations rumbled on into the summer. Towards the end of June, with their Munster Championship opener against Cork looming large on July 5, the All-Ireland champions were eventually told that they could wear the adidas jerseys – sans the adidas logo. It was also reported at the time that adidas would be allowed to include their ‘mountain’ logo on replica jerseys, but the GAA logo could not be used on this version.

Again, this did little to satisfy adidas, but at this stage they had no choice. They had to agree. Kerry wore unbranded adidas jerseys in the Munster semi-final victory over Cork and in the Munster final against Tipperary, which they also won.

Horan described the adidas jersey without the adidas logo as “burger without the chips”.

TEMPLATE

The jersey itself was vaguely reminiscent of the 1982 effort in that Kerry’s traditional emerald green was lightened to another unfamiliar shade. For the first time since the 1960s, it also featured a buttoned collar.

 

The 1998/99 Kerry shirt featuring adidas' 'mountain' logo.

 

The adidas design was certainly unique in terms of Gaelic games but, just like the seventies, Corkmen technically wore the shirt first. Cork City FC sported the same template (albeit in red and white) during the 1997/98 season. The same jersey was also worn by English club Fulham, German side Karlsruher SC, and the Malaysian national team.

Tomás Ó Sé made his senior debut for Kerry in ’98 and the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of the adidas shirt is the fit.

“My recollection of the jersey itself was that you couldn’t fill it. They were all XL. I was young and I wasn’t fully developed so I was swimming in it. But even the big lads like Darragh (Ó Sé), they couldn’t fill it either. And the togs were the soccer-style togs. Lovely stuff, but they were big.

“It was a class jersey but my own initial thoughts on it was that it didn’t have the right colours. It wasn’t like the real Kerry jerseys of 1984-86. But yeah, looking back now, it is a cool jersey. We probably didn’t realise it at the time. I remember there was a big launch at the Fitzgerald Stadium and there was a great buzz about it, specifically because it was adidas.

“That was a mighty time. We got really nice navy tracksuits as well. Real retro stuff. We were being supplied with runners, boots, leisurewear… And there was plenty of it.

"There were boxes and boxes and boxes of gear coming down to us. Goalie gloves, Predators, Copas, World Cups. And it was a case of, ‘take whatever ye want there, lads’.”

Goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe wore the adidas gloves, as did teammates William Kirby, Johnny Crowley and Aodán MacGearailt. (Outfield players wearing goalkeeper gloves was a popular trend in the late nineties.)

The adidas jersey may have received mixed reviews at the time but it has since become a much-coveted item amongst collectors. It regularly fetches sums of €150 to €250 online.

GO-AHEAD

Eventually, the summer started to turn for the German sportswear giants. At the World Cup, Patrick Kluivert returned from suspension to fire the Dutch to the semi-finals, and France's star player, Zinedine Zidane, won the final for the hosts with two headed goals. Both Zidane and France were sponsored by adidas and defeating Brazil and Ronaldo, who wore Nike, made the victory all the sweeter.

At home, the GAA finally gave Kerry the go-ahead to add the adidas logo to their on-pitch gear. The news came in August, just in time for the All-Ireland semi-final against Kildare, who, coincidentally, were now managed by Mick O’Dwyer.

Kerry wore adidas-branded jerseys in Croke Park on August 30, 1998. It took them over 20 years to do it, but adidas had finally achieved their goal.

 

Maurice Fitzgerald in the controversial 1998/99 adidas jersey. Pic: Sportsfile.

 

Unfortunately for adidas and Kerry, Kildare won the match so the jerseys with the logo were worn only once that season. The protracted negotiations with Croke Park also meant that replica shirts (GAA logo included) were not available until after Kerry were knocked out of the championship. No matter what way you looked at it, it had not been a good deal for adidas.

The jerseys were used again in 1999 but if adidas were hoping for a more fruitful year, those hopes were short-lived. A stylish new away jersey, navy with white trim, was introduced and worn in the league quarter-final against Meath, which Kerry lost by four points. The Kingdom were beaten by Cork in the Munster final, and once again their season was over sooner than they would have liked.

Hickey’s closed towards the end of the year (the fourth company of the decade to cease trading while working with Kerry) but the county board and adidas were determined to carry their partnership into the new millennium. Croke Park were still uneasy about the deal, however, so in April of 2000 Kerry attempted to alter the rulebook in an official capacity. The stakes were high. If they were unsuccessful, the arrangement would have to be scrapped.

“We took a motion to congress in Galway in 2000 to change that rule,” then chairman Seán Walsh says, “but it got badly defeated. We got no support.”

And that was that. adidas were out.

Kerry urgently needed new gear and now, finally, O’Neills were top of the list.

“The following week, I went to O’Neills,” Walsh recalls. “It was a good deal and they were very, very happy to have us back. And I think they have served the county well.”

Kerry have worn O’Neills ever since.

BOOTS

adidas continued to provide boots to the Kerry team right up until relatively recently. (In 2016, the Gaelic Players Association struck a deal with the GAA which guaranteed, among other benefits, that players would receive an annual stipend of €375 to cover three pairs of footwear for the year.)

The relationship between Kerry and adidas (represented by Paul Moloney) remained strong for many years after the jersey deal ended, apart from a spot of bother in the early 2000s relating to free-taker Dara Ó Cinnéide wearing Puma Kings.

Today, the majority of Kerry players still wear adidas boots, with a handful preferring Nike. Puma footwear is rarely spotted on GAA pitches these days so adidas are winning that age-old battle, but, when it comes to jerseys, their other rivals are stronger than ever. O’Neills currently produce teamwear for 32 of the 34 men’s county teams (including London and New York), with just Azzurri (Waterford) and McKeever (Armagh) providing competition on that front. Foreign brands are still not allowed.

When he reflects on Kerry’s relationship with adidas down through the years, Michael O’Connell is clearly proud of what the pair achieved together. The agreement they struck was ground-breaking and it paved the way for major sponsorship deals down the line, which, in turn, have helped revolutionise the sport.

“In fairness to Kerry, they were very loyal to adidas – knowing, of course, how much they benefitted from us. I was delighted with them. They were the one county who stood up to the pressure from Croke Park.”

Kelly, who is now an MEP, believes that the agreement was “very good” for Kerry GAA.

“It was a creative and innovative move by Kerry. It gave a bit of recognition to the players, who were getting very little for putting their careers and social lives on hold. adidas provided high quality gear and they were very generous; they certainly didn’t spare it.

“I think it meant a lot to the players. They felt valued and appreciated, which was very important.”

Sport

Séamus Moynihan tops Kerry manager poll ahead of Jack O’Connor and Peter Keane

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by Adam Moynihan

Although it now appears as though he could be a selector on the Stephen Stack ticket, four-time All-Ireland winner Séamus Moynihan has topped our ‘Next Kerry Manager’ poll by collecting over one-third of the overall vote.

Around 37% of respondents said that Moynihan should be the next Kerry boss with 23% of fans backing former manager Jack O’Connor. The team’s most recent bainisteoir, Peter Keane, received 18% of the votes.

Another former manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, is next in line on 10%, although it is believed that he is not willing to return to the fold due to work commitments.

In addition to the four main candidates mentioned above, readers were also invited to nominate their own preferred candidate. This open field threw up 16 more names with former Kerry and Dr Crokes manager Pat O’Shea the most popular entry. The Killarney man received around 3.5% of the vote.

Donie Buckley got roughly half as many votes as O’Shea, and the other prospective managers ended up with less than 1% each.

MOYNIHAN/STACK

Glenflesk native Moynihan enjoyed a glittering playing career for The Kingdom between 1992 and 2006, the highlight perhaps coming in the year 2000 when he captained his county to All-Ireland glory. He has since taken on coaching roles with his own club and with Fossa and was part of Darragh Ó Sé’s Kerry U21 management team in 2015.

It had been suggested that Monaghan’s defensive coach Donie Buckley would be part of the Moynihan ticket. Buckley was also a member of Peter Keane’s backroom team, but Keane relieved him of his duties in the early stages of the 2020 season.

However, after this survey was completed, Tony Leen of the Irish Examiner reported that Moynihan and Buckley are, indeed, part of the same ticket, but the manager’s name attached is that of current Killarney Legion boss Stephen Stack.

Stack himself had a long and distinguished playing career with The Kingdom and as a manager led Austin Stacks to the County Championship in 2014 and Legion to an East Kerry Championship in 2019.

The Listowel native is also rumoured to be calling on Dara Ó Cinnéide and Mickey Ned O’Sullivan as selectors, with Joe O’Connor filling the role of strength and conditioning coach.

Stack was not considered to be a realistic candidate at the time of the survey; he was one of the 14 managers who received less than 1% of the vote.

KERRY SUPPORTERS SURVEY

Q: Who should be the next manager of the Kerry senior football team?

Séamus Moynihan 36.7%

Jack O’Connor  23.4%

Peter Keane 18.1%

Eamonn Fitzmaurice 10%

Pat O’Shea 3.5%

Donie Buckley 1.6%

Others* 6.7%

(Carried out online on September 21/22. 431 respondents.)

*Mike Quirke, John Sugrue, Jim McGuinness, Jim Gavin, Jerry O’Sullivan, Maurice Fitzgerald, Tomás Ó Sé, Johnny Crowley, Stephen Stack, Kieran Donaghy, John Evans, Paul Galvin, Marc Ó Sé, Liam Kearns.

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Jordan’s new role with St Paul’s

By Sean Moriarty Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club. Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level. The High Jumper then switched […]

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0209636_0207859234574657101600092629627809064701807682307612n.jpg

By Sean Moriarty

Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club.

Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level.

The High Jumper then switched to track and field and qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics where he made history by becoming the first Kerry athlete to act as a flag bearer for an opening ceremony and lead an Irish team into an Olympic Stadium.

Now back home and preparing for the next Olympics in Paris, he has returned to his first love and will join the backroom staff at the local Division One basketball club ahead of their National League campaign which begins next month.

His father Jarlath Lee is head coach with St Paul’s.

“Jordan is joining us as our strength and conditioning coach,” Jarlath told the Killarney Advertiser.

INTERNATIONALS

Meanwhile, Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club National League team will have a distinctive feel to it this year after securing the services of three overseas players it for the season ahead.

The club’s biggest signing is Canadian professional Ben Miller. It was originally hoped that the former two-time Manitoba Player of the Year would play for the local side last season but the pandemic got in the way and the National League was never played. However, he did play two training games this time last year before returning to Canada until travel restrictions lifted.

“He is a good guy, very approachable and very good with the young members,” Jarlath said.

The club has also signed Bulgarian International Emilian Grudov.

The 20-year-old has already represented his home country at U16, 18 and 20 level.

“He is young, athletic and very good offensively,” added Lee.

The returning Lithuanian Dianius Varanaukus completes the club international line up for the 2020/21 season.

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