The history of the Cork GAA jersey

Picture: George Hatchell

When the Cork hurlers take to the field against Clare in the CoOpSuperstores.ie Munster Hurling League on December 29, they are likely to be wearing the new county jersey.

While the new top has a crew neck, so many of the modern designs, traditionalists are likely to be appeased by the fact that it is white – since 2004, the collars on all Rebel shirts have been red.

With the three white stripes along the shoulder-blade, the jersey is actually quite similar to the infamous adidas shirts used by the Cork footballers against Kerry in 1976, though the various logos and the marking of sponsors Chill Insurance — who have renewed their €400,000 a year deal until the end of 2022 — give it a modern look.

As it’s out in time for the Christmas market, it should do well.

It’s certainly far from the worst in the county’s sartorial history, which has been — pardon the pun — colorful.

In the early days of the GAA, counties often wore the colours of the reigning county champions.

For a while in the mid-teens, Cork wore a saffron jersey with a blue hoop but later changed to a primarily blue top with a large gold ‘C’ on the front. This style was resurrected for a hurling league game against Kilkenny in 2016.

A few days before the 1919 Munster semi-final with Tipperary, however, the Cork County Boardrooms at Cook St were ransacked by Crown Forces and the new set of jerseys, which had presented by former chairman JJ Walsh, were among the casualties.

Around this time, the Fr O’Leary Total Abstinence Hall team had disbanded, so their shirts were borrowed, though as there were only 15 of them, the board bought six white pullovers for the subs, and they helped Cork win a first All-Ireland since 1903, the 1920 title, on May 14, 1922 as captain Jimmy Kennedy scored four goals and had two more disallowed in the Rebels’ triumph over Dublin on a scoreline of 6-4 to 2-4.

Central Council gave permission to retain the new colours as long as they were a brighter red to distinguish them from Galway and also without the TA (Total Abstinence) logo.

For some reason, in 1920 Cork wore light-coloured jerseys with dark shoulders (possibly saffron and red, according to Jim Cronin his book Making Connections), though the new red tops were worn in the 1920 All-Ireland final, played in May 1922, and have remained since.

Over the years, the style of the strip gradually changed from the rugby-shirt style with a buttoned collar to a v-neck version, the lapels starting out big and becoming smaller as time passed.

With no other team in Munster wearing red, change jerseys were rarely seen, though All-Ireland finals with Galway in 1953 (hurling) and ’56 (football) and Louth in 1957 (football) saw Cork in the blue of Munster.

By the time Cork met Galway in the 1973 football final, however, it was decided to toss a coin to determine which team should change. Cork lost the toss but won the game wearing white jerseys with red collars.

The first major change to the kit came in the 1976 Munster football final replay, when the players arranged among themselves to wear jerseys made by Three Stripe International under licence from adidas.

By the time Cork met Galway in the 1973 football final, however, it was decided to toss a coin to determine which team should change. Cork lost the toss but won the game wearing white jerseys with red collars.

The first major change to the kit came in the 1976 Munster football final replay, when the players arranged among themselves to wear jerseys made by Three Stripe International under licence from adidas.

For the centenary hurling final in 1984, the Cork coat of arms, on the right breast, the GAA crest on the left and ‘Corcaigh’ across the chest were added. The coat of arms later became a permanent addition, with Barry’s Tea the first sponsor’s logo to adorn the shirt in 1991.

That year also saw the crest added to the sleeves before a new style in 1994. O’Neills had introduced a design with stripes at the bottom of the sleeve and Cork sported this for two years.

Perhaps harking back to the original blue jerseys, the sleeves now featured a large white ‘C’ on them and ‘Corcaigh’ written on a white stripe underneath. Barry’s Tea were the sponsors for the first two years of this design, but the deal ended when Cork were knocked out of both championships.

For the subsequent U21 hurling campaign, ‘Corcaigh’ was on the chest instead of a sponsor, with Esat Digifone eventually agreeing a deal.

The next new jersey came in 2000, with a subtle navy trim added and part of the coat of arms, featuring the ship and the water, appearing on the sleeve.

This lasted for two years before being upgraded, with small changes in trim and the logo of O2, who had taken over Digifone.

As county boards became more aware of their commercial power, more and more began to redesign their crests as the traditional coats of arms couldn’t be copyrighted.

Cork did this in 2004, adding Bandon Bridge and Shandon tower to the crest, while keeping the ship arriving into the harbour.

This new crest first appeared on the jersey launched that year, which featured a red collar for the first time. In 2006, the hurlers donned hooped socks for the first time in a number of decades as they fell agonisingly short of winning three in a row, before a new jersey appeared the following year.

Though adidas have copyrighted the three stripes everywhere else in the world, O’Neills can use it in Ireland as they used it first here and the 2007 Cork jersey also got that treatment.

When that strip’s three-year lifespan ended, a similar design replaced it for the 2010 season.

A white reversal of that jersey was used for the All-Ireland final win over Down that year, with the Ulster side wearing saffron and black.

When the subsequent upgrade took place almost three years later, the new jersey featured the logo of new sponsors Chill, who had taken over following the ending of the long partnership with O2. It was hard to miss the change, especially as Chill’s corporate colours of purple and green featured on a white background.

Again, a three-stripe motif featured on the lower torso, but the next design in 2016 was a lot simpler, featuring a ‘mandarin’ neck with no flappy collar and only minimal white trim to go with the three stripes.

Now, the look has been made cleaner still. Hopefully the new jersey will receive full exposure on the steps of the Hogan Stand.

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