Back to Gold, Kerry and the Gold Standard

“Respected and well worn.” Proud sentiments for any jersey, in this case the new Kerry GAA jersey launched this week. Says it all.

These were the words of Paul Galvin, former Kerry captain and design partner with O’Neills on the new Kingdom jersey. Having been asked to contribute to the concept and design of the jersey Paul described his inspiration, the  iconic Kerry ’85 jersey. The latest version offers a return to the strong & bold, green and gold of that shirt, worn on the Hogan Steps as he lifted Sam by none other than Kerry legend, the late & great Paidí Ó Sé.

We have chosen the phrase Back to Gold for the jersey. A return to the golden era of Kerry football, to inspire and encourage a new generation of footballers from the Kingdom. The names flow through the ages, O’Sullivan, Fitzgerald, Stack, Brosnan, Sheehy, O’Connell, O’Dwyer, Ó Sé, Spillane, Maurice Fitz, Moynihan, the Gooch and Galvin himself.

The Gold Standard

This jersey aspires to link the generations. It carries on its shoulders the weight of a proud county. Going back to the first days of football in Kerry with the creation of the Laune Rangers club in Killorglin, the first GAA club in the county. The famous geansai has always been worn as a symbol of pride and symbol of identity in the kingdom. Generation after generation pulled on the jersey and stepped out to represent their village, their parish, and their community.


“We played on boggy hillsides against a gale from the north and west to prove one ambition, to prove that Kerry were the best.”

That first Kerry team in 1892 played Dublin captained by JP O’Sullivan from the Laune Rangers club. In 1903 the county won its first all Ireland with a team made up mainly by players from Dr Crokes and Dr Mitchells in Tralee. It won again in ’03, ’04 and ’09.

In 1913 and 1914 All Ireland’s followed with team captain Dick Fitzgerald, the first player to win five All Irelands. Fitzgerald had a seminal role in Kerry GAA and the development of Gaelic football over the next 60 or 70 years.  September 1914, he published his groundbreaking book How to Play Gaelic Football, that set out a manifest and job description for each position on the Gaelic football pitch and for the first time codified the roles and responsibilities of each player. Arguably his perceptive analysis was to provide the basis for Gaelic football until tactical innovations like the third midfielder became more frequent.

Practically every GAA team followed Fitzgerald’s approach for the next 60-70 years, players man marked each other and the man marking challenge became embedded in the Gaelic football psyche.


Shades of Green Threaten Gold

Following the Treaty negotiations, Austin Stack then the Kerry football captain, famously seconded De Valera’s motion to reject the agreement that led to Civil War, driving a wedge through communities, parishes and teams, none more so than Kerry itself. With players on opposing sides, football ceased. Kerry legends Con Brosnan and John Joe Sheehy took opposing sides in the Civil War, but gave their lives to Kerry Gaelic football when it was over. Back they went to the green and the gold. Kerry football helped bring all sides back together. Austin Stack subsequently gave his name to the famous club in Tralee.

Dr Eamon O’Sullivan

Dr Eamon O’Sullivan son of the JP ‘The Champion’ O’Sullivan became next Kerry coaching great, and the man behind the famous catch and kick philosophy. According to Dr Eamon, every man had his own place on the team and he was expected to win his ball within it. None more elegant and brilliant than Mick O’Connell, the legendary Valentia Islander who rowed over to Ireland to teach the natives how to play football. Between 1956 and 1974 he set a mythology for the standard of Gaelic football, based on the honour and rules of the game and respect. Wherever Mick played people wanted to see him.

It took the innovators of Down to out think the brilliant Kerrymen in the sixties, sending them homewards to think again. Joe Lennon famously told the world Kerry GAA was twenty years behind. In a few short years they went from years behind to generation ahead as Micko integrated a band of young turks who would dominate the game as the greatest team ever. Joe Lennon perhaps should have kept his thoughts to himself, perhaps Kerry GAA would have returned regardless. Back to gold. Down man Maurice Hayes said “Kerry taught many teams how to win but also taught us how to lose and how to lose with dignity."

The Gold Era

But it didn’t take 20 years, in the Seventies Kerry came back again, to eventually claim their place as the greatest team every to play the game. They were managed and trained by Mick O’Dwyer. It started in ’75 when a fledgling team defeated Dublin to win the All Ireland. A youthful Pat Spillane lifted Sam at 19 years of age after team captain Mickey Ned O’Sullivan was knocked out and hospitalised during the game. Their jousts with Dublin became the stuff of myth and legend, as were the bid for five in a row and the determined return for another three in a row from 84-86. Back to Gold.

Dara O’Cinneide described what the jersey meant to them when the legacy was passed on by the great Paidí Ó Sé: “Paidí spelled it out what pride in the jersey and playing for the jersey meant what representing your parish, your club and your family meant.”

Back to Gold.