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The link between the Cork GAA jersey and the battle for freedom is an incredible tale

‘An Fhuil agus Bindealán’ airs on TG4 this evening, as former Cork player and manager Donal O’Grady goes on a journey through history to uncover the origins of the famous shirt.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

IF YOU DON’T get time to sit down and watch this one this evening, hit the record button.

Donal O’Grady, All-Ireland senior medallist with the Cork hurlers as a player and manager, is on a journey through history to uncover the origins of the county’s famous GAA jersey.

What he discovered will surprise many people – and especially the people of Cork.

While fans of the Rebels have always associated red with Cork, this wasn’t always the case.

Donal O'Grady Former Cork player and manager Donal O'Grady. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Grady says: “It’s an honour for me to tell this story, the link between the jersey and the battle for freedom is an incredible tale.”

The tale is ‘An Fhuil agus Bindealán’, or ‘blood and bandage’, and it airs on TG4 this evening (St. Stephen’s Day) at 7.45pm.

Background

The year is 1919, Cork is a leading GAA county but the senior hurlers had not tasted All-Ireland success since 1903.

A gap of 16 years is a long time for Cork fans but 1919 brought a new hope.

At this time, Ireland was in chaos, the war of Independence in full swing. Cork was an epicentre of the struggle. The British were losing the war in Cork and coming under enormous pressure.

From 1913 to 1919, the Cork GAA team wore a blue jersey with a saffron ‘C’ emblazoned on the chest.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Indeed, when Cork played Kilkenny in the Allianz Hurling League at Páirc Uí Rinn back in March, they wore a commemorative kit to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising. 

O’Grady says: “Can you imagine a Cork team in blue? We’re just so associated with the red, would our history have been the same in a blue jersey?”

In the weeks leading up to the Cork’s first game in the Munster championship in 1919, men representing the British forces raided the county board offices on Cook St.

A view of the Cork jersey 12/3/2003 Jimmy Barry-Murphy's jersey from Cork's All-Ireland senior hurling centenary winning team of 1984. Source: INPHO

There, they found the blue jerseys and stole them.

Cork GAA, at the time, was heavily connected to the IRA in the city and so the British forces felt that this theft would send a strong warning.

Undaunted, the county board went on a frantic search for jerseys and, luckily, came across a set of red jerseys from the Father O’Leary Temperance Association Team, which was recently defunct.

A general view of the Cork jersey The Cork senior hurling jersey of 2001. Source: INPHO

The jerseys seemed to inspire the players and the team went on a great run, culminating  in Captain Jimmy ‘Major’ Kennedy scoring four goals as they triumphed over Dublin in the All-Ireland final on a scoreline of 6-4 to 2-4, thus ending the 16-year barren spell.

Consequently, Cork decided to wear the ‘lucky’ red jerseys in all future games.

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Source: TG4/YouTube

The role that Cork played in the war of Independence cemented Cork’s identity as the Rebel county.

The war became etched in their collective psyche and, born out of this struggle, the new blood red jerseys recalled the sacrifice of Cork men and women who gave their lives.

Director of ‘An Fhuil agus Bindealán’ is Pat Comer, a former goalkeeper and All-Ireland senior football medallist with Galway.

Patrick Horgan celebrates a late point Patrick Horgan sporting the Cork jersey from the 2016 season. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Comer said: “As a proud Galway man who has worn the county colours, I know the passion jerseys evoke but there’s certainly something extra special between Cork people and the red jersey.”

O’Grady meets current and recent players to discuss how much the red jersey means to them.

Directed by Pat Comer and produced by Éamonn Ó Cualáín and Samuel Kingston from Fócas Films, the documentary airs on TG4 this evening at 7.45pm, straight after the Munster v Leinster rugby game.

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