Season in Kits – Meath, 1996

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Today (Saturday, September 14) sees the replay of the All-Ireland senior (Gaelic) football final take place.

Dublin are attempting to win a fifth straight title against Kerry, who hold the record for most wins and were themselves denied five in a row by Offaly in 1982.

Since Offaly’s win and before Dublin’s recent dominance, the only other Leinster county to win the All-Ireland is Meath, victors in 1987, 1988, 1996 and 1999. The second-last of those campaigns saw some kit quirks that we will look at.

As was the case with most counties back then, Meath began 1996 wearing long-sleeved jerseys in the league – while short-sleeved shirts used in the championship tended to have designs on the sleeves, the winter shirts were plainer.

After the regular section of the league, Meath qualified for the quarter-finals against Mayo, who wear green and red, and they changed. However, a brand-new style was used – featuring mini-chevrons on the sleeves, it was christened ‘Three Vs’ by manufacturers O’Neills – as they lost.

While Meath began the championship against Carlow wearing the previous ‘Páirc’ design, the newer style was seen in the Leinster semi-final win over Laois and final victory against Dublin.

Other differences were the neck style and the appearance of the O’Neills wordmark – previously, makers’ logos weren’t allowed, with only the ‘Guaranteed Irish’ mark permitted.

Meath’s provincial win sent them into an All-Ireland semi-final with Tyrone yet, oddly, the previous jersey returned for that. Another win saw them into the final a re-match with Mayo.

However, this time the GAA didn’t mandate either county to change jerseys and the only concession to the colour-clash was Meath wearing green shorts:

Mayo nearly won, but a fortuitous late point by Colm Coyle – a delivery to the goalmouth which was allowed to bounce over the crossbar – secured a draw. The replay was set for a fortnight later, but in his Sunday Independent column the week after the drawn match, former Meath star Colm O’Rourke made plain his dissatisfaction with the colours issue, believing it to have caused confusion:

Let’s start with the jerseys. It’s hard to credit that Meath and Mayo played the most important game of the year without a change.

In the ’88 All-Ireland semi-final, Meath wore gold and Mayo red, the second colours of both team. As recently as the league quarter-final in Roscommon, both sides changed [sic – Mayo didn’t]…so why not last Sunday? It beggars belief.

It is a major issue which people who have not played at this level might be unaware. Players react instantly to a splash of colour, particularly with peripheral vision; they notice someone coming in from the side and a strip on a jersey or a change of togs is not enough to make for instant recognition.

I did not hear any Mayo player complain, but [Meath’s] Tommy Dowd said he made a mistake, passing to Pat Holmes when he thought it was Barry Callaghan, while Colm Coyle knocked the ball away from John McDermott on one occasion when it was obvious he figured him to be one of the opposition.

Any near clash of colours should bring immediate change. In the semi-final meeting of Kerry and Mayo, again the colours were much too similar and alternative strips should have been automatic.

For the second game, Meath took the field in their change jerseys, a reversal of the normal pattern. In his autobiography Misunderstood, Meath player Graham Geraghty mentions watching the replay as part of his research for the book and being surprised to hear on the commentary that both sides had been asked to change jerseys for the replay but Mayo refused to do so.

Mayo did change their shorts, incidentally, but that only amounted to a striping difference and the crest and O’Neills swapping sides.

Another change was that Meath goalkeeper Conor Martin, who wore a gold shirt in the draw, switched to a blue jersey, though one devoid of an inscription under the GAA logo.

The game will always be remembered for the early brawl which resulted in sendings-off for Meath’s Coyle and Liam MacHale of Mayo, who had been the man of the match in the drawn encounter.

Meath adapted better to the 14-v-14 scenario and they prevailed to take their sixth title. They were the first final winners to wear a change kit since Offaly in 1982 and it would be another 14 before it happened again, Cork wearing white when they won in 2010.

However, neither the gold shirts or green shorts were afforded talismanic status and Meath were back in their traditional kit for 1997.

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