After a miserable year, the resounding victories against Azerbaijan and Qatar over the past week have gone some way to restoring some pride back in the Ireland jersey. The Stephen Kenny project has been maligned in some corners but there were plenty of glimpses over the past week of the attacking, free-flowing football that the Ireland manager has promised.
There were 25,729 people at the Aviva stadium on Tuesday to support Ireland against Qatar. That victory spoke to the bright future for Irish football while connecting to the past. Ireland wore a St Patrick's blue jersey, with its beautiful shamrock crest, to the celebrate the FAI's centenary. 2,021 jerseys were originally printed, and after some initial kneejerk social media skepticism, the jersey proven a massive hit, selling out in all men's sizes. The huge shamrock over the heart especially resonated with Ireland supporters.
The kit was designed by Jonathan Courtenay, MD of JACC Sports, the company who have been distributing Umbro in Ireland since the late 1980s. We spoke to Jonathan about the research that went into making this jersey, how he designed the shamrock and how he thinks the new FAI board and Stephen Kenny are progressing.
I’d be happy to take responsibility for this design cause well, you know …. I did design it 😉 @ballsdotie https://t.co/AaQNpW42Il
— Jonathan Courtenay (@johnnycourtenay) October 13, 2021
Balls: Where did you get the idea for the jersey, and how long have you been working on the idea?
JC: It was at the FAI's 75th anniversary believe it or not, 25 years ago. A book came out for the 75th anniversary, and it was in that that I read about the blue jersey that was worn in the 1924 Olympics. The FAI, or the FAIFS as it was known at the time (Football Association of Ireland Free State) went to the Olympics, which was three years after the founding of the organisation in 1921. This predated the World Cup and European Championships. The Olympics was the biggest competition you could play in. When I found out that Ireland wore blue in 1924, I thought that was a great opportunity to bring that back for the 100th anniversary.
Balls: The shamrock crest looks amazing. Can you talk about how it was designed?
JC: The crest was a really important part of the design. The shamrock is obviously a huge part of our history, and is used by multiple sporting codes, and it's what would have been worn on those jerseys, particularly in the early days. Even though the jerseys that would have been worn back then were similar to how rugby jerseys were up until the 80s and 90s, as in heavy cotton with twill collars. You couldn't ask a modern footballer to wear something like that. We wanted to take an aesthetic that looked similar but the key indicator in this was always going to be 1) the colour and 2) the crest. So I spent a lot of time researching and looking at shamrocks, which a lot of people will think is nuts. A lot of people will think a shamrock is just a shamrock! The material that the shamrock is embroidered with is the twill material that would have been similar to the collars that would have been used back in the 1920s. The shamrock that's there is a slightly different shamrock to one that's ever been used before. I tried to use a layering, or a 3-D type effect on the embroidery, so it's a raised embroidery, so the leaves and the halves of the clovers are raised up. I used a thread with a sheen on it, which it makes it pop.
Balls: How does one go about researching shamrocks?
JC: I would have looked online, and looked at past FAI programmes. I would have looked at that book for the 75th anniversary of the FAI. I would have looked at those beautiful black and white images, and there was multiple different shamrocks used on the crest. There were sprigs of shamrocks used, there was a solo shamrock, there were all kinds of different ones.
Enjoyable way to mark our centenary game. Proud to be Irish & honoured to get the chance to wear this jersey with these lads ☘️💚💙 #100 @FAIreland pic.twitter.com/HymLGBjVQb
— John Egan (@JohnEgan92) October 12, 2021
Balls: Why do you think people have reacted so strongly to the crest - and is there anything preventing this shamrock crest from being our crest going forward?
JC: The shamrock is a brilliant signifier. It was all done through a heritage lens. The Umbro logo is tonal for example and because there's no sponsor on the jersey. Even the match details for the Qatar game - we made sure they were embroidered blue on blue like the Umbro logo was. We wanted nothing to take away from the crest. There's been a huge reaction to the crest now that everyone has seen it. There's been a huge reaction on my social media feed, people asking me if we can keep the crest. It's not my decision! It's ultimately up to the powers that be at the FAI to decide their corporate identity. It's a complement that so many people want it kept. Obviously I'd love to see it kept but it's not my decision.
Balls: Umbro Ireland have long been affiliated with the Irish football team. Are you happy with the direction that Irish football is heading in, both at boardroom level and on the pitch with the senior men's team?
JC: Obviously we're happy as a sponsor in the direction that the FAI are going now, there's a very professional board now, which is bringing the association in a different direction. That's obviously all a hugely positive thing. I'm a huge fan of Stephen Kenny and what he's trying to do. He's trying to reinvent the style that Ireland plays football in, as a nation. And he's trying to do it with a very young team. It's two difficult things to do, and we're finally starting to see some results. We're really excited about the future.
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