County star reveals just how much free gear the players get every season
"You end up giving a lot of it away."
Let's face it, for those on the outside looking in, the free gear is probably embarrassingly high up in our list of priorities when it comes to wanting to represent our county.
We see them on TV, hopping off the bus in the latest quarter zips and jumpers, a fresh new kitbag hooked over their shoulder, their initials embroidered with the county badge proudly presented at the front.
Some of the players opt to wear the leisure shorts with the zipped pockets, others are more sensitive to the cold, and go for the full-length tracksuit bottoms.
They then disappear into the changing rooms and reappear wearing shiny new training tops to complete the warm-up in, before swapping them for the county jersey itself at throw-in.
Obviously, the cool thing is to not care - 'a top is a top, it's what you do on the pitch that matters' - blah, blah blah.
But let's get real... for us non-county players (whose only connection to the pitch on the day is a far out cousin that sits on the bench, but whose photo sits pride of place on your granny's mantlepiece - even though you're the one who actually bothers to visit!!) the gear is of serious interest.
We have questions that need answered - how much gear do they get? Do they pick and choose which ones they like? Do they get a new batch every single season? What happens to the jerseys at the end of the season? Do the players get bored of them? Do they ever get any gear that they're embarrassed of?
Well, thanks to one anonymous county star, who helms from an Ulster team and has proudly represented his county for seven years, all of these questions are answered.
"First time you ever get it you're buzzing, you would be sending photos to your mates like 'look at all this here,' but now you don't even bother anymore. You have that much built up in the friggin' house here, you're looking rid of it.
"So the McKenna Cup would have been the first thing, and for that you would just get an old sh*tty wind-cheater, because there are a good few players who be on McKenna cup squads that don't be brought back, so the county board don't like throwing their money around too much.
"So then a few people get dropped and there's a league panel picked, and for the league you would get a lot more gear; your shorts, tops, jumpers and things. Often the captain or vice-captain would get a say on the colour and things like that.
"Players get a lot more say on the type of stuff they want now, compared to when I first started. Before a game the lads would write into the group-chat to decide which training top to wear for the warm-up, so everyone togs out in the same stuff.
"As part of the GPA Charter, you're supposed to be entitled to a certain number of training tops, jackets and shorts.
"In that charter you're supposed to get two pairs of boots, one pair before the league and another before the championship, but we actually just got one pair. You get £80 sent into your account to go and buy yourself a pair."
To break it down, you get three batches of gear every season, one batch before the McKenna Cup, another batch before the league, then your last batch before the championship.
So, our anonymous friend kindly gave us a list of everything he received this season alone (and keep in mind it's a much shorter season due to COVID).
- Leisure shorts x2
- Vest top
- Training jersey x3 (all different types)
- Quarter-zip x2
- Tracksuit bottoms
- Boots voucher
- Playing shorts
- League jersey
- Championship jersey
GAA fans reading this will be salivating just imagining that haul of merchandise every single season. Then of course, there is the actual playing jersey itself.
"In my first year in the panel it would have been a thing to swap your jersey in the last game. I remember I got a nice Roscommon jersey, but that's sort of gone out of the game now.
"I suppose if you get beat and you're asking the man for their jersey, you would get a few looks from the players and manager.
"But yeah, you get a league jersey and then a championship jersey to keep. It's up to you what you want to do with them. There are some jerseys you would love to turn around and swap with them, but it doesn't seem to be a thing anymore."
So with a house packed full of county gear, where does it all end up?
"You end up giving a lot of it away. My ma would wear the hoodies going out in her walks, so she would claim those, and you just give them to wee cousins or some of the boys at the club or whatever.
"There's a few Instagram pages set up now, alway messaging you for some gear and then they sell it on, and act like the middle man. I've never actually done that but there's clearly a market out there for it.
"I remember this purple top we had, it was horrible, I think I wore it once and it was the first thing I gave away.
"Socks are actually a big thing. I never knew how fussy players were about their socks, like asking 'are they cushy?' and stuff. So it would be a big gripe in our team and the county board would be giving off saying 'you're not wearing the proper socks as part of the full strip'.
"Lads would be wearing wee white under-socks and the board officials would be going mad. It's funny, like out of everything, the socks cause the most trouble."