Belfast Telegraph

Hair we go again: Do you have to be hip or be square?

By Declan Bogue

There was a time when an inter-county player was the easiest man to spot in a nightclub after a big Championship win.

He would be surrounded by a phalanx of women, basking in his achievements of the day. A steady supply of porter would be passed by the admiring men while his secret weapon was the official county polo shirt; unavailable for public purchase in the mid-90s.

The exclusivity of the garment granted the powers of Superman's cape. For jersey-grabbers, it might as well have been a relic of Padre Pio.

Identifying such men now is not so easy. County players are rarely spotted in nightclubs these days unless it's a final. To actually socialise in public is seen as insidious practice.

In an effort to remain unique, some have chosen to go down the hipster route.

They grow their beards. They shave the sides of their hair for undercuts. They get full sleeve arm tattoos.

It puts one in mind of the scene from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian', when the unwitting hero of the piece attempts to convince his followers that he is not, indeed, the Son of God.

Brian: "You've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, you don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for yourselves! You're ALL individuals!"

Crowd: "Yes! We're all individuals!"

Brian: "You're all different!"

Crowd: "Yes! We ARE all different!"

Man in crowd: "I'm not."

The Crowd: "Shhhh..."

The hipster culture has crept into the GAA over the past few seasons, exploding this summer.

Let's start with the beard thing. There was a time just over a decade ago that the only beard in the GAA belonged to Mickey Harte, who recounted that his came about after an impromptu weekend trip to Scotland and he decided he preferred the lower maintenance.

Now, the beards of the likes of Neil McAdam and Kevin McKernan take a month of consultation, focus-group studies and dedicated husbandry.

Kudos must go to Ciaran Flaherty, who sports a particularly itchy-looking chin rug, while this correspondent was sitting in a Belfast coffee shop last week when Shane McNaughton breezed in with a magnificently manicured effort, as if it was no big deal.

King of the Beards, however, simply must go to Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan, who appeared to rock up in Clones on Saturday after a week felling 20 acres of ash tree.

Apart from your preferred level of how hirsute you want to go, you might imagine there is limited opportunity to express yourself in a team kit.

Not so. While in their 2002-03 pomp, the Armagh players sported a jersey that was the size of a circus tent, the current trend - inspired by Paul Galvin who openly admitted he brought his club Finuge's No 10 jersey to his tailor to pull in the sleeves - has been less is more.

Now, players also have the choice of wearing smaller, tennis-style socks rather than the heavy stockings that had a habit of sliding down into the boot, especially when wet.

A player's choice of boots has become interesting too. A year or two ago, New Balance were a sporting brand of the past until hipsters began sporting their early-80s trainers. Now, the likes of Paddy McBrearty and Bernard Brogan are wearing their boots.

Maybe that owes something to the move away from the increasingly-naff coloured boot and the hunger for something more traditional. The apex of that cool is now the black-out boot, without any flashes of colour.

Conor McManus is a big man for these, reminding me of Mike Tyson's favouring of the plain black workboot in the ring.

Such fashion-consciousness has spread from the playing fields to the television studios, with the Sunday night edition of the Sunday Game morphing into an edition of 'Expose'. We may have hit a low point last weekend when a west Kerry defender wore a bowtie and a tuxedo.

Somewhere, Paddy Bawn Brosnan was wondering how it has all come to this.

The curious thing is that as Gaelic footballers and hurlers become more image-conscious, the action on the field is becoming less colourful. There is less chance for a player to display the skills of the game as every player has to give himself over to the required system of the team.

We think of a man like Maurice Fitzgerald. What was his unique selling point? A tan? That makes him no different to many men on the western shores.

All he had were his socks rolled into a cuff, yet you couldn't take your eyes off him. One of the last true originals of the game, without requiring any of the gimmicks.

Belfast Telegraph


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