My Publishing Journey – An Interview with Eddie O’Mahony, author of Green White Orange: A History of the Republic of Ireland Soccer Shirt.

Following on from his successful 40 Shades of Green, Eddie’s latest book, Green White Orange: The History of the Republic of Ireland Soccer Shirt is both a beautiful exhibition of his jerseys, and a journey deep into Ireland’s footballing past. Green White Orange is the result of an extensive collaboration between Eddie and Lettertec, and all the Lettertec team are extremely proud of the finished result, from the beautiful production to our efforts to bring Eddie’s work to a new audience.

Green White Orange could not have been published at a better time, 2021 being the centenary of the FAI’s foundation. We caught up with Eddie recently, while busy promoting his incredible new book.

Q: Hi Eddie. Could you explain to readers why you began collecting Irish soccer shirts?

As a child in Dublin in the early 1980s I had a poster of Liam Brady in his Ireland shirt on my wall. This was a time pre-internet and replica Ireland football shirts were only just starting to be produced by O Neills. One day my mother brought me to a sports shop and surprised me by buying me the same Ireland kit Liam Brady was wearing on my wall. Instantly I felt I had a special connection with the team and that has never left me all these years later. In 2002 I was in Japan at the World Cup as an Irish fan and after the match against Germany Steven Reid, the Irish midfield player, gave me his shirt from the game. It was the start of the “James Nolan Collection” and Irelandsoccershirts.com was born.

Q; You asked Elaine, from Lettertec’s design team, to include Richard Dunne’s jersey against Russia on the Green White Orange cover. Why did you choose this jersey, and could you explain briefly how you acquired it?

Choosing one Irish shirt from 100 years to grace the cover of a book is a tough decision given all the great players and games from 1921 to 2021. For me Richard Dunne’s iconic “Marker Shirt” from the game against Russia away in Moscow in 2011 was the natural choice. White in our tricolour signifies peace between green and orange so it’s symbolic. Dunne’s performance in that game ranks alongside Paul McGrath’s against Italy in 1994 and Roy Keane’s against Holland in 2001, when it comes to the greatest  individual performances in our history by an Irish player. What makes the shirt so unique is that owing to a blood injury, Dunne was forced to wear the spare “bloodshirt”, which due to UEFA rules was meant to be plain with no number on it. The referee was unaware of this rule however, and he refused to let Dunne onto the pitch. So, with no change of shirt, the Irish goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly, live on camera, drew the number 5 onto the front and back of the shirt and Dunne rejoined the fray to earn a vital draw. For me it is the most iconic Irish soccer shirt in our centenary history. Richard and the FAI auctioned the shirt to raise money for Tallaght Children’s Hospital and the Barretstown children’s charity. I was fortunate to eventually become the custodian of this relic.

“Dunne’s performance in that game ranks alongside Paul McGrath’s against Italy in 1994 and Roy Keane’s against Holland in 2001, when it comes to the greatest  individual performances in our history by an Irish player.”

Q;  We know the Richard Dunne jersey is your favourite from your collection Eddie, so what’s your second favourite?

That’s a bit like asking a parent who has 3 children to select their 2 favourites!! All the shirts in the museum archive are cherished equally. Each one is a player’s story from their time wearing the shirt, so each one is sacred. That said, the two other Irish shirts that would make up my personal “Top 3” are Ray Houghton’s green Adidas number 8 shirt that he wore scoring that famous goal against England in Stuttgart in 1988. As a 9 year old boy watching, the match was a very special moment in my life and one that I can picture just as clearly today, over thirty years later. The final shirt would be the iconic shirt Packie Bonner wore against Romania in Italy 1990. It was a great moment in Irish sporting history, but it was also a really seismic moment in the psyche of the nation, and one that may never be bettered.

Q; As you mentioned, Green White Orange is also a history book. What historical fact, or story from the history of Irish soccer, do you think will surprise readers of your book the most?

The book appeals of course to the avid football fan, but spanning 100 years it touches on our nation’s history also. Many readers will be surprised to learn that the first ever football shirt Ireland wore in a competitive game was actually blue in colour, not green, and this was in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. The first Republic of Ireland soccer team were also the nation’s first ever Olympians, so they should occupy a very special place in our history.

“Many readers will be surprised to learn that the first ever football shirt Ireland wore in a competitive game was actually blue in colour, not green, and this was in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games.”

Q; Eddie; Green White  Orange is the second book you have published through Lettertec/Selfpublishbooks. The first was the excellent 40 Shades of Green. Why did you decide to write a book about your collection? Why was writing a book important to you?

The museum collection is dedicated to the memory of a young Irish fan from Wicklow called James Nolan who tragically passed away supporting Ireland in Poland at Euro 2012. I wanted to do something to honour his memory and keep his name alive, something connected with the team he loved to support, so I felt a book on the history of our soccer shirts was the perfect way to do it; especially in this the centenary year of the FAI.

Q; So far, what have you enjoyed most about working with the Lettertec team?

From the very first call with Mr Frank Kelly, MD of Lettertec about my project, I have always been given great advice. I really appreciate all the staff at Lettertec for helping to turn my jumbled ideas into a book. From design to despatch and every stage in between, they have matched my passion with their expertise. It has also been a real joy to visit the team in Cork and watch my dream for the book come to life.

Q; Eddie, people often say sporting events capture the spirit of the nation, or the mood of the people at a certain time. As a historian of Irish soccer, can you think of an Irish soccer game that did that?  

The Irish football team have given the nation so many stand out moments, but if I had to choose one it would be that game against Romania in Genoa in 1990. The late, great Jack Charlton had brought us to our first ever World Cup finals, elevating us to the international stage. The whole country tuned-in as Ireland ground to a halt. Penalties gave the game that tension that only penalties can give. Bonner saved from Timofte and David O’Leary scored the winner. George Hamilton on RTE famously said “the nation holds its breath….” and for those few seconds as O’Leary ran up the entire nation was watching on as one. The scenes of celebration were unique and of their time. For a few minutes, everyone was carefree and joyous. It really was a unique moment in our nation’s story. The Irish team’s shirts are in my opinion the sporting fabric of the country.

“The scenes of celebration were unique and of their time. For a few minutes, everyone was carefree and joyous. It really was a unique moment in our nation’s story.”

Q; Recently, you mentioned how you would love to see Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu wear one of Paul McGrath’s jerseys from your collection. Could you please explain your thinking behind this?

Chris Hughton became the first mixed-race Ireland international in the 1970s and Paul McGrath would follow. Both dealt with racism, and we hope that the Ireland of 2021 is a multicultural society, where no one is judged on the colour of their skin, religion or sexual preference. It is fantastic to see a new young generation of Irish players with surnames like Bazunu and Ogbene coming through. The only colour that should matter with the Irish football team is the colour of our shirt. I think it would be a fitting tribute to players like Hughton and McGrath to see the likes of Bazunu and Ogbene wear their Irish shirts, to show that we are united as one behind the team and that as a nation we stand behind all who wear our shirt.

Q: We can’t end the interview without asking you this Eddie – will Ireland qualify for the 2022 World Cup?!!

As an Irish fan I always believe the best days are ahead of us. I believe in and fully support our manager Stephen Kenny and share his vision for the future. Qualification for a World Cup is a very difficult task in any campaign, so September will be make or break but we have to believe!

Q; If there is a future Irish soccer player reading, what lesson or inspiration should she or he take from Green White  Orange?

My hope for our future generations of players is that they always grow up dreaming of wearing our national shirt when they are older. That is where the desire begins. I hope they respect those who wore the shirt before them and want to leave their own imprint on our history with their contribution. That includes fans, who also play their part. Whether you’re a museum curator like me, a 125 cap player, or an ordinary fan, none of us ever really ‘owns’ an Irish shirt, we simply try to honour it as best we can whilst in our possession and leave it in a better place for the next generations who will take our place.