‘Paul Mescal effect’ behind 20% jump in sales of O’Neills shorts

Sportswear brand says Normal People star made GAA shorts a sought-after fashion item

Paul Mescal in Normal People: wore his O’Neills shorts for a GQ photoshoot last autumn.  Photograph: Enda Bowe

Paul Mescal in Normal People: wore his O’Neills shorts for a GQ photoshoot last autumn. Photograph: Enda Bowe


The “Paul Mescal effect” has been credited with contributing to a 20 per cent increase in the sales of O’Neills shorts in 2020. According to Paul Towell, a director with O’Neills, the increase “was one of the few bright spots in a very difficult year” for the sportswear brand.

The brand enjoyed a sales boost thanks to the hit television series Normal People, based on the novel by Sally Rooney. Mescal, the series’ breakout star, made the €20 O’Neills shorts one of the most sought-after fashion items of 2020.

The former Kildare minor football captain was photographed out and about during 2020 sporting his O’Neills shorts, and wore them for a GQ cover photo shoot last autumn.

Mr Towell said that Mescal “has had a very positive effect on sales”.

The 20 per cent increase in sales of O’Neills shorts last year is all the more remarkable when sales of its replica jerseys plummeted by 70 per cent due to Covid-19 in 2020.

Mr Towell estimated that the Mescal effect “brought the O’Neills brand to a wider audience, allowing us to expand our range in ladies’ shorts in particular with new colour combinations”.

During the year, O’Neills sent the actor a complimentary pack of sportswear along with an O’Neills All-Ireland football, which he used in kickarounds in Hyde Park in London.

Another bright spot for O’Neills in 2020, says Mr Towell, was that it doubled its workforce in Australia, which has largely managed to keep Covid-19 outbreaks under control.

The strong Australian performance along with the firm’s production of PPE for frontline healthcare workers limited the brand’s revenue drop to 40 per cent in 2020.

Large investment

Mr Towell said: “We had a large investment in Australia the last couple of years and Australia basically has helped to keep the production units going here because there is no lockdown over there.”

O’Neills is producing jerseys for Aussie Rules, Australian rugby union and rugby league teams.

Mr Towell revealed that the Tipperary footballers’ Bloody Sunday commemorative jersey was the company’s second-best selling jersey last year after a newly launched Dublin jersey. The Tipperary commemorative jersey sold across the country and overseas in the US and Australia. “It is still selling well – not to the same extent. It is a unique jersey and has gone very, very well.”

New accounts for O’Neills firm Balbriggan Textiles Ltd show that the company recorded pre-tax profits of €1.1 million in 2019 as its gross profit increased to €12.1 million.

Mr Towell said that over the past 12 months, the company’s retail outlets have been closed 60 per cent of that time. “We closed down on March 12th last year and we opened again on July 2nd. We closed down again for the month of November and we closed again for January, February and March.

“It is very, very difficult.”

O’Neills has established a distribution centre in Adelaide and has doubled its workforce in Australia to 25, led by Athy woman Antoinette Kelly.

Mr Towell said that O’Neills’s produces jerseys here for Australian rugby union team the Brumbies, Aussie Rules team Adelaide Crows and rugby league teams the Newcastle Knights and the Penrith Panthers.

Holding pattern

Regarding its Irish business, Mr Towell said: “At the moment we are in a holding pattern and we are hoping that there will be a loosening of restrictions to allow outdoor activity here next month.”

Mr Towell expressed his frustration with Government rules here concerning the closure of non-essential retail. “There are huge anomalies in the system where garden centres, electrical shops and bedding suppliers are open and sports shops can’t be open.

“The whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is very frustrating. I don’t understand the logic.”

O’Neills opened up a new flagship store in Belfast on March 5th last year and closed it 15 days later. Mr Towell said that O’Neills spend €500,000 setting it up “and it we had it open only two weeks, and these are the setbacks you have to live with”.

Mr Towell revealed that O’Neills has lost 160 out of its pre-Covid 980 workforce due to redundancy and people opting not to come back to work. He said that morale is “slowly eroding”.

“Everyone is in limbo – you can’t plan anything. We could be worse off at least we are selling some products.

According to Mr Towell, 65 per cent of the company’s workforce is working, with the remaining 35 per cent furloughed.

“We had a strong balance sheet before Covid and we are still trying to keep it strong. Also, Bank of Ireland has been very good to us and they have come up trumps. I have to give credit where it is due.”