O'Neills boss Kennedy to step down after 33 years at the helm

Kieran Kennedy has been in charge at O'Neills since 1988.
Ryan McAleer

THE boss of Strabane-based sportswear manufacturer O'Neills is to stand down after 33 years at the helm.

Kieran Kennedy has confirmed 2021 will be his final year with the company.

The Co Tyrone businessman, who joined O'Neills as a 16-year-old schoolboy, rose to run the operation by 1988, helping build it into Ireland's largest sportswear manufacturing company.

In that period, he witnessed the Strabane firm grow from a team of 30 based out of an old schoolhouse into a staff of 700 in a 16-acre factory operation.

O'Neills also operates a production facility in Dublin's Walkinstown.

The Irish sports brand, which is synonymous with the GAA, has also expanded internationally, supplying sportswear and equipment for soccer, rugby, boxing, cricket and athletics.

Last year's Covid-19 lockdown came just weeks after O'Neills unveiled a new £1 million flagship store on Belfast's Royal Avenue, its ninth retail outlet.

Announcing his retirement plans on Friday, Mr Kennedy said the past 14 months had been among the most difficult period in his 42 years with O'Neills.

The company was initially forced to announce the loss of 950 jobs in March 2020 due to the impact of pandemic, before the introduction of the UK Government's furlough scheme.

Production was back up and going within days of that announcement after Mr Kennedy negotiated a deal with the health trusts to manufacture scrubs and gowns for frontline healthcare staff.

The company is also now working in partnership with a leading UK supplier to manufacture high-quality reusable isolation gowns.

“My time in O'Neills has been immensely rewarding and I am very proud of the employment created in the north-west and the relationships developed with customers and stakeholders over the years," said Mr Kennedy.

"We faced many challenges and none more so than the last 14 months during the pandemic.

He added: “The years here have given me many great memories to treasure and without doubt it's the friendships and collaborations that made my time so enjoyable.”

Mr Kennedy, who is a board member of Invest NI, said he will continue in that role after his retirement from O'Neills. He will also continue to serve as chair of Strabane skills and apprenticeship specialist 21 Training and as chair of Strabane BID.

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