Very little is known of the very early days of Athy Rugby Football Club as all documents, minute books, records, fixture list’s etc, relating to those days have been lost. However a report appearing in ‘Sport’ magazine of Sunday 5th October, 1895 states:- “The 15th Annual General Meeting of Athy Rugby Football Club was held on Thursday last and 30 members were present”. Read MoreThis therefore places the foundation of the club in the season 1879 / 1880. Two of the founders were W. C. Taylor and R. Anderson and these names have been connected with the club for generations. Another extract from a report in the ‘Sport’ magazine during that year reads “Athy say that they regret being unable to arrange more matches on their ground. Their matches produce the jolliest of times in the way of good song and speeches afterwards, Lansdowne seconds being accorded the championship in this respect”.
One photograph of a team from this era is still in existence and can be seen below. The original can be seen in the clubhouse. The names of some of these players so far as can be ascertained are L. Heffrnan, C. E. Taylor, M. Whelan, J. Smith, J. Orford, J.A. Duncan, H.Large, B. Large and two pennycooks. The first secretary of the club was Myles Whelan but the names of the other officers are unknown. We do have however a record of some of the officers for the 1893/94 season; President, J.A. Duncan; Secretary and Vice President, W.C. Taylor and Treasurer was the afformentioned M.W. Whelan.
The ‘Bloody Athy Men’
The club continued for over a quarter of a century without interruption. It struck a bad patch before the First World War and the club lapsed. During this time some of the rugby players living in the Athy district played for Carlow (the reverse of this occurred during the Second World War). The reforming of the club was initiated by a remark at the dinner table after the Carlow v. Enniscorthy match of 1920 in which Carlow were defeated. The remark was made that “the bloody Athy men” had cost Carlow the game. The Athy men referred to were R.H. Anderson, Charles K. Duncan and W. D. Taylor. Immediately the challenge was issued that “the bloody Athy men” would raise a team to play Carlow. W.D. Taylor raised and captained a team. The match was played in Carlow and Athy won by 6 points to 3. A return match was played in Athy some weeks later and Athy won by 26 points to 3.
The Crooked Grounds:
After these matches Robert Dwyer and Leo Shortall called on W.D. Taylor with a view to re-establishing the Athy Rugby Football Club. A meeting was called in the Leinster Arms Hotel. The County Show Committee was approached and agreed to allow a playing field to be laid out within the jumping enclosure in the Showgrounds. They stipulated, however, that the jumps were not to be moved and it proved difficult in the available space to fit a full size pitch. The result was that the pitch was placed at a 45 degree angle to the Showground’s walls.
On account of this, the Showground’s became known as ‘the crooked ground’ among visiting teams. Some of the stalwarts of this time, along with the names already mentioned, were Bill Hosie, Jack Yates, Jimmy Griffin, A. Taylor, Robert Dwyer, Leo Shortall, Leo and Tom Masterson, and the famous Skurt Doyle who played senior rugby for Athy until 1934 when he was well over 50 years of age.
Athy survived against heavy odds and went on to become one of the leading clubs in Provincial Rugby. In their first two seasons after reforming they were beaten in the early rounds of the Towns cup but then in 1926 / 27 they reached the semi final and were only beaten by Enniscorthy by a small margin. Enniscorthy won the cup that year for the third consecutive year and were promoted to senior status the following season. The followin three seasons Athy had the heartbreak of losing three consecutive finals to Balbriggan, Co. Carlow and Wexford respectively. Then ensued a few seasons of slight recession in progress for the team. In 1934/35 and 1935/36 Athy reached the semi final of the Towns Cup but were beaten by Enniscorthy, who had returned to Junior status after their excursion into the senior ranks, and by Dundalk.
Success at last
After a quarter final exit in 1936/37 Athy at last won the Town’s Cup for the first time in 1938. The team captained by D. P. McHugh beat Dundalk in the final by 6 points to 5. In the five cup matches played by Athy that year they scored 97 points and conceded only 17 a phenomenal tally considering a try was only worth 3 points. The following year Athy were once again beaten in the quarter final but once again claimed the Provinicial Town’s Cup in the 1939 / 1940 season when they defeated Dundalk by 12 points to 3. The Athy team captained by N.L. Plewman was considered one of the best Provinical teams ever fielded. The team had no fewer than ten interprovincial players - D.P McHugh, N.L. PLewman, L. Curran, W. Fenelon, W. Keyes, B. Tobin and G. Leonard were Leinster Juniors, J. McKenna was a Munster Senior Introprovincial and G. Speirs and H. Meredith were Schools Interprovincials for Ulster and Leinster respectively.
In the 1940’s few matches were played due to the war so the team suffered from a lack of match practice. Despite the restriction on the playing of matches, all Provincial Towns Cup matches were played throughout WW2. In 1940/41 Athy were knocked out at the quarter final stage before losing a Semi Final to the Curragh in a close game the following year. The Curragh went on to win the cup that year and were promoted by the Leinster Branch into the senior ranks. Athy gained a final place in 1942 / 43 but were defeated by Skerries by 4 points to 3. Athy once again reached the final in 1948 but once again the cup eluded them, this time to the benefit of Dundalk who won 3 points to nil. In December 1948 Athy appointed two delegates to a county executive which organised an inter-county match between Kildare and Wexford. The match was played in Athy on January 6th 1949 and was won by Kildare. This was the start of the inter county championship which was such a success during the 1950’s and 60’s.
The 1950’s were rather lean years for the club if judged by cup success, or lack of it. It was a time of building up a team and of recruiting new players, Membership increased sufficiently to allow Athy field a second Xv for the first time. In the 1960’s the rebuilding process paid off with Athy reaching the final of the Provincial Towns Cup in 1962 and 1965, losing to Delvin and Carlow. The success of Athy during this period enabled Athy to field a Third XV for the first time during the 1965 / 66 season. In 1966 Athy R.F.C. member Bill Hosie presented the Hosie Cup for competition in the North Midland area at 1st XV level. During the 1970 season the Anderson family who have had a long association with the club presented the Anderson Cup, which is a provinicial Third XV competition, to the branch. Athy subsequently went on to win this competition in its first year and had further success’s in 1973 and 1975 in the Anderson Cup. IN 1973 Athy won the Provincial Towns Seconds Cup captained by the late Basil Chambers beating Drogheda in the final 15 points to 9. During the early 70’s Alan Evans, a rugby player from Yorkshire, came to the club and was appointed coach. His ambition was to produce a team capable of regaining the Provincial Towns Cup which had been absent from the Showgrounds since 1940. The development of the 1st XV preceded well and in 1977 Athy reached the final but were defeated by Carlow on a score line of 9-6 after extra time. However success was not far away and in the 1977 / 78 season Athy again reached the final and, captained by J. Millar, beat the Curragh by 14 points to 9. A week later Athy beat St. Mary’s, winners of the Metropolitan Cup, by 12 points to 7 and so added the Presidents Plaque to the Towns Cup.
This heralded the start of Athy’s most succesful period in the Provincial Towns Cup. Athy once again captured the Provincial Towns Cup in 1982 when Athy, captained by Paddy Conway, defeated Carlow in Portlaoise. Two years later Athy were back in the final, but were beaten by Edenderry. The 1984 / 85 season once again saw the Towns Cup back in the Showgrounds when Athy beat Portlaoise in Roscrea. Paddy Conway was captain but a broken leg ruled him out of the final with Ernie Stacey taking over the duty on the day. Unfortunetely 1985 still remains the last time Athy won the much coveted trophy with Athy’s last final appearance being in 1991 when they were beaten by Navan in the final in the Curragh.