The Beginning

Athy RFC was founded in the season 1879 – ’80 and as such is one of the oldest rugby clubs in Ireland.  Records from the early days of the club are scarce but it is known that two of the founding members were W.C. Taylor and R. Anderson, family names which, particularly in the case of Anderson, are still involved with the club to this day.

An early excerpt from a report in the publication ‘Sport’ dated January 7th 1880 reads, “Athy say that they regret being unable to arrange more matches on their ground.  Their matches produce, and I quote, the jolliest of times in the way of good song and speeches afterwards, Lansdowne Seconds being accorded the championship in this respect.”  Clearly Athy members promoted the more social side of the game of rugby from the earliest of days in addition to competing on the field!

The association of Athy RFC with the Provincial Towns Cup goes back to the very origins of the competition.  In the very first year of the competition in 1889, then known as the Leinster Junior Challenge Cup, Athy was one of eight clubs that entered, the other competing clubs were Blackrock College, Clontarf, Cabra, Rangers, Claremont, Farra and Santry.  The first winners of the competition were Blackrock College. Five of the clubs contributed towards the cost of the competition in that first year, these were Athy, Clontarf, Blackrock, Claremont and Santry.  The sum contributed by Athy was 10/-.

The trophy being played for today was purchased for the sum of £25 in 1892 and was first presented to that year’s winner Blackrock College.  The competition rules and name were changed in 1926.  Participating clubs were now restricted to Junior rugby clubs located at least 18 miles from the GPO in O’Connell Street in Dublin and the competition name was changed to the Provincial Towns Cup.  The first Provincial Towns Cup was won by Enniscorthy in that year when they defeated Co. Kildare by a score of 6 points to nil.

 Lean Years & The ‘Bloody Athy Men’

Athy RFC continued as a vibrant rugby team from its founding to just before the First World War when 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 1939/45 War).

The reforming of Athy RFC as a club was motivated by a remark made at the dinner table after a Carlow vs Enniscorthy match of 1920 in which Carlow were defeated.  The remark was that "the bloody Athy men" had lost Carlow the match. The Athy men referred to were R.H. Anderson, Charles K. Duncan and W.O. Taylor. Immediately a challenge was issued that the "bloody" Athy men would raise a team to play Carlow. A team was subsequently raised and captained by W.O. Taylor.  A match was organised and 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. At this stage an official of the Carlow Club approached W.O. Taylor and requested him not to re - form a club in Athy because with a club in each town, both clubs would be so weak as to be useless and this was agreed.

The Crooked Grounds

However, in the late summer of 1924, a meeting was called in the Leinster Arms Hotel where Athy Rugby Football Club was formed once more.  The local Agricultural Show Committee was approached and they agreed to allow a playing field to be laid out within the Jumping Enclosure of 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 an angle of 45 degrees to the Show- grounds fences. Consequently it became known amongst visiting teams as Athy's "crooked grounds" and it was a distinct advantage to the home side because their visitors could not get the proper angle for their crosses and touch kicks. The Showgrounds remains the location of Athy RFC to this day and the once ‘crooked grounds’ today hosts the Provincial Towns Cup decider between Tullow RFC and Skerries RFC.

Provincial Towns Cup Success

Athy survived against heavy odds and went on to become one of the leading clubs in Leinster provincial rugby.  In the 1926-’27 season they reached the semi final of the Provincial Towns Cup competition losing narrowly to Enniscorthy who went on to win the trophy, defeating Balbriggan in the final.  In the following three seasons Athy were beaten in the final by, respectively, Balbriggan, Carlow and Wexford.  In the 1934-’35 and 1935-’36 seasons Athy reached the semi finals before finally winning the competition for the first time in 1936-’37 when they defeated Dundalk in Landsowne Road by 6 points to 5.

Athy won the trophy again in 1939-’40, again defeating Dundalk, this time by a score of 12 points to 3.  Further success eluded Athy for many years despite advancing to the final of the competition many times.  In fact Athy were beaten finalists on five occasions in 1943, 1948, 1962, 1965 and then 1977 when losing to Carlow by a score of 9 points to 6 in a match played in Carlow, the first time a final was hosted by one of the participating clubs.  The following year Athy finally reached the promised land again  when, captained by J. Miller, they defeated the Curragh in Dundalk by a score of 14 points to 9.  A week later Athy defeated Metropolitan Cup winners St. Mary’s to win the President’s Plaque.

Golden Age

The years from 1977 to 1984 perhaps represent something of a golden era for Athy rugby, certainly in relation to the Provincial Towns Cup.  During this period Athy contested five finals, winning three of them.  Following the success of 1978 Athy won the trophy again in 1981 defeating Carlow by a score of 8 points to 3.  In 1983 Athy reached the final and were strong favourites to prevail on the day against Edenderry.  However Edenderry had other ideas and they defeated Athy in a close fought encounter by 6 points to 3.  The following year Athy again reached the final and this time they made sure of the result when defeating a strongly fancied Portlaoise side by 13 points to 6 in Roscrea.

Regrettably for Athy 1984 remains the last success achieved by the club in the competition.  The final was reached again seven years later in 1991 where Athy faced a strong Navan side in the Curragh.  Unfortunately for Athy they suffered their biggest final defeat that day by a score of 34 points to 15 following a superb display of rugby by Navan which delighted all present except, it has to be said, the faithful Athy supporters.  Somewhat disappointingly 1991 remains the last time Athy appeared in a final and the years since then have proven a barren hunting ground for the club.

Cup Tradition

The tradition of cup rugby runs strongly in Athy and dates back to the formative years of the club over 130 years ago.  All in all Athy RFC have contested 15 Provincial Towns Cup finals, winning five and losing ten.  In addition to competing in the Provincial Towns Cup the club has competed with varying levels of success in the Provincial Towns Seconds Cup, the Junior 3 XV Anderson Cup and the Junior 4 XV Scully Cup.  In 1970 the Anderson Cup was presented to the Leinster Branch IRFU by the Anderson family from Athy for the purpose of a provincial Junior 3 XV cup competition thus continuing the association of the family with Athy RFC and Leinster provincial cup rugby dating back to the 1880’s and continuing to the modern day.

As a member of the North Midlands Area LBIRFU Athy has been an enthusiastic participant in NM Area cup competitions since their inception and the Junior 1 XV trophy was presented to the NM Area by Bill Hosie of Athy in 1966 for the purposes of a NM Area cup competition.  The Hosie Cup has since become a prestigious and coveted trophy by all clubs in the NM Area and Athy RFC had the privilege of hosting the 50th staging of the competition final in 2016 when Naas defeated Clondalkin.

Athy also presented the Junior 3 XV Speirs Cup to the NM Area, a trophy that is enthusiastically fought for at the latter end of the rugby season by most clubs in the area.  In this the 2016-’17 season six out of nine clubs in the NM Area have entered teams in the competition reflecting favourably on the relative strength of rugby within the NM Area, a testimony to the many volunteers in all of these clubs.