Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Athy Soccer Club

It has been referred to as the Garrison Game but in truth soccer is as much part of our sporting culture as Gaelic football or hurling.  As a garrison town Athy, up to the years of the Crimean War at least, could have been expected to have had a well developed tradition of soccer playing long before many other Irish provincial towns.  There is however no evidence that soccer had a foothold in Athy prior to the mid 1920’s.  The Barrow Drainage Scheme of that period brought with it a number of workers from outside the area, some of whom had played soccer.  It was these men who formed the first soccer club in the town and a Mr. Sanford, whose first name unfortunately has not come down to us, is credited with setting up that first club.  Called “The Barrow Rovers”, the club attracted the allegiance of locals such as Ned Ward, Jim Eaton, Cuddy Chanders, Chevit Doyle and his brother John.  Both Cuddy Chanders and Chevit Doyle were Gaelic football players, but both easily made the transition to the other game and would in due course repeat the move in the opposite direction when the Barrow Rovers Club went into decline.  The club lasted for as long as the Barrow Drainage Scheme was centred in the Athy area.  Following it’s demise which coincided with the growing success of the local Gaelic football club, soccer would be absent from the sporting life of the town for almost twenty years.

The second soccer club was formed in Athy in 1948 at a time when Gaelic football in the area was going through one of its lean periods in terms of success on the playing field.  One of the principal organisers of the meeting which led to the formation of the club was Matt Tynan of the Leinster Arms Hotel.  Others involved at this time were Jimmy O’Donnell, Harry Prole, Paddy O’Neill and Danny O’Brien of Barrack Yard who was appointed club secretary.  Matt Tynan had been involved with Athy’s hockey club which had existed for several decades previously but which like the first soccer club had ceased to function.  The pitch used by the hockey club in the grounds of the Agricultural Show Society lay idle, as did the small galvanised dressing room which had been erected at the side of the hockey pitch.  With the assistance of local Solicitor Paddy O’Neill the interests of the defunct hockey club in the property leased from the Agricultural Show Society was assigned to the new soccer club.  A number of Athy locals who had up to then played soccer with the neighbouring Carlow Soccer Club now transferred back to Athy to form the nucleus of Athy’s new soccer team.  These included Jerry O’Sullivan, “Lowley” Walsh and Tom Kealy. 

A report in The Nationalist newspaper of the club’s first game played against Carlow in the Showgrounds, Athy marked the club’s first mention in the local press.  Victory went to Athy on the score of four goals to three and the team was listed as including Cuddy Chanders, M. O’Donnell, Tom Kealy, J. Walsh, Brendan O’Flaherty, Gerry O’Sullivan, J. Kelly, Jimmy O’Donnell, C. Pawelvsyck, J. Davis and B. Chanders.  The club’s first jerseys were sponsored by Michael Nolan and Joe Kelly.  Sky blue and white were the club’s colours and they would remain for many years the only set of jerseys held by the club.

For the first year the club played challenge matches and travelled to Mullingar, Naas, Dublin and Edenderry, amongst other places.  The players travelled by hackney cars to the various match venues, usually using the services of George Ellard and Ned Ward.  Ned was the same man who over twenty years earlier had been a playing member of Athy’s first soccer club. 

The club entered the Midland League in the 1949/50 season and played in the Sunday Alliance Division One for the next three years before transferring to the Wicklow League for the 1952/53 season.  The following year the club transferred to the Kilkenny League where it remained up to and including the 1959/1960 season.

The local Gaelic Football Club had organised a very successful street league tournament in the 1930’s and again in the 1940’s and prompted by their success the Soccer Club followed suit with it’s first soccer street league in the summer of 1952.  Teams representing Barrack Street, St. Brigid’s (Pairc Bhride), Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s played each other on a league basis and in the process provided a financial bonanza for the under-financed local soccer club.  The final of the street league tournament was played on the August Bank Holiday Monday 1952 at the Showgrounds between teams from Barrack Street and St. Brigid’s.  The latter team represented the new housing estate of Pairc Bhride which had been built in O’Rourke’s field a few years previously.  A large crowd attended the final which ended in a draw and in the replay which took place four weeks later Barrack Street overcame their opponents on the scoreline of two goals to one.  The winning captain was Jerry O’Sullivan and the Barrack Street team including subs was Joe Foster, Dick Alcock, Paddy Mullery, Seamus Rowan, Stan Mullery, Paddy Tyrrell, Jim Maher, Cha Chanders, Danny Shaughnessy, Ger Robinson and Denis Chanders.

At the end of the 1959/1960 season the Athy Club due to lack of interest coupled with disagreements over past team selections went into decline.  Having dropped out of the league the club for some time existed in name only and it wasn’t until 1964 and following a meeting in the Town Hall on 3rd December that The Nationalist newspaper could report “at a well attended meeting in the Town Hall this week enthusiasts set about reorganising their club which for some years had been inactive.  Amongst those attending were members of both the old Barrow Rovers team of the late 1920’s and the later club which flourished from 1948/49 to 1959/60”.

The paper went on to report that the most enthusiastic of those present were the school boys at whose request the meeting had been called.  They were youngsters who had earlier got together and formed themselves into a soccer playing group which they called “The Tigers”.  It was their interest in the game of soccer and their enthusiasm for playing which prompted some of the former soccer club members to reactivate the Soccer Club.  The Tigers included John Kelly, Alex Kelly, Paul Kelly, Fergal Blanchfield, Ger Moriarty, Seamus Clandillon, Noel Myles, Jack Dunne, Tony McHugh, Frank Shinkins, Joe McEvoy, Anthony McEvoy, Walter Clancy, Aidan Prendergast and Michael Keane.

Out of that meeting was appointed a club committee under the chairmanship of Brendan O’Flaherty with Denis Smyth as secretary and Mick McEvoy as treasurer.  Committee members included Jim Dargan, Ernie Henderson, M. Whelan, Mick Godfrey, Brian O’Hara, Mick Aldridge, Mick Eaton and Paddy Chanders.  The newly appointed secretary wrote to the Evening Herald a letter which appeared in the paper in January 1965 appealing for Dublin clubs to travel to Athy for challenge games “as our financial position will not allow us to participate in Dublin Leagues.”  His plea was answered and over the following months the Athy team players gained match practice and experience which stood them in good stead when the club registered with the Leinster Junior League Dublin Division for the 1965/’66 season.  The club would continue to play in the Leinster Junior League for the next twenty-nine years or so.

The following season the Athy Club had three teams, one playing in the Dublin League, the other two in the Carlow League.  Building on its continuing success the Club, with Denis Smyth as secretary, reactivated the Soccer Street League of the early 1950’s.  In 1969 the School Boys Street League was organised, catering for three age groups, Under 14’s, Under 16’s and Under 18’s.  It would prove to be a sound foundation for the Club’s future success on the playing field.

Athy Soccer Club is currently going through one of its quieter periods but over the years it had earned for itself the support and loyalty of so many who plied their skills on the pitch which was home at different times to the games of hockey and soccer.

I am told that the “golden oldies”  of Athy Soccer Club have issued a challenge to the current senior team which if my information is correct will give spectators an opportunity to view the skills of the past and the present on St. Stephen’s Day.  Check first to make sure the game is on, as there is a possibility that the current crop of players might pass up on the opportunity to learn a few things from the “golden oldies”. 

Happy Christmas to you all.

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