This year marks the 60th anniversary of the refounding of Athy Association Football Club. The first soccer club in Athy was believed to have been formed when a Mr. Sanford, a supervisor on the Barrow Drainage Scheme and some of his workers came together to play soccer under the name ‘The Barrow Rovers’. This was in or about 1926 but given the prominence of soccer on the British mainland from an earlier period it is highly probable that soccer was played in south Kildare long before the Barrow Rovers were established. However, I have not found any newspaper reports of soccer games involving the Athy club prior to 1926, so either the soccer played was not on a formal club basis, or alternatively the local newspapers did not report on any such games.
The Barrow Drainage team included a number of locals including Cuddy Chanders, who would later play on the County Kildare Senior G.A.A. team, as well as Ned Ward and Chevit Doyle. Ned Ward had butcher shops at Stanhope Street and Duke Street and Chevit Doyle lived in St. Joseph’s Terrace. The team played their home games on a field at Quarry Farm, owned I believe by the Fennin family. The club lasted only for as long as the headquarters of the Barrow Drainage Scheme was located at Athy and when it moved from Athy the club ceased to exist.
In 1948 a number of local men came together in the Leinster Arms Hotel to consider setting up a soccer club. The club committee elected that night consisted of Matt Tynan as chairman, Danny O’Brien as secretary and Mick McEvoy as treasurer. Matt was the manager of the local L. & N. Shop in Emily Square, while Danny O’Brien who lived in Barrack Yard and Jim McEvoy from St. Joseph’s Terrace were both local postmen. The first committee comprised of Paddy O’Neill, Paddy O’Gorman, Jimmy O’Donnell, Mick Nolan, Harry Prole and Louis Pawelczyk. The meeting was called apparently on the initiative of Matt Tynan who had been involved in the Athy Hockey Club before it went out of existence, leaving it’s playing pitch and galvanised dressing rooms at the Showgrounds vacant. Paddy O’Neill, a local solicitor with offices over Anthony Auctioneers and who had also been involved with the Hockey Club, arranged for the transfer of the lease held by the Hockey Club to the newly created Soccer Club.
The first soccer match played by the newly formed Athy A.F.C. on it’s home grounds was against neighbouring Carlow and the Athy team that day was Cuddy Chanders, Mick ‘Jock’ O’Donnell of Castlemitchell, Tom Kiely, Joe ‘Lowly’ Walsh, Brendan O’Flaherty, Jerry Sullivan, ‘Sham’ Kelly of Dooley’s Terrace, Jimmy O’Donnell, Louis Pawelczyk, ‘Cymbal’ Davis and Billy Chanders whom I believe was brother of the goalkeeper Cuddy Chanders. Tom Kiely, Jerry Sullivan and ‘Lowly’ Walsh were very experienced soccer players and had previously played for Carlow.
The club colours were blue and white and the first sponsors of club jerseys were Michael Nolan, a draper of Leinster Street and Joe Kelly, the publican of Leinster Street. The club’s first grounds man was Denis Smyth’s father, Mick, who lived in No. 2 Offaly Street and following a few friendly matches Athy A.F.C. entered the 1949/’50 Midland League and also played in the Sunday Alliance Division 1. Training for matches was of the most perfunctory kind but at the end of the first season the club nevertheless reported a modestly successful season. Interest in the game grew locally and in 1952 a summer street league was organised with teams from Pairc Bhride, Barrack Street, Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace. The final played between Pairc Bhride and Barrack Street at the Show Grounds on 4th August 1952 ended in a one all draw, with Barrack Street winning the subsequent replay. The winning team, all of whom received winners medals, included Tom Kiely, Joe Aldridge, Brendan O’Flaherty and Danny Shaughnessy. I wonder if any of the street league medals of 1952 have survived and if the other members of the winning team can be recalled?
Athy A.F.C. joined the Wicklow League for the 1952/’53 season and transferred to the Kilkenny League the following year where it remained for the next six years. Team players in the 1950’s included Michael ‘Gunner’ Quinn, Jim Foley, who subsequently emigrated to Liverpool, Brendan O’Flaherty, Cha Chanders, Joe Aldridge, Brian O’Hara, Mick Godfrey, Niall Smith, Denis Smyth, to name but a few. The club went into decline around 1960 and dropped out of the soccer league. It’s revival was due to a number of school boys including Fergal Blanchfield, Ger Moriarty, Joe McEvoy, Walter Clancy and Aidan Prendergast who came together as an informal group to play soccer. They called themselves ‘The Tigers’ and played several friendly matches on the soccer pitch at the Showgrounds.
Mick Godfrey who had been a player member of Athy A.F.C. organised a meeting for the Town Hall in December 1964 to which members of The Tigers were invited to attend. At that meeting a new committee was formed, with Brendan O’Flaherty as chairman, Denis Smyth as secretary, Mick McEvoy as treasurer and committee members Ernest Henderson, Mick Whelan, Mick Godfrey, Brian O’Hara, Mick Aldridge, Mick Eaton and Cuddy Chanders. A letter appeared in the Evening Herald in January 1965 from the club secretary Denis Smyth who was then living at 14 St. Patrick’s Avenue, Athy, in which he wrote: ‘in an area famed more for exponents of Gaelic football Athy Town A.F.C. finds it difficult to carry on and since our financial position will not allow us to participate in Dublin leagues we look forward to visits from outside clubs. An enthusiastic schoolboy section of the club is anxious also to contact boy clubs in Dublin. We have an excellent pitch here in Athy and being only an hour’s travelling time from Dublin we suggest it is an ideal choice for a days outing.’
After experiencing initial difficulties the 1968/’69 season saw a huge improvement insofar as the fortunes of Athy A.F.C. were concerned. The club reached the semi-final stages of the Sheeran Cup with a team which included the likes of Johnny Morrissey, Noel Myles, Ernest Henderson and Seamus Clandillon. Following an earlier suggestion by club secretary Denis Smyth it was decided to run a street league for young players and the subsequent league involving teams from Leinster Street, St. Joseph’s Terrace, Duke Street and Pairc Bhride catered for almost 200 players at Under 14, 16 and 18 levels. Quite a large number of the young players involved in that street league subsequently went on to play at senior level for Athy Town.
In August 1970 the club won it’s first major title when it defeated Newbridge Rangers in the final of the Ardenode Cup. In 1971/’72 the club had three teams for the first time, a senior team, a second team and an Under 18 team. That same year club member Michael Reen, a local school teacher, was instrumental in setting up Athy and District Association Football Council which included representatives from the Athy Club, together with eight other clubs catering for players in Kilberry and various other areas of Athy town. F.A.I. coaching was introduced to the school players and regular coaching sessions were organised. This led to further success with Athy A.F.C. winning the Ardenode Cup for the second time in August 1972.
The story of Athy A.F.C. is ongoing. The first 24 years of the club’s history was marked with an equal measure of success and disappointment, while the last 38 years have seen the club survive many vicissitudes to celebrate this year’s 60th anniversary under the chairmanship of Finbar Bride.