The first reference I have come across to the game of hurling in Athy was a newspaper report of a Monasterevin team defeating Athy hurlers in a match played in 1890. Three years earlier Daniel Whelan of Fontstown claimed to have made hurleys for the Athy branch of the GAA but I have yet to find any account of a hurling match involving Athy club players prior to the last decade of the 19th century.
Athy’s Hurling Club’s first major success was in the 1928 County hurling final when the South Kildare team defeated Johnstown Bridge. Hurling in the south of the County was clearly in the ascendancy as the following year Athy again contested the County final. However, this time the Athy players had to give way to McDonagh Barracks of the Curragh who were crowned the 1929 champions.
The first hurler of note associated with the Athy Club was Joe Delaney who played on the Kildare County Senior team which reached the 1934 All Ireland hurling final after defeating Kilkenny in the Leinster final which was played in Athy. I don’t have any background information on Joe Delaney and wonder if any of my readers could help me in that regard. With the name Delaney it is likely he was a Kilkenny man working in Athy.
County Kildare’s involvement in senior hurling was short lived, even though the game remained very popular in and around Athy during the 1930s. An Athy team defeated Broadford to win the 1936 senior championship. The earlier mentioned Joe Delaney was not on that team but the names Sullivan, Taylor, Hurley, Thornton and two Feeney brothers were prominent in the list of players of 79 years ago. The same team reached the 1937 County final but lost out by 2 points to Maynooth. Earlier in the same year the Athy junior hurlers, having been outscored 6:4 to 1:1 by Kill in the junior final, were nevertheless crowned junior champions after lodging an objection with the County Board.
Athy junior hurlers were again crowned champions in 1950 but the club appears to have gone into decline for a few years until revived in 1957 by John Dooley of St. Patrick’s Avenue. As a Kilkenny man working in Athy John had a great love for the game of hurling and his efforts were marked with early success when Athy won the junior championship in 1958. A year later Athy, now playing as a senior team, were awarded the senior County championship on an objection following their earlier defeat by McDonagh Barracks.
Shortly before last Christmas the members of Athy Hurling Club held a reunion of players and mentors who achieved success on the playing fields in 1988 and 1989. The junior hurlers of 1989 won the Junior A championship of that year and crowned their success by also winning the Junior League. The Athy team, captained by Tony Foley, defeated old rivals Naas on the score of 1:11 to 1:9 in the Junior championship final. The team comprised Paddy Byrne, Richie Foley, Tony Foley, Finbarr Stynes, Christy Myles, Con Ronan, Sean Candy, Mick Doyle, Shane Purcell, Mick Donovan, John McCauley, Joe Kelly, Paddy Purcell, Christy Lawler and Eddie Lawler. A few weeks later the same teams met in the Senior Hurling League when the Athy players again came out on top and so secured the league title for 1989. Their victory had followed a year after the Athy minor hurling team had secured the double as county minor champions and league winners for 1988.
Both teams gathered for the reunion on 5th December last to celebrate what was perhaps the greatest period of hurling success enjoyed by the club since its foundation. The minors of 27 years ago were Martin Germaine, Denis Doyle, Mark Wall, David Dobbyn, Pat Maher, Richard Maher, Richard Foley, Pierce Maher, Paul Whelan, Noel Cross, Aodhgan Kelleher, Barry Hughes, Declan Day, Aidan Corcoran and Mick Kelly. Incidentally I notice that the club crest records the hurling club’s foundation in 1904. Given the earlier references to hurling in Athy I wonder if there was an earlier foundation date.