Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Athy Association Football Club

‘Irish soccer is in crisis’. So pronounced the TV newsreader earlier today as news of the resignation of the Irish international team management was made public. The previous day I read in the Kildare Nationalist of Athy Association Football Club’s celebration of its 70th anniversary in the Clanard Court Hotel. The loss of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and the recent lack of success of the Irish international team was unlikely, I felt, to diminish the enthusiasm of Athy’s club chairman, Stephen Bolger, and his colleagues in managing one of the most successful sporting clubs in south Kildare. Athy AFC has a proud history which stretches even further back than the 70 years which were recently celebrated. The first note I came across of soccer played in Athy was in the mid-1920s at a time when the Barrow Drainage Scheme headquarters was based in the town. An employee of the Barrow Drainage Company, whose first name is regrettably lost in time, a Mr. Sanford, organised a soccer team in the town. Called the ‘Barrow Rovers’, the team included locals such as Chevit and John Doyle, Ned Ward, Jim Eaton and Cuddy Chanders. Cuddy will be recalled as the man who would feature in later years as goalkeeper for the Kildare County Senior GAA team. ‘Barrow Rovers’ apparently disbanded when the Barrow Drainage Scheme ended. It wasn’t until 1948 when Athy’s hockey club went out of existence that a former hockey club member, Matt Tynan, called a public meeting to set up a soccer club. Matt was manager of the local L&N shop at the corner of Emily Square and Leinster Street and he recognised that the former hockey pitch in the Showgrounds would be an ideal soccer playing pitch. Other local men involved with Matt Tynan in setting up Athy AFC in 1948 included Jimmy O’Donnell and Harry Prole. The emergence of the new club encouraged several locals who up to then played soccer with a Carlow team to transfer to the Athy club. They included Gerry Sullivan, ‘Oney’ Walsh and Tom Kealy. To encourage the development of the game amongst local youngsters Matt Tynan presented a cup in 1952 for a street league competition. Youth teams from Barrack Street, Pairc Bhride, Offaly/Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace were some of the streets/estates involved in the Tynan Cup competitions. Matt Tynan’s role in the early years of the soccer club was extremely important as events were to prove on his departure from Athy in about 1960 when the club went into decline. This prompted some of the older club members to call a public meeting in December 1964 which the local press reported was attended by ‘members of the Barrow Rovers team of the 1920s and the later club which flourished from 1948-1960.’ Amongst those who took a leading part in reviving Athy’s soccer club were Brendan O’Flaherty, Denis Smyth and Mick McEvoy. I remember some of the players of the 1950s whom I enjoyed watching in those ‘GAA foreign games ban days’ from the other side of the fence as I attended GAA matches in Geraldine Park. Brian O’Hara, Joe Aldridge, Frankie Aldridge, Denis Smyth, Brendan O’Flaherty, Alo Gallagher, Mick Godfrey, Tommy O’Rourke and George Lammon are just a few of the names which come to mind. Athy AFC under the chairmanship of Stephen Bolger has gone from strength to strength and now fields men’s and women’s adult teams as well as a large number of underage teams. A soccer academy and an underage league promotes the game amongst the very young, while the indoor astra park opened in March 2012 gives the club a wonderful facility to help grow the sport. The Athy AFC grounds named Aldridge Park after the late Frankie Aldridge, is located in the Showgrounds alongside the GAA pitch, the rugby pitches and the tennis club. The playing fields of the three major Irish field sports located together in Athy’s showgrounds represent a unique facility and one which owes much to the initiative and foresight of past Athy folk who were involved in acquiring the land for agricultural show purposes at the start of the last century. Athy AFC has a membership in excess of 350 and the club trustees, Joe Foley Snr., Morgan Gray, Frank Whelan, Finbarr Bride and Tom Kearney have all been involved as players and administrators in the club over many years. The continuing growth of the game in Athy is evident in the emergence of soccer teams and soccer pitches in Clonmullin and Woodstock. Whatever about the lack of success at international level soccer is a popular sport here in Athy, due in large measure to the commitment and enthusiasm of the officers and committee members of Athy’s AFC both past and present.

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