‘Athy town lifted the League Shield for the first time in the club’s history with a 5-1 victory over Coill Dubh’. Under the banner headline ‘Five Star Athy lift League Shield’ last week’s Nationalist brought us the story of Athy A.F.C.’s latest success on the field of play.
The club’s website gives details of eight underage teams catering for under 8s up to under 16 year olds. Would that, I wonder, make it the sporting club catering for the largest number of young players in and around Athy and south Kildare? Athy A.F.C. has over the years had several reincarnations with a history stretching back almost 90 years to the mid-1920s. It was then that a Mr. Sanford who was employed in the Athy headquarters of the Barrow Drainage Company set up the town’s first soccer club. Calling themselves ‘the Barrow Rovers’ the team included such locals as Chevit and John Doyle, Ned Ward, Jim Eaton and Cuddy Chanders. The club seemed to have disbanded soon after completion of the Barrow Drainage Scheme.
During the 1930s the popular sports in Athy included Gaelic football, rugby and hockey. Soccer had apparently lost its appeal with the demise of the Barrow Rovers, while the once popular sport of cricket was but a fading memory. The local hockey club had its hockey pitch in the agricultural show grounds alongside the G.A.A. pitch and the rugby pitch. Matt Tynan, who was manager of the local L. & N. shop at the corner of Leinster Street and Emily Square (now the Vodafone shop) was involved with the hockey club. When that club ceased to exist Matt Tynan with Jimmy O’Donnell, Harry Prole and others called a public meeting in 1948 with a view to restarting a soccer club in the town. They were fortunate in that the new club got the right to use the vacant hockey pitch and subsequently got a lease of the grounds which is still in use as Athy A.F.C. home grounds. Several Athy men, who in the absence of a local soccer club had played with Carlow, transferred to the new Athy club. These included Jerry Sullivan, ‘Oney’ Walsh and Tom Kealy.
In the summer of 1952 Matt Tynan presented a cup to the club for a street soccer league in an early attempt to encourage youthful participation in the game of soccer. Youth teams from Barrack Street, Pairc Bhride, Offaly Street/Leinster Street and St. Joseph’s Terrace were some of the teams which competed for the Tynan Cup. Despite some initial success the club lost some momentum during the 1959/’60 season which coincided with the departure of Matt Tynan from Athy. A few barren years prompted some of the older club members to call a meeting in December 1964 with a view to reinvigorating the club. The local press reported that the attendance at the meeting included ‘members of both the old Barrow Rovers team of the 1920s and the later club which flourished from 1948/’49 to 1959/’60.’ Lead by former players Brendan O’Flaherty, Denis Smyth and Mick McEvoy the club entered on its second revival.
The following season the club registered with the Leinster Junior League Dublin Division. Very soon the club had three teams, one playing in the Dublin League, the other two in the Carlow League. With Denis Smyth as secretary Athy A.F.C. again promoted a soccer street league for underage players. It proved very successful and lay the foundation for the club’s success in the years which followed.
In addition to numerous underage teams Athy A.F.C. now also has three adult teams. The first team won the Lumsden Cup last week with what the local papers described as a ‘good team performance with a man of the match display by Ricky Moriarty.’ One of the club’s adult teams is for over 35s, a category which is also being catered for by another local soccer club ‘Bridge United’.
The continuing growth and development of association football in Athy is to be seen in the soccer clubs which have been formed in recent years. In addition to Athy A.F.C. and the earlier mentioned ‘Bridge United’ there are soccer clubs in Clonmullin and Woodstock. Soccer pitches are now to be found in Clonmullin, Woodstock and the Showgrounds where the latter includes an extensive indoor practice area opened in recent years by the General Secretary of the F.A.I.
Local involvement in sport is on the increase and is a measure of the healthy attitude of a community which is looking to the future regeneration of the social and economic life of the town with confidence.