1976 – Founding
Ashbourne Rugby Club was conceived by eight founding fathers, in the village hall in Ashbourne, in March 1974. A subsequent gathering of approximately forty at THE HUNTER’S MOON set the club in motion.
Ned Nulty, on his farm, on what is now the Crestwood Estate, kindly provided a pitch. The changing facilities were located at the aforementioned Ned’s stable.
The founders were: Tom Higgins; Padraig O Broin; Fergus Duignan, Ken Mc Mullan, John Brennan, Peador O Kelly, Michael Duffy and Jack Conlan. Tom as President, Padraig, Fergus, Ken and Jack served on the first Club Committee. Fergus, Ken, Peadar and Jack were subsequently Presidents of the Club. Peader and Jack also served as Club Captains. Fergus was the visionary and spiritual leader for the club, before his untimely death. Ken served on various committees, was the first official referee for the club and was renowned as a raconteur, in Ashbourne.
The Club fielding 2 teams competed during the first 2 seasons at Junior 5 and Junior 6 with Padraig O Broin as captain. His exhortation of an Ashbourne player on occasion as “you pixie, you little pixie” sometimes caused wonder about the personal proclivities of the players, in the newly formed Club.
Padraig also doubled as grounds-man and “Dub.” that he is was very much taken by the idea driving Ned’s tractor and heavy roller to level the pitch, in advance of the matches. This was fine until a certain Saturday in November, when he abandoned the job half completed, after days of rain and a heavy frost the night before. He returned later to complete the job. The frost had thawed and the tractor and heavy roller could not be moved from the centre of the pitch. Later, the D4 set showed up to play the match in the form of an Old Wesley J3 side. They were introduced to the stable to change, picked their way through the cow-shit in the yard, climbed the gate to get on to the pitch and were then informed that both packs must scrum down to remove the offending tractor and roller off the pitch. To add salt to the wound Ashbourne J5 then had the temerity to win the match, “going away”.
The first match was for the Mc Dowell Shield with Suttonians, in Sutton. Ashbourne played in black and white and were beaten 19-6. The shield was presented by the family of a famous past president of Suttonians Rugby Club -Mr John J McDowell of the Mc Dowell of the “ring house” –the jewellers in O’Connell Street. The shield was set for Junior 2 standard on a home and away basis with the aggregate of points over the 2 matches deciding the winner. It was curious that John Duane a basketball player, who got injured in that match and never played again, scored the only, try for Ashbourne and Frank Dwyer a soccer player scored the conversion.
The next match against Guinness the following Saturday preceded the official opening, on the Sunday. The match was an Ashbourne Selection versus an Al Moroney International Selection.
Such notables as Al, Moss Keane, Kevin Flynn, Vinny Becker (injured by a pram on the sideline), Tony Ensor, Mick Doyle, Robbie Mc Grath and Terry Kingston graced the pitch in Ashbourne, that day. Ashbourne played in Amber and black, the official Club colours.
One Charles J Haughy sponsored both sets of Ashbourne jerseys – of a very good quality. Joe Kennedy then editor of the “Sunday World” and the club’s first PRO reported that Mr Haughey inquired if the jerseys were gold lined, when presented with the Invoice. However the bill was paid and, Mr Haughey was made Hon. vice president that year.
Tim O Connor arrived as captain in the third season together with a huge recruitment drive (almost a complete pack of forwards were delivered) and a deal to use St. Andrews Athletic Club for a home. He brought his Civil Service organisation and soon to be recognised internationally – his enormous diplomatic skills. The Club competed at Junior 4 and were beaten by Terenure in the semi-final of the League and were most unfortunate to go down to Blackrock by a drop goal from 40 yards in extra time, in the Cup.
Paddy Woods (the first jockey to ride Arkle in a competitive race) was the prime mover in the Athletic Club. He hoped through the association with the rugby club, to attract some of the rugby players into the Athletic Club. Tom Higgins, Tim O’Connor and Jack Conlan from the rugby with Plunkett Cromwell from the Athletic formed a 4*100 team that were unbeaten in Co. Meath that year.
The pitch suffered as a result of continuous training and playing. Pat Bobbett came to our rescue when he kindly made 2 pitches (under the 110KV line) available to us on his farm (“the priest’s acre”). Like golf, local rules applied if the ball hit the overhead line.
Pat Rooney made the same kind gesture when providing the use a pitch later, on his farm.
In these formative years the club also played in the pitch in Milltown (held in trust for sports activities to this day). The club also welcomed the benevolence of Joe Keeling when Joe presented the club with grounds in “Race Hill”, Ashbourne. A small number of matches were played here and reconstruction work was started on the cottage on the grounds for the provision of a clubhouse. It was then decided that the grounds required too much development to provide a long term home for the club.
Ashbourne progressed to Junior 3 the fourth season under Mick Martin’s leadership. It was also the first time competing in the Spencer Cup. We were unfortunate to be beaten by De La Salle in the semi-final by an intercept try in the last 10 minutes. This was accompanied by an indifferent league performance and we were “hockeyed” by St. Mary’s in the first round of the cup. The later occurred in spite of sterling performances by Paul Grimes and Alex Smith, when the chips were down.