Paul is a trustee of the club, and club president in season 1978-79 has been a stalwart and a bulwark for the club for the full 40 years of its existence. It is really gratifying to see son Robert now taking up the mantle and continuing on the excellent work started by Paul.
The Club however was not lacking ambition. We were already committed to playing Junior 2 the following season and the omens were not good.
Jack Conlan was appointed Captain with Roy Smith as vice captain. A number of new players were recruited including Martin Daly and Tony Redmond and Dave Sutton complete with a “perm” hair-do pushed himself forward from the thirds team of the previous season. For the first time a panel for the first team was put together.
Amongst the new recruits were one Dr T.A. Moroney (Al) holder of 3 Irish caps, a loose-head prop and a successful coach at London Irish, Bective and UCD. Part of what Al gave the team was organisation – each one had a designated job to do and each one believed that teammates around them would also deliver on that responsibility.
Al was a staunch supporter of Ashbourne RFC from the beginning. He was instrumental in getting the 2 teams together for the gala opening of the club. He gladly volunteered to become coach in 1978 and with a gentle persuasion also agreed to play at loose head on the team. It was an extraordinary generous contribution from a man who had played and the highest level and had also retired from rugby at that point. Of course, Al was also the local GP, for our burgeoning society in Ashbourne at that time. As a GP, Al was renowned for his generosity and in lending support emotionally, as well as catering for physical ailments.
Following a very good run in the league, St. Mary’s beat us in a close encounter in the semi-final, in Greystones. Frank McLaughlin received news of the birth of his oldest daughter in the dressing room, before the match.
Frank like Paul holds the club dear to his heart is also a trustee of the club. He is past president and has provided financial and auditing services pro bono from the beginning, right up to the present time.
Ashbourne was triumphant in the O Connell Cup final courtesy of the left boot of Alex Smith (full back), in the final, in Donnybrook. Ashbourne was thus the first Junior Club to win the O Connell (Minor Cup) and the first one from outside Dublin. The record stands to this day.
Teams beaten on the way to the final included Palmerston in the first round in Milltown, which went to extra time. Ashbourne scored the winning try by running the ball from inside their own “25”. The passage of play started by Martin Daly (out-half) and included Roy Smith (flanker) taking a brilliant overhead two-handed pass from Eoin Martin (wing) and running 25 metres to dot down under the posts. Tony Redmond (wing) converted, as he did for most kicks in that cup campaign
Trinity College was up next in College Park; followed by UCD in Belfield with a hat trick of tries from Martin Daly, The opposition in the semi-final was Blackrock and the match was played in St. Mary’s Club in Templeogue. The winning try came from Peter Whelan (right wing), in the final 3 minutes of the match. The move was started on the half way by Frank McLaughlin (scrumhalf) and also included Mick Martin (center) and Jack Conlan (center).
The final versus St Mary’s took place in Donnybrook where Benny O’Connor (second row) at his most combatant had one of his best days for Ashbourne and Conor Hickey at number 6 was inspirational in the lineout.
The success was built around a mean defense and Ashbourne did not concede a single try in the whole cup campaign. All matches were played away from home to increase the level of difficulty.
Ashbourne were beaten by a 3-point margin by our old adversaries De La Salle (including one Des Fitzgerald at tight-head) in the semi-final of the Spencer, who easily demolished Aer Lingus in the final.
The first competitive and winning encounter for the team in 1978/79 was the Fox Sevens held in Ashbourne. The Fox trophy was generously contributed by Dennis Fox of the Stags Head, which was the local watering hole for the club at that time. Ashbourne beat De La Salle in the final. Peter Whelan played at hooker with Mick Gleeson and Dave Sutton playing as props. The contribution made by Dave and Mick in the 1978/79 season was outstanding and both continued to contribute at the highest level for many years thereafter. Both epitomised what was best in the team, athleticism, footballing skill and true competitors who would never give up. Both also became club captain at a later stage. At that point club captains were de facto Directors of Rugby and were also ex-officio members of the club committee.
Ashbourne also won back the McDowell Shield from Suttonians.
The following season Pat Mc Manus –our outstanding number 8 became leader and captain. Jimmy Dillon an accomplished out-half also joined our ranks that season. Rank Xerox agreed to sponsor a try-scoring competition for all Clubs in Leinster. There were prizes at the different levels and also an overall prize for the best aggregate of tries scored in competition matches and in pre-selected “friendlies”. Ashbourne were victorious at both Junior 2 and in the overall prize. The competition was never repeated! I can still see the look of satisfaction (surly not smugness) on the faces of Fergus Duignan -Club President that season, Ken Mc Mullan, Pat Bobbett and Pat O Shea, all future Presidents.
The Club was fielding four senior teams on a regular basis from the end of the seventies and this development brought about the emergence of some outstanding Captains and players at Thirds and Fourths level.
I mention Eamon Walsh, captain of the Thirds who on one occasion played St. Mary’s in the league, in Pat Bobbett’s field. One Paul Dean played at out-half for St. Mary’s.
Mick Dagger and Donal Skeehan (having retired from the first team) were also outstanding captains. Donal drew a number of ex first team players onto his fourth team and produced a most enjoyable season for players on the team and notoriety in the rest of the club.
Pat O Neill could produce a Fourth team to rival the First Team and indeed some of his recruits went on to play on the First Team.