Thursday 27 July 2017

AIL's finest keen to add to history of success

The reigning All-Ireland League champions are on crest of a wave and the Dublin club is determined to push on, writes Brian Lowry

Aaron Dundon, Rob McGrath, Mick McGrath, Peter Du Toit and Neil Reilly celebrate winning the Ulster Bank League last year. Photo: ©INPHO/Colm O'Neill
Aaron Dundon, Rob McGrath, Mick McGrath, Peter Du Toit and Neil Reilly celebrate winning the Ulster Bank League last year. Photo: ©INPHO/Colm O'Neill

Brian Lowry

From humble beginnings, Clontarf FC has grown to be a club synonymous with Irish rugby. Founded way back in 1876, the club has stood the test of time and are currently in the elite division of the All-Ireland league.

Last season saw their crowning glory when they won Division 1 of the All-Ireland League as the top trophy in Irish club rugby made its way to Castle Avenue. That title triumph will go down as a major segment in their 141-year history and they are still in the hunt for the top honour again this year.

With four games to go in the league, they sit in fourth place, eight points behind leaders Lansdowne whom they beat last Friday night to bring them within eight points of the leaders.

The club's original grounds was on Vernon Avenue, rented for £3 per annum from a Monsieur George, who was a horse buyer for the French Army. Since their inception they have stuck with the same club colours of blue and red, which are said to have come from the local boat club.

The era between 1876 and 1896 was an unsettled one in terms of finding a permanent base for the club.

From Vernon Avenue, Clontarf moved to grounds beside the boat club while also spending out the Howth Road before they finally put down roots in their current home in Castle Avenue in 1896. Sold to the club by the Vernon Estate, the club have built up a long a storied history at the iconic club rugby venue.

Dismantled The minutes of early club meetings show that the members used the Boat Club premises as changing rooms and that goalposts were erected each Saturday morning and taken down after matches.

The club was also approached by a local group who wished to play Gaelic football on Sundays and it was agreed to make the pitch available provided the Gaelic players dismantled the goalposts after their matches. Humble beginnings indeed for a club that have gone on to be standard-bearers in Irish club rugby.

In 1902-'03, Clontarf were playing in the senior ranks and the following year, they reached the final of the Leinster Senior Cup where they came up agonisingly short, losing 5-3 to Lansdowne.

The grounds at Castle Avenue are also shared with the Clontarf Cricket and Football club. Back in the early days, the same pitch would have been used with the cricket wicket fenced off in winter but, as time went on, the club and grounds evolved with each club now having their exclusive part of the grounds.

The official club title is Clontarf Football Club rather than Clontarf Rugby Football Club as the club was formed before the Irish Rugby Football Union was formed and indeed before the Football Association of Ireland was formed and they are one of the few remaining clubs with this entitlement.

Another famous facet of their history and identity is the bull emblem used in the club's logo. It derives from the district Clontarf, or in the Irish language, Cluain Tarbh which means Meadow or Field of the Bull.

There are different theories as to the derivation, with one being the sound of the waves over the sandbars in Dublin Bay resembling the sound of a roaring bull.

Clontarf is of course famous for the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 which effectively ended the reign of the Vikings and Norsemen in Ireland and it was also the location for one of the large meetings organised by Daniel O Connell in his campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

The women's arm of the club came into fruition back in 2014 as the profile of women's rugby increased countrywide. They compete in the in the Leinster Women's League, having moved up from the Development Division to Division 3 in 2015 and have gone from strength to strength during their four years. The club are continuously on the lookout for new members, whatever your level of experience. The women's team is managed and coached by Colin McCaffrey.

There is also girls youth rugby, where players are invited to 'Give It a Try' and learn the skills required to play the game.

Thousands of players have enjoyed playing rugby at Castle Avenue over the years while recently the club has seen Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Joey Carbery and Noel Reid capped at international level.

Mick McGrath, who was the league's top try scorer in 2015/'16 and 2013/'14, has been capped for the Ireland 7s, and recent Ireland U-20 representatives include Conor O'Brien, Vakh Abdaladze and Jack Power.

The Presidents' and Captains' Boards displayed in the clubhouse is a who's who of countless great club men who have served so well throughout the years.

Seven adult teams are fielded at weekends, with three senior teams, three junior teams and an U-20 side.

The club has a thriving Youth Section catering for children from six years of age upwards. They are coached and supervised on Sunday mornings by a very willing and dedicated team of coaches. The 'Clontarf Bulls' also caters for players with special needs, and encourages players to interact with coaches and individuals in a fun and engaging environment.

Off the field, they have also progressed and put in the work to ensure the club has been successful between the white lines.

The AIL champions of 2013/2014 and last season opened a state-of-the-art 4G all-weather pitch in November 2015, which has benefited both the club and the greater Clontarf community, with local schools and external clubs using the pitch during the year.

Clontarf FC

Founded: 1876

Grounds: Castle Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin 3

Colours: Blue and Red

Youths and Minis: U-6 to U-18

Division: All Ireland League Division 1

Club president: Peter Walsh

Next week's club focus is on Boyne RFC

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