Marble City stars shining on all fronts - Club Focus: Kilkenny RFC
One of the pillars in the South East of the province,Kilkenny continue to set example on and off the field, writes Brian Lowry
The plains of Kilkenny might be better known for their hurling prowess but nestled on the Waterford Road out of the Marble City lies Kilkenny RFC who have themselves forged their own identity and success since the first recording of a rugby club in the county back in 1886.
Fast forward to the present day and we see a club that is thriving. The 2012/2013 season saw them romp to a convincing Leinster League Division 2A title, claiming promotion to 1B having only been defeated once throughout the course of that 14-game season four campaigns ago.
Two successive appearances in the Provincial Towns Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 resulted in two narrow defeats; however, the 2014/'15 season saw them finally being promoted to Division 1A where they are now enjoying their second season at the top of Junior rugby.
This was a remarkable achievement considering the club had finished in the bottom half of Division 2A the year before getting out of it in 2012/2013 and credit must go to the coaching and management team headed up by Steve Ashmore and Packie Hennebry, as well as the commitment of the players.
Their grounds on the outskirts of the city have been their home since 1976 when they opened their new clubhouse and facilities. Before that and from the early 1900s until 1974 they played at St James Park.
The Leinster Junior Cup was the forerunner of the Provincial Towns Cup and after many years of trying, Kilkenny finally won it in 1920. The final took place in Lansdowne Road and Kilkenny beat old rivals Enniscorthy 3-0.
In 1955, Kilkenny won the Provincial Towns Cup for the first time. The team lost only once all season and en route to cup glory, their try-line was only crossed once. They beat North Kildare in the final replay and some of the stellar names of Kilkenny rugby such as Joe Hehir, Andy Henderson, Syl Gaffney and Paddy Kavanagh were all involved.
In their progression through the decades, they have had a love affair with the Provincial Towns Cup. They have won the prestigious trophy five times while also having been beaten in the final on a further six occasions, including a defeat in the 2014/2015 final. 1955, 1959, 1986, 2001 and 2002 were years of Towns Cup glory with their final one to date in 2002 coming on the back of a hugely successful year for the club. It was to prove the most successful season in the club's history.
The all-conquering first XV won the South East League, the Provincial Towns Cup was retained by defeating Carlow in the final and the Leinster League Division 1 was won for the first time. Ger McDonald coached and the team was captained by Willie Mahony, who won his third Towns Cup medal with Kilkenny.
Winning the Leinster League gave Kilkenny the chance to play-off for promotion to the AIL. Kilkenny beat Highfield and Westport in the play-offs but lost narrowly to Queen's University Belfast to lose out on promotion. The second XV also captured the Leinster League in 2002 to round off a fantastic year.
2003 carried on in the same vein and the first team retained the Leinster League but again lost out in the play-offs for the AIL, beating Westport but losing narrowly to Ards and Bruff. The second team had a super season, retaining the Leinster League and winning the Towns Cup.
One of the prominent players during that successful spell was Ian Dowling of Munster fame. Ian won Provincial Towns Cups with Kilkenny in 2001 and 2002 and Leinster Leagues in 2002 and 2003. Dowling went on to win the Heineken Cup with Munster in 2006 and 2008 and furthered his career by being capped by Ireland in 2009.
The legend that is Mick Galwey also donned the Kilkenny jersey before hanging up his boots when he made his debut for the club back in 2004. During that year Kilkenny were pipped by Seapoint to the league and the 'three-in-a-row' dream fell through. Ex-Ireland international Willie Duggan, who was also capped by the Lions, lined out for Kilkenny in the 1987 Towns Cup final
In 2014, Kilkenny RFC hosted their inaugural sevens competition at the Kilkenny Rugby Grounds. The Marble City Sevens proved a successful event with teams from home and abroad competing. This event will now entering its fourth year and has established itself as one of the premier 7's tournaments in Ireland with competitions at Men's Elite, Men's Social and Women's Open levels.
The club are also prominent on the ladies rugby scene and this season will see the ladies enter their eighth season on the playing fields. Previous seasons have been extremely promising with league glory narrowly escaping them on two occasions. Caroline Mahon (Jenkinson) is an ex-Irish international and is currently involved in coaching in the club. Currently, the club has three players selected for the Leinster Senior Women's Squad (Meghan Kenny, Jane O'Neill and Nelle Henderson) for the upcoming inter-pro series, while Ciara O'Dwyer will line out with Munster. The club also have a very talented Girls U-18 team with plenty of promising players coming through.
The youths and minis are also an integral part of their club. Fielding teams at all age groups from U-7 right the way up to U-19, all their needs are catered for. The U-14 McGowan Cup has been a particularly successful competition for the club with three victories coming in 1977, 2005 and 2009, while the U-19 Gale Cup occupied the trophy cabinet in 1993.
The youth section have had a particularly good track record in producing representative players with several Kilkenny players being involved at Leinster Youths, Schools and U-19 levels each season for the past five years with Conan Dunne's selection to the Irish U-18 squad recently being the latest.
Grounds: Foulkstown, Waterford Road, Kilkenny.
Division: Leinster League Division 1A
Colours: Black jerseys with white trim, Black Shorts and Socks.
Youths and Minis: U-7 to U-19.
Captain: David O'Connor
Club President: Padraic Treacy
Next week's club focus is on Birr RFC