Friday 28 October 2016

A thriving Garden of earthly delights

After a nomadic first few years, Wicklow found a home and quickly began to forge a storied history

Brian Lowry

Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30

Wicklow RFC Captain Wes Wojnar celebrates their Towns Cup victory earlier this year.
Wicklow RFC Captain Wes Wojnar celebrates their Towns Cup victory earlier this year.

After quickly affiliating with the IRFU in 1963, Wicklow's first match was played in Bray against a selected side known as 'The Gorillas'.

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Ten minutes into the game, history was made when the first ever Wicklow score was recorded: a drop goal from the boot of Billy Clarke. This was quickly followed by Wicklow's first try scored by Michael Sloan. Wicklow won 11-6.

Niall Earls was the star turn for Wicklow in the Towns Cup final and he will take on the mantle of Club Captain for 2016-17
Niall Earls was the star turn for Wicklow in the Towns Cup final and he will take on the mantle of Club Captain for 2016-17

The team that day contained many men who went on to give some massive service to the club such as Tony Delahunt, Billy Clarke, Pat Clarke, Tom Porter, Ned Flannery, Malachy Stone, Paschal Bermingham, Basil Phelan, Mike Sloan and Tommy Staunton.

In the early years, one of the problems encountered was to find a home.

In the mid-1970s, the club settled at Ashtown Lane having played at Ballygonnel, Kilpoole, Tinakilly, Newrath, Killoughter, The Beehive, Coolbeg, Rosannagh, Ballybla and Glenealy.

In those early years, Wicklow had a mixed standard of players but they were lucky that they had some very good players in key positions.

Although the backbone of the team was formed by players familiar to the game, the club is deeply indebted to those players whose rugby careers began with Wicklow.

Many of those inexperienced players helped forge their unique history and without them, the club would never have taken off.


A lot them were off-the-cuff players, and one incident which has become part of folklore in WRFC concerns a player who on his debut, was faced with the prospect of fielding a high ball with the opposition pack converging on him.

In this instance the player decided on safety and in a flash of quick thinking, headed the ball into touch.

Wicklow RFC is built on moments like these.

Wicklow was established in 1963 and the clubhouse was built in 1976. In 2000, the clubhouse was extended to accommodate the club's growth.

The superb top pitch was opened in 1994 and hosted several international fixtures including Ireland U-21 games in 1995 and 2002.

In 2008 the club completed an ambitious scheme to improve the two remaining pitches and develop a training area. A major floodlighting scheme was completed with the aid of funding from the National Lottery.

You don't have to look back very far to find one of their crowning moments as a club. Last season, the men from the Garden County lifted the prestigious Towns Cup trophy for the first time in the competition's 91-year history.

Underdogs going into the final in Ashbourne, the Wicklow men, led by Wes Wojnar, threw the script out the window and defeated Leinster League Division 1A champions Enniscorthy in the final. The win sparked joyous scenes as history was made.

They also had a superb league season in Division 1B, just missing out on promotion. In fact, their promotion hopes were scuppered when Enniscorthy failed to advance from the Round Robin series and join the All Ireland senior league.

Indeed, last season was Wicklow's most successful ever with the seconds also winning the Division 1B seconds league for the second year in a row.

Wicklow RFC are now celebrating the most successful period in their history and can look back with pride on the commitment and energy which has seen the club develop from a single team relying on the generosity of local landowners for playing facilities to a club fielding two senior men's teams, 10 juvenile teams and girls teams at U-18, U-15 and U-12.

This season their senior women's team will play in Leinster League Division 3. This has been a long-term goal of the club and hopefully many years of being at the forefront of girls underage rugby will bear fruit. The club had 500 playing members in 2016.

Wicklow have one of the finest youth and mini rugby set-ups in the province. They pride themselves on being a family club and strive to bring players all the way through from mini rugby, through the youth set-up and on to the senior teams where possible.

They have won numerous trophies at youth level, the highlight being two All Ireland trophies in 2007 and 2008. 20 players from the Towns Cup match-day squad came through the youths and minis set-up in the club.

Nine players from WRFC youth's rugby have been capped at various underage levels since Barry Lynn became the first in 1999. All nine players have gone on to play senior rugby for the club and four are currently in the squad - Niall Earls (who is captain this year), Eddie Downes, Shane Byrne and Jack McKenna.

The club had another proud moment last season when former minis player Josh Van Der Flier, who started his career in Wicklow, won his first senior international cap for Ireland. Josh is a regular visitor the club and is a hero and role model to the hundreds of kids who hope to follow in his footsteps.

Following on from that Towns Cup win over Enniscorthy last season, Wicklow will be renewing their rivalry with the Wexford club tomorrow when they play them in the South East Finals in J1 and J2 in Wicklow.

Both games have carried over from last season as they never got played due to Enniscorthy's involvement in the AIL play-offs and both clubs' involvement in the Towns Cup final. The firsts and seconds from both clubs will play for the coveted trophies.

Wicklow have only won the J1 South East League trophy once in the last 40 years and will be keen to double their tally.

All are welcome to Ashtown lane for what should be two cracking encounters. J2s kick off at 3.0 with the J1s at 4.30.

Wicklow factfile

Founded: 1963

Grounds: Ashtown Lane, Wicklow Town.

Club colours: Red, white and black jerseys, black shorts and red, white and black socks.

Division: Leinster league Division 1B

Youths and minis: Kinder level (4 year olds) to U-18.

Club captain: Niall Earls

Club president: Larry Ryan

Claim to fame: The year of 2016 will live long in their memory, with a first Towns Cup win and former minis player Josh Van Der Flier winning his first cap for Ireland.

Next week's club focus is on Portarlington RFC.

Irish Independent

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