Sunday 17 December 2017

Bustling Kildare club on the crest of a wave

Club Focus: Naas RFC

Michael Skelton on the charge for Naas against Enniscorthy in last season’s Provincial Towns Cup semi-final at Kilkenny RFC. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Skelton on the charge for Naas against Enniscorthy in last season’s Provincial Towns Cup semi-final at Kilkenny RFC. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Lowry

Officially, Naas RFC was formed in 1922 but there were signs and records of rugby in Naas in the late 1800s with a multipurpose sports club by the name of the County Kildare Club forming in 1880.

Based at Oldtown, Naas, where the Tennis Club is located, the first record of rugby in Naas was in 1881 when the County Kildare Club produced a team.

A mere two years later, they went on to compete in the Leinster Junior Cup final against Santry School at Lansdowne Road.

The club fell away somewhat but reformed in 1906 with an All Blacks tour the year before largely credited with creating an appetite for rugby once again. They disbanded again but, in 1922, Michael Conway, Bill Osborne and Laddy Mooney made history when the current club was founded.

Like other clubs, times have moved on both on and off the field and Naas RFC have moved along too and today sit proudly in Division 1B of the All-Ireland league while fielding four junior teams, an U-20 side, Women's teams and a host of minis and youths teams.

It didn't take long after their inception for success to come around as the new club established themselves as one of the best Junior sides in Leinster.

Naas Minis who played at half time in the RDS recently
Naas Minis who played at half time in the RDS recently

They appeared in the final of the Leinster Junior Cup in 1923, 1924 and 1925 and although they were left disappointed in 1923 and 1925, 1924 saw them claim the title. Included in the winning Naas team was Mark Deering, who went on to play for Ireland.

As the club grew and the years passed, they became known as a battle-hardened cup team that rose to the occasion of cup rugby.

Disappointment

In 1926, the Naas side appeared in the first ever Provincial Towns Cup final but it was more final disappointment for them on that occasion, as it was on another six occasions that they reached the final.

More international honours were bestowed to the club during those years with brothers Frank and Seamus Byrne both going on to play for Ireland.

The club won its first Leinster trophy since 1924, when they won the Provincial Towns Plate in 1969.

The 1970s proved to be a vital time in their history. The big move was made in 1974 when the club negotiated the purchase of their current grounds at Forenaughts.

After years of hard graft, the development of the pitches and club pavilion paved the way for the grounds to be officially opened in the 1977/'78 season.

The first Leinster trophy won from its new home at Forenaughts was the Dunne Cup in 1980 - the Centenary Season of the Leinster Branch. The game of rugby prospered in Naas and after seven Provincial Towns Cup final defeats; they finally got their hands on the prestigious trophy in 1995.

A ground-breaking success for the club at the time, they went on to win it again in 1998 and 2005.

The Women's section is also keeping up with the thriving national trend. Naas RFC women currently play with the North Midlands Falcons, which is a combined team made up of players from Portarlington, Cill Dara, Newbridge and Naas and compete in Division 2 of the Leinster Women's league.

In fact, only last weekend, Naas RFC set a new record in terms of women's participation. They had a total of 70 women and girls playing over the weekend which is a record for the club.

It started on the Friday night when 12 women from Naas combined with Tallaght to play a friendly versus a combined Barnhall/Old Belvedere team. This is a concept they have launched in Naas to keep young women playing once they graduate from the U-18 team.

Naas also took 42 U-18s and U-15s to Gorey for their Leinster League Division One games, while on Sunday, the 'new girls' only Minis group took 16 U-12s and U-10s to a blitz in Navan to complete the weekend.

This level of interest is timely as the club begin their activities in conjunction with the Women's World Cup that will take place in Ireland this August.

With the World Cup Trophy coming to the Naas club on Wednesday, March 29, the club are opening up this day as a chance for girls in the area to come along and try rugby while getting to rub shoulders with Jenny Murphy, who scored the winning try for Ireland against Scotland last weekend.

Naas are also very proud of their most recognised exports. Jamie Heaslip and Geordan Murphy both came through the club and know their roots. Both men have gone on to have hugely successful careers that have included Heineken Cups, Six Nations championships, Grand Slams and appearances for the British and Irish Lions.

Along with those mentioned already, current Leinster Rugby Domestic manager Philip Lawlor is also a product of the club having played for Leinster while being capped by Ireland on three occasions.

Last season the senior side won Division 2A of the All-Ireland league and were promoted up to Division 1B. With former professionals Fionn Carr and Johne Murphy in their ranks, they have made a good start to life in 1B. After 11 games they are in fourth place, level on points with third-placed Ballynahinch and 12 points behind leaders Buccaneers.

The Metro two side are also having a good season with the second string also getting their Towns Cup campaign up and running with a 40-5 demolition of Wexford Wanderers to set up a second round tussle against the All-Ireland Junior Cup champions Ashbourne on February 19 in Forenaughts.

With top-class facilities on and off the field along with the adult teams setting the example, a thriving minis and youths section and the strong backing of main sponsors Brady Family Ham, Naas RFC are a club going places.

NAAS RFC

Founded: 1922

Grounds: Forenaughts, Naas, Co Kildare.

Division: All-Ireland League Division 1B

Club President: Paul O'Brien

Club Captain: Will O'Brien

Next week's club focus is on NUIM Barnhall

Irish Independent

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