Club Focus: 'Tulliers' continue to make strides
In the first of a new series looking at the clubs that make up the 12-County Army, Brian Lowry runs rule over Tullamore RFC
Behind every successful club is a proud and unrelenting history that carves the club into its present-day identity.
Tullamore RFC is no different. Today they stand as the torch-bearer for rugby in not only Offaly, a county more noted for GAA exploits, but in the Midlands in general.
Now a senior club after years of near misses before their breakthrough in 2013, they have tasted plenty of defeat and hardship on their way to senior level.
The 2012/13 season was the most notable in the club's history.
They finally made the step up to the All-Ireland League, winning the Leinster League Division 1A and then coming through the round-robin series to get promoted. The All-Ireland Junior Cup and Towns Cup also found their way to Tullamore in a majestic season that will never be forgotten in the town's rugby circles.
After securing the league with a few games to spare and with the All-Ireland Junior Cup already in the bag after defeating Enniscorthy, Tullamore went on to claim the Towns Cup, a competition close to their heart by beating Longford in an all-Midlands final in Edenderry.
Their three seasons in the senior ranks have been impressive. In each of their three seasons, they have fallen just shy of promotion, with their first two seasons in the bottom rung of the AIL seeing them agonisingly miss out on the final day of the season.
They came close yet again last season in Division 2C but with the new term fast approaching, hope springs eternal as the club, who pride themselves on utilising local talent, try and make a push for promotion again.
Head coach Geoff Kenny is back at the helm for the 2016/17 season, while long-serving flanker Rob Connor will captain the club.
Tullamore claim roots back as far as 1879 but, officially, they were founded in 1937 under the stewardship of maiden president Dr JM Prior Kennedy. An earlier attempt in 1927 proved unsustainable and so in the year of 2012, the 'Tulliers' boasted 75 years of being affiliated to the IRFU.
Going back as far as the late 1930s, Tullamore were a renowned Cup team, and that tradition has followed through to the current wearers of the famous Black and Red jerseys.
From 1937-46 they lined out in the semi-final of the Towns Cup no fewer than five times with the holy grail finally arriving in 1946 when the men of Tullamore sent Skerries packing in the final.
It was also fitting that one of Tullamore's most long-standing stalwarts both on and off the field backboned that first Towns Cup-winning team. Oliver McGlinchey, who was a no-nonsense wing-forward in his day, served the club at every capacity, completing over 60 years of service before his passing in December 2008.
McGlinchey was a major cog in the Tullamore wheel and was to the forefront in all that was good about the Midlands outfit. He also played a major role in the club during perhaps its most important era: the 1970s.
After ground-sharing with the local soccer club throughout the 1960s, 1970 finally saw Tullamore Rugby Club take sole possession of their current grounds at Spollenstown.
Now with a concrete home confined to themselves, steps were taken to ensure that generations in the future would keep the club alive.
The prospect of youths rugby was floated and sure enough in October of 1974, McGlinchey, together with two teachers, John Cahill and Denis Magner, set about forming a youth system to help feed the club for the years that would follow.
Since then the fine tradition of youth rugby in Tullamore still runs strong and is a proud facet of their identity. U-8s right up as far as U-20s are catered for in the club and have continually acted as feeders for the adult teams that compete in the All-Ireland league and Leinster leagues.
Tullamore RFC can also boast a few names that have donned the green of Ireland and the blue of Leinster.
Peter Bracken lined out for the 'Tulliers' back in his younger days and he is a former Ireland 'A' international; his brother Eamon has Irish Youths caps.
The recently deceased Gerry Culliton also played for the club before moving on to the Wanderers, while Colin Finnerty, who captained the Irish youths, Ivan Dunne, Paul O'Grady, Gearóid O'Grady, Ray Farrell, Derek Farrell and Ronan Kelly have all worn the national jersey.
The club also hold the distinction of having two sets of brothers that have played Youths rugby for Ireland in the form of the O'Grady and Farrell brothers.
More recently, Conor Dunne, Colin Heffernan and Adam Mangan (RIP) were part of Leinster U-18 teams, while both the U-15 boys and girls won the U-15 Leinster league in 2014. Dunne in particular has gone on to make great strides and was capped by the Irish Youths last season.
Rugby is alive and well in Tullamore despite no shortage of distractions, with successful GAA and soccer clubs also occupying the town. It's testament to the camaraderie in the town that many players have split seasons between the GAA and rugby, which has been frustrating at times for all involved.
The Ladies have also begun to make their mark. They have continued to go from strength to strength with the likes of Jill Draper and Alisa Hughes gaining provincial caps with Connacht and Leinster respectively, while Shannon Tuohey has been capped by Ireland Ladies Sevens.
Megan Burns and Ella Duffin have starred for the Leinster U-18 girls with Burns also representing Ireland at youths Sevens level, while the Women's section of the club have also began to fill their trophy cabinet with a Leinster league Division 2 title last year as well as the U-18 cup.
All in all, the Offaly club laid claim to four cups last season, the two from the Women's end of things as well as the U-18 and U-13 Leinster Cups from the lads.
They are a club that continues to raise their standards. New dressing-rooms and facilities have been built in recent years with match standard floodlights also in operation.
All one has to do is take a visit to Spollenstown on a Saturday morning to see the club in action with countless underage players and volunteers in every capacity.
A tight and family-orientated club, they also make no qualms about the pride they have in their past. From their founders to early administrators and from former greats to current heroes, Tullamore RFC continues to raise the bar and celebrate their club.
Address: Spollenstown, Tullamore, Co Offaly
Claim to fame: Won the clean sweep in 2013 with the Leinster League Division 1A, round-robin series, All-Ireland Junior Cup and the Provincial Towns Cup
Colours: Black and Red jerseys, black shorts and black socks with red trim
League Division: All-Ireland League Division 2C
Youths: U-8 to U-20s
Club captain: Rob Connor
Club president: Ray Spain
Next week . . . we look at Wicklow RFC, a club on the crest of a wave after their maiden Towns Cup last season