Kilkenny RFC: Oval-ball code thrives in small-ball territory
Intent on getting back to Division 1A of the Leinster league, a new year brings new hope for Kilkenny RFC, writes Brian Lowry
While hurling runs through the veins of many in Kilkenny, there is also another strong player in town. Based on the Waterford Road out of the Marble City lies Kilkenny RFC who, since 1886, have been busy making a name for themselves on and off the field as they continue to go from strength to strength.
Fast forward to over 130 years later and the club remains a stronghold in the city. The 2012/2013 season saw them cruise to Leinster league Division 2A glory after an exceptional campaign that saw them only defeated once during the 14-game season as they gained promotion to Division 1B.
Two successive appearances in the Provincial Towns Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 resulted in two narrow defeats; however, the 2014/2015 season saw them finally being promoted to Division 1A where they spent two seasons before being relegated back to 1B where they will be targeting an immediate return to the top this year, starting with a game away to Coolmine at the end of the month.
Like every club, they have their own unique history. They are in their current home at Foulkstown since 1976 when they opened their new clubhouse and facilities but from the early 1900s to 1974, they operated out of 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.
The club went on to make history in 1955 when they captured the Provincial Towns Cup for the first time. In a campaign that saw their try line only crossed once, they beat North Kildare in a replay with some of the stellar names of Kilkenny rugby such as Joe Hehir, Andy Henderson, Syl Gaffney and Paddy Kavanagh 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.
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 1st XV won the South East League, the Provincial Towns Cup was retained by defeating Carlow in the final, and the Leinster League was won for the first time.
Ger McDonald coached and Willie Mahony, who won his third Towns Cup medal with Kilkenny, captained the team.
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 2nd XV also captured the Leinster League in 2002 to round off a fantastic year for the club.
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 been capped by Ireland in 2009.
The legend that is Mick Galway 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.
Another famous guard of the club was the recently-deceased, ex-Ireland International Willie Duggan who was also capped by the Lions. Willie lined out with pride for Kilkenny and captained them in the Provincial Towns Cup final in 1987.
His death sparked great sadness in the club and he will be remembered as a great ambassador for the club both on and off the field.
Kilkenny also host a successful sevens competition at the Kilkenny Rugby Grounds. The Marble City Sevens continues to attract numbers and grow in popularity with teams from home and abroad competing.
The club are also prominent on the ladies scene and this season will see the ladies enter their fifth season on the playing fields.
Previous seasons have been extremely successful and in their maiden season, they finished second in the group. Two seasons saw them come within a whisker, as they were very narrow runners-up in the League final.
The youths and minis are also an integral part of their club. From U-7s right the way up to U-19, all their needs are catered for. A benchmark for underage success was set in 1982 when the U-17s won the club's first and only Culliton Cup, beating Athy in the final in Lansdowne Road.
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.
Grounds: Foulkstown, Waterford Road, Kilkenny.
Division: Leinster League Division 1B
Club colours: Black jerseys with white trim, black shorts and socks.
Youths and minis: Under 7 to Under 19.
Captain: Pádraic Mahon
Club president: Pádraic Treacy