History of the Club
A little bit about St Mary’s College RFC
It was in September 1900, when a group of happy young men cycled up the avenue at St Mary’s College Rathmines, Dublin and after an historic meeting agreed to form Old St Mary’s FC as was to be called; however, later it became St Mary’s College RFC. It was to be an open club, open to all, playing open rugby, a tradition retained, nurtured and cherished to this day. There was a close relationship between the college and the club and that relationship still exists today.
In the early days, the matches were played in the front field at the college and the first trophy, the Leinster Junior Cup was won in 1905 In 1911, the club earned senior status and secured its own grounds off Beaver Row in Donnybrook (showing the way to Riverview). There it thrived until the First World War when, along with the college, it closed down and although the college reopened after the war, the club did not get going again until 1932.
During the Donnybrook days, Ernest Farrell had been a star and earned the first inter provincial cap for his club in 1911, by now an active priest he supported a group of young men, past pupils of the college, to re-establish the club. One of those pioneering lads, Paddy Branagan, survived happily until 2009. They were lucky to secure a ground at Kimmage Grove, which they rented from a farmer, Mrs Doherty, for over twenty years until the farm of which it was part was sold in 1954 for building, to become what is now College Park Estate.
During the happy tenure there, the club won many junior cups and learned the best side-steps in Dublin rugby, through avoiding the sheep and cattle dung (the pitches being also leased for grazing farm animals). Also in that period, the club regained senior status in 1941 and later a young Matt Gilsenan, who still plays an active role in the club, led his side to win the inaugural Moran Cup (J3s) in 1949; he later brought the senior team, of which he was then captain, on the first ever club tour to Italy in 1954. He later became a distinguished president of the club, was a club trustee from the age of 25 until recently; was the club archivist and is greatly admired. Others still active, to make their mark during that period were Paddy Bolger, later treasurer of Leinster Branch, (following GK Boyd), president of the Leinster Branch and treasurer of IRFU, Bill Fagan, John O’Donoghue, Vincent Mc Govern and Joe Fanagan, all of whom with Paddy Branagan, Ernest Farrell and Jimmy Ganter, moved mountains to move the club, by fund raising etc. with eventually success.
In 1955, that move was made, and a wonderful new clubhouse and grounds were opened on College Drive (off Fortfield Road) and so began a golden era in St Mary’s history. It took only a few years to taste success, for in 1957-58 season under the inspired captaincy of Joe Fanagan and with wonderful players like Ned Carmody, Vincent Mc Govern, Sean Cooke, Jack Bagnall, the Hussey twins, Dick Whitty, Ken Wall and Nicky Corrigan, brought home to College Drive, the Leinster Senior Cup for the first time. The LSC, now the Leinster Senior League Cup, at that time was the most prestigious trophy and the most difficult to win in Irish rugby.
The sixties saw a stream of cups come home to St Marys at junior level and then having been so close on a few occasions, in 1969 the great Sean Lynch ,who afterwards became be our first international and British and Irish Lion, drove his super team to win the LSC again. During the sixties, the club also had many provincially capped players and the club was growing in strength and status all the time. The cup was to be won again in ‘71, ‘74, ‘75,’87, ‘93, ’95, 2005, 2010 and 2012. The IRFU centenary all Ireland cup was won by Marys, led by the incomparable Johnny Moloney in 1975.
The seventies was the glorious age, with many trophies at all levels being won and with wonderful players like Sean Lynch, Dennis Hickie, John Moloney, Tom Grace, Seamus Deering, Tom Feighery, Tony Ward, Terry Kennedy, Ciaran Fitzgerald and Rodney O’Donnell all being capped for Ireland. Of course, Johnny Moloney, Tom Grace and super hero Seamus Deering captained Ireland during that period and later Ciaran Fitzgerald captained Ireland to a triple crown in 82 and 85 and captained the Lions in 1983. The inaugural Leinster Senior league was won under the inspiring captaincy of club great, JB Sweeney in season 71-72. Success in that league was to come again in 78, 80, 89, and 97; it has been merged with the LSC to become the LSLC. The seventies also saw the club outgrow College Drive and with the foresight of Brian Whelan, Bennie Lynch, Paddy Bolger, Matt Gilsenan, Bill Fagan, et al. a new ground was purchased from the Holy Ghost Community and a new beauty was born in Templeville Road. Tony Hickie was the architect and he produced an innovative and imaginative clubhouse, which has been expanded and improved over the years under Tony’s watchful eyes. It opened with a gala game in 1975. That was a memorable day with a strong Marys’ team playing an international XV under Willie John Mc Bride.
In the eighties, the club continued to make strong progress and as well as three senior trophies, cups and leagues were won at all levels right through the decade. We added to our international members with Paul Dean and Vincent Cunningham (son of John, great Marys' man, former president and current Hon Secretary) being honoured by Ireland and both likewise became Lions to their own and the club’s great credit and pride. The game was evolving, with newer training techniques, more emphasis on nutrition, body condition and set plays. Likewise, there was more emphasis on examination of and changes to the laws to help the game become more fluent.
The decade of the nineties was for St Marys, another period of great change and development, as it was for the game, when the fundamental change from amateur to professional rugby took place and its effect is still being felt, especially by all clubs including St Marys. Structurally also the club changed, with, firstly a fine terrace being erected on the S E side of the pitch, then one on the clubhouse side and then a complete refurbishment and extension of the clubhouse and hall and the addition of the Centenary Bar. Again, Tony Hickie was the architect, with Frank Kennedy the project manager, both doing an outstanding and caring job with diligence. The planning, fundraising and organisational work was carried out by dedicated members especially John Doddy, Paul Sheeran, John Cunningham and Gus Browne. Of courses the nineties saw the commencement of the All Ireland League in season 1990-91 and the club started in the 1st division and spent only one season since in the 2nd division, 2004-05, returning under coaches Steven Hennessy and Peter Smyth the following season. Meantime in 1993 the club was beaten in a famous final at Lansdowne Road by Young Munster. During the decade, the quality of play increased rapidly, with Brent Pope coming over from New Zealand in 1991 and others such as Victor Costello, Peter Smyth and Trevor Brennan joining from outside the club to add to the talent of, such as Steve Jameson, Michael Corcoran and Kevin Devlin while home grown talent such as Vincent Cunningham, Kevin Potts, Garry Lavin, David Wall and later Dennis Hickie, Malcolm O’Kelly and John Mc Weeney made up a formidable outfit which challenged yearly. Under the astute coaching of Steven Hennessy and Hugh Maguire, the club reached the Top Four play-offs for two consecutive years, only to be beaten in the semi finals. Then in 1999-2000 with Brent Pope back as coach after a few seasons at Clontarf, Trevor Brennan as captain, Brendan Spring as president and John Doddy as Chairman of Rugby, the breakthrough came and the AIL 1st division trophy was secured to wild delight from all. St Marys were the first non-Munster club to win the trophy.
The 2000s saw further changes both to laws and to structures of rugby in Ireland, with the provinces fully professional, most of our AIL winning team became full time players for the provinces and were no longer available to the club to any extent; and so a rebuilding began. Although the 2nd division was visited for a year (2004-05), the club progressed both on and off the field. Steven Hennessy and Peter Smyth developed a strong, mainly home produced squad, and took the club back to the top division the following season. They continued to build, with many young promising players like Jonathan Sexton (now a star international player) and Mark Sexton, second generation Sweeneys, Robert (club international) and brother Richie (captain 2012-13), Conor Mc Inerney (both A Leinster and later Ospreys sadly retired due to injury), Paul Nash (Club Captain 2010-11), Conor Donohue, Kevin Sheahan, Ronan Doherty, Darragh Fanning (son of long time club, Leinster player and B international captain Declan), Phillip Brophy (Club Captain 2008-09 and club international), Barry O’Flanagan and Gavin Dunne, mingling well with our more mature players such as Gareth Logan (Club Captain 2007-08), Hugh Hogan (club International Captain and 2009-10) and Conor Mc Phillips (now coaching with Connacht). Younger players still, like Under 21 international and Leinster player Jack Mc Grath and U20 International Darren Hudson, Rob Hudson, Conor Hogan, Ray Crotty, Robbie Field, Ian O’Neill, Sean Preston and Joe Burns all were being integrated into the squad.
In 2008-09, the senior team ended the AIL 1st division season level with four other clubs, but due to points differential, controversially missed the play-offs (see reports), but the following season, 2009-10, playing under a new two-year experimental and highly competitive eight team division 1A, St Marys reached second in the league overall, made the play-offs, won the semi final and were narrowly beaten after extra time in the final (see reports). The season 2010-11, marked the end of the experimental AIL structure and was followed by a first division of two section, A and B, of ten teams each and second and third divisions of 16 teams each; all with relegation and promotion. Sadly, the club captain Paul Nash was injured during that season and had to retire from rugby, a great loss to the squad.
In 2011-12, Hugh Hogan resumed as captain of the club and under the coaching team of Peter Smyth, Ciaran Potts, James Norton and Steven Hennessy (advisory), they had a magnificent campaign and won through to the title on the last day of the campaign defeating great rivals Young Munster in a knee trembling match. (For details, see reports and club yearbook 2012-13) It was fitting that, President John Gilsenan, son of club legend and leader Matt Gilsenan, received the trophy on behalf of the club, The season saw the introduction of young players, Ryan O’Loughlin, Stevie Toal-Lennon, Christopher Lilly, Marcus O’Driscoll, Christopher Lilly, Gerry Sexton and Tom O’Reilly pushing up and challenging for places and many other support players and junior players making up an impressive player matrix. These players have brought many trophies and honour to the club over the decade (see Records).
Then in 2012-13, with Ciaran and Peter stepping down, Hugh Hogan stepped up and took over the role as senior coach, in addition to an outstanding playing career, he had previously successfully coached the club Under 21 team. During his first season as senior coach, he was fortunate to have Richard Sweeny (son of club legend JB Sweeney) as club captain. Another notable office holder of season 2012-13, the charismatic president, Michael Fanagan, is a member of the great St Marys’ Fanagan family, being a nephew of the great Joe Fanagan. The season saw the addition to the trophy cabinet of another LSLC, gained in a memorable final V Lansdowne FC (see report).
To support and help develop players the infrastructure has also been enhanced, especially over the first decade of the 2000s, with a high performance gym and television grade floodlights added under the guidance of Tony Hickie and Frank Kennedy,( who had a remarkable playing career in the sixties, seventies and eighties with the most medals of all denominations of any player in the club), with strong backroom support from Brian (Spike) Fanning, John Pyne, Tom O’Brien, Liam Byrne and all the very active presidents of the decade and the executive committee. In spring 2010, Brian Fanning (then House and Grounds Manager), with the astute help of Liam Byrne (Hon Treasurer) and David Ross (Leinster Branch) who arranged redesignation of Sports Council grants, managed, with typical inventiveness and tenacity, to have the main pitch and training area (Cabbage Patch) restructured and drained to highest quality, ensuring for the future, a high quality surface under most conditions. This has been maintained to the highest standard by Groundsman Frank Doyle, under the tutelage of John Carvill.
Mention must be made of our first ever, IRFU president, John Hussey in 2011-12. He was Chairman of the IRFU management committee for eight years and previously was President of the Leinster Branch, having been our IRFU/LB representative for over ten years. He has served the club, LB and IRFU exceptionally well and helped bring Irish Rugby through changing and challenging times. As Chairman of the Celtic League (now Pro 12), he has been prescient in planning its development to its current status. With his involvement in Leinster Branch and IRFU, John followed such luminaries as Vincent Mc Govern, Paddy Bolger, Joe Fanagan, DP Smyth, Gerry Boyd and Ernest Farrell, all of whom had made superb contributions to Irish rugby and to St Marys. John Doddy, who followed John Hussey as the St Mary’s College RFC representative to the Leinster Branch sadly died in July 2009 and is greatly missed by all at the club, he had the sharpest of brains was a tireless worker and was most popular, admired and respected both at the club and within the wider rugby community. He was followed as our IRFU/LB representative by D O’Brien and in 2012-13 Niall Rynne, who had been working hard as the junior representative, took over and is keeping up the fine tradition of his predecessors. Since the start of the 2000s, there were also some other notable losses of leading members, including John O’Donoghue, Brian Whelan, Tom Holmes, James Maguire, Paddy Branagan, Nicky Corrigan, Paddy Jennings, Jack Cullen, Paddy Fearon and Chris Maguire.
St Marys proudly boasts ten Lions, 29 full internationals, 4 club internationals, over 120 inter provincial players stretching back to 1911, several A inter provincial, A international, Underage international and Colleges international players. St Mary’s College RFC has won over a 120 LB/IRFU trophies.
So, the club is healthy and well, with a full range of sides including a successful women’s section, now boasting two full Irish Internationals, Gillian Nolan and Paula Fitzpatrick, also mini and youth sections, happy social activity and good community interaction. We welcome all levels of players and non-playing persons to become members and enjoy the especially egalitarian atmosphere.
D O’Brien. January 2013.