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AIB League: Former Schoolboy Stars In Tug Of War

AIB League: Former Schoolboy Stars In Tug Of War

Next Saturday at Anglesea Road, Old Belvedere entertain Clontarf in round nine of this season’s AIB League Division One. In the lead-up to this game, Des Daly takes a look at the history and indeed the links between both these long-standing and respected clubs.

Clontarf FC was founded in 1876 and first competed in the Leinster Senior Cup in 1903. The rugby club, and the associated cricket club, catered for the sporting needs of the business and merchant classes who lived north of the river Liffey.

Roll forward to the second half of the 20th century and it is noted that the pool of players in the club was drawn primarily from two schools, St. Paul’s College Raheny and Mountjoy School, today Mount Temple on the Malahide Road. The list of club presidents and captains over the past 40 years illustrates all of this.

The Clontarf club today is very much community based and represents the different religious mix in the districts surrounding the Castle Avenue grounds.

Also there is no longer a strong reliance at senior level on players from the two traditional feeder schools. Clontarf now recruit from near and far and have the reputation of looking after the members of their senior squad.

Over the past decade, the Clontarf club has enjoyed much success. Without a Leinster Senior Cup trophy for 63 years, the club won the competition in 1999 and has re-captured the trophy twice since then. This season they have again reached the final of the competition.

After five seasons in the AIB League, the club was promoted into Division One at the end of the 1996/97 season. The club finished top of the AIB League series in 2002/03 and also reached the AIB League Division One play-off finals in both 2002/03 (losing to Ballymena) and 2005/06 (losing to Shannon).

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Currently competing for the eleventh consecutive season in the top tier, Clontarf have finished as the top Leinster club in the AIB League in five of the past six seasons.

Old Belvedere played in the Leinster Senior Cup for three seasons in the early 1920s but the club was officially founded in 1930. Work that one out! Going senior at the end of the 1930s, the club won the Leinster Senior Cup in 1940 (they beat Clontarf 9-0 in the final) and retained the trophy for the next six seasons.

For 45 years, membership of the southside club, which has given to Irish rugby greats Dr. Karl Mullen, Sir Anthony O’Reilly and Ollie Campbell, was confined to former pupils of Belvedere College. Hence, the club being referred to as ‘the Lodge’ among rugby people to this day.

On going ‘open’ in the mid-1970s, one of the first ‘outsiders’ to be selected for the First XV was Tom McGuirk (a product of St. Patrick’s Armagh) of RTE rugby fame. In later years, former CBC Monkstown and St. Michaels pupils were to make a big contribution to the Anglesea Road player pool.

Old Belvedere elected their first non-Belvedere College former pupil as president a few seasons ago and have followed this with presidents who were schooled at De La Salle Churchtown and Summerhill College, Sligo. Moreover, last season’s captain was a Scotsman who made no secret of the fact that he was an ardent Glasgow Rangers supporter.

Old Belvedere has also enjoyed success recently. The Dublin 4 club beat Clontarf 19-16 in the 2006/07 Leinster Senior Cup final to lift the trophy for the first time since 1968. After nine long seasons in Division Two, the club was eventually promoted back into AIB League Division One after finishing top of the Division Two table at the end of the 2006/07 campaign.

In recent times, a number of former Belvedere College students have bucked the trend and elected to enlist with Clontarf to play their adult rugby.

In most cases, these players live locally on the northside and have previously enjoyed rugby at Castle Avenue in the minis section. Amongst these are Marc Hewitt, Martin Garvey, Johnny Wickham (Clontarf captain in 2006/07), David O’Brien (Clontarf captain in 2000/01), James Downey, Cian Healy, Ian Keatley and Paul O’Donohoe. 

Healy, Keatley and O’Donohoe all won Leinster Senior Schools Cup medals with Belvedere College in 2005 and were members of the Ireland side which won the Six Nations Under-20 Grand Slam last season.

Half-backs Keatley and O’Donohoe, undergraduates at UCD, were playing with the student club in the AIB League Division One at the time – Old Belvedere had lined them up as almost automatic recruits last May.   

At the last moment, Clontarf got wind of the scenario, nipped in and secured the services of the young stars. Such is just one example of the many ‘tugs of war’ for players that is commonplace among Irish clubs towards the end of each AIB League season. 

Next Saturday at Anglesea Road, Old Belvedere entertain Clontarf in round nine of this season’s AIB League. To add spice to the occasion, Old Belvedere are coached this season by Warren O’Kelly, a former Munster (one cap) and Connacht (seven caps) prop.

Now, hold it there a moment. O’Kelly’s pedigree is quite definitely St. Paul’s Raheny and Clontarf FC. How can he possibly plot the downfall of the club he captained during the 2002/03 and 2004/05 seasons?