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The University Of Rugby

The University Of Rugby

In the 1993/94 season, when the AIB League was expanded to four divisions to include all 46 Irish senior clubs, five university clubs took up their places. IrishRugby.ie takes a look at the history of the university clubs in the AIB League.

Des Daly charts the story of the university clubs in the AIB League:

UCD and UCC went into Division Three with Dublin University FC, Queen’s University and UCG entering Division Four.  Fourteen seasons later, four of the university clubs (UCG departed the AIB League scene after four seasons) are still competing.

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UCD are in Division One, UCC and DUFC in Division Two and Queen’s are in the third tier.

UCD have enjoyed the most AIB League success. Division Three champions at the end of 1993/94, the club survived only one season in Division Two. Four seasons in Division Three followed before they were again champions in ’98/99.

Two seasons later, they were Division Two champions and took their place in the top flight for the 2001/02 season. After winning three AIB League trophies in eight years, UCD are today competing among the elite for the seventh consecutive season.

The student club is already assured of a place in Division One for the 2008/09 campaign, two seasons before the club’s centenary year.

Many people have contributed to the modern rugby success of UCD RFC. Coaches Bobby Byrne and Gary Coakley, both former club captains, were at the helm for the first three AIB League years and have returned to coach the senior squad again this current season.

In between, coaches Lee Smith from New Zealand and Dara Rowley both left a big mark while inspirational captains such as Andy Donovan, Gordon Cantwell, Shane Moore (three seasons) and Kevin Croke have brought the club to where it is today.

The UCD Academy was set up in 1997/98 under the direction of John McClean, who had previously coached the SCT at Terenure College. McClean is still in charge today.

The academy was an immediate success and to this day continues to provide a steady stream of quality players for the senior squad. Players who have progressed along a mapped route include internationals Brian O’Driscoll, Ciaran Scally and Rob Kearney. Ten players – the biggest number from any Irish club – have been capped at Ireland ‘A’ level while playing out of the Belfield club.

This Saturday at College Park, Dublin University play UCC in Division Two. It is the only time this season that two university clubs are due to meet each other in an AIB League division.

DUFC, 154 years old this season, are the oldest continuously active rugby club on this planet. Trinity spent three seasons in Division Four before appearing in Division Three (1996/97) for a further three campaigns. After relegation back to Division Four for a season, they were promoted, with ten wins out of ten, as champions and have never looked back.

Two seasons in Division Three were followed by two seasons in Division Two. The club won the Division Two championship at the end of 2003/04 and then graced Division One for two seasons during which time their record read – played 28, won 4, drew 5 and lost 19.

In the AIB League, Trinity have been promoted four times and relegated twice and are one of only three cubs to have spent time in four different divisions.

After the long-serving TWR ‘Roly’ Meates retired at the end of the 1994/95 season, Dermot Strong and then Greg Lynch took up the coaching mantle until Tony Smeeth arrived in for 1998/99 and was appointed director of the newly-established DUFC Academy and head coach at the club.

Smeeth had won Ireland Under-20 titles with Blackrock College and was now to continue with similar successes at Trinity.  Ably assisted by former Ireland ‘A’ prop Hugh McGuire, Smeeth gradually brought Trinity into Division One where they were to join UCD for two seasons.

Jamie Heaslip, Kieran Lewis, Mark McHugh, Trevor Hogan, Matt Crockett and Hugh Hogan were outstanding student players about this time.

Peter Stringer in action for UCCUCC, founded in 1874, spent three seasons in Division Three before being promoted into Division Two for their 1996/97 campaign. There they were to remain there for the next twelve seasons.

After six mid-table finishes in Division Two, UCC have since merited an away semi-final in four of the past five Division Two seasons. At the end of April 2005, an under-strength student side travelled to Lansdowne for a play-off to fill the last slot in Division One for 2005/06. The students were well beaten on the day.

This season the Mardyke club is again very much in contention for promotion and Division One clubs Cork Constitution and Dolphin are once again holding their breath. Every year both clubs benefit enormously as regards recruitment from the UCC senior squad.

Coaches that have assisted the Cork students include Pat Aherne, Brian Hickey, Peter Melia, Brian Hyland, Pat Murray and Phil Rees with Conor Twomey presently in situ. Outstanding players over the AIB League seasons have included Dominic Crotty,Ronan O’Gara (one season), Peter Stringer (pictured in action for UCC in 1998) (three seasons), John Kelly, Denis Leamy, Frank Murphy, Richie Lane and Denis Hurley.

Queen’s University, founded in 1869, are at the moment having their best season ever in the AIB League. With former Ireland number 8 Brian Robinson heading up the coaching ticket, the Belfast students are serious contenders for promotion into Division Two.

If this does not happen, it will partly be due to the calls being made on their promising young players by the Ireland Under-20 and Under-19 selectors.

Over the years, Queen’s have not made any real impression in the AIB League. Their divisional progress reads: Division Four, Four, Four, Three, Three, Four, Four, X, X, Three, Three, Three, Three, Three, Three. The club was demoted to the jumior ranks at the end of the 1999/2000 season and it took them two years to return to senior level via the Round Robin series.

Coaches of the senior squad have included Ray Pattison (four seasons), David Armstrong and Keith Patton (five seasons). David Humphreys and Tommy Bowe are two notables who have played AIB League with the club. Like UCC, their star young players tend to be picked up – even before graduation – by the adult clubs.

Queen’s, who have always been thin on the ground as regards alickadoos, have been fortunate to have Robbie Moore – a legend in his own lifetime – running with the senior side for the past 23 seasons. Robbie is one of the unsung heroes on the Irish club scene.

 AIB League To Date  Played  Won  Drawn  Lost  % Success  Ranking
 UCD  195  105  9  81  56%  18th
 UCC  210  100  17  93  52%  28th
 Dublin University  192  99  13  79  55%  34th
 Queen’s  158  69  3  86  45%  46th