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Saturday 26 July 2014

A proud tradition carved in Marble

Kilkenny Rugby Club, founded in 1885, is one of the oldest rugby clubs in the province, although rugby may have been played in the Marble City prior to that date.

One of the reports of the time tells that in 1889 "a team left Carlow, by the afternoon train, to play a match the following day, against Kilkenny County and City Football Club at Dukes Meadows".

The report of the match tells us that Kilkenny won a "very rough match by one try to nil".

Since that "very rough match", Kilkenny has gone on to enjoy a most illustrious rugby life, not alone in terms of amassing trophies but also in terms of producing players that have gone on to adorn the highest rugby stages in the world.

The club has won the Provincial Towns Cup on five occasions, the most recent being in 2002 when Willie O'Mahony's team completed a two-in-a-row by beating Co Carlow 33-13 in North Kildare.

They won the Leinster Junior Cup, the forerunner of the Towns Cup in 1920, before succeeding in provincial rugby's "Holy Grail" in 1955, 1959, 1986, 2001 and 2002.

The most famous son of Kilkenny is undoubtedly that legendary figure Willie Duggan. It says much about the man that he is still involved in his hometown club as Director of Rugby following a career that saw him scale the heights as a British & Irish Lion along with gaining Triple Crown honours with Ireland in 1982 in a lengthy international span.

Current president Ronan Kearney played for his country in the 1980s, while Willie's cousin Ned Byrne also propped for Ireland. Ned, in fact, won an All-Ireland senior hurling medal with the Cats in 1972, while Gary Halpin, another who donned the green jersey in the 1990s, also represented his country at the Olympics throwing the hammer.

Munster's double Heineken Cup medal winning winger Ian Dowling is a graduate of the Kilkenny Youths section, which was set up by the recently deceased Tom Halpin, Gary's father.

Soon after arriving in Kilkenny in 1968, Tom, along with John Bolger, formed the Youths section which has served the club well down through the years. He was also instrumental in the purchasing of Foulkstown, which is currently home and has been since 1974, but before this Kilkenny played in St James' Park.

The clubhouse has been recently renovated and there are plans afoot to have floodlights installed to match quality shortly, along with an all-weather pitch.

The Youths section is currently thriving, catering for up to 250 children from Under-8 to Under-18 on a weekly basis and like many a club it is deeply indebted to the many volunteers that help in the smooth running of this operation.

The Senior team is currently in Division 2 of the Leinster League where a rebuilding process is ongoing following relegation a couple of years ago in the immediate aftermath of the club's golden era.

During that spell, along with the aforementioned Towns Cup victories in 2001 and 2002 Kilkenny also won the Division 1 title twice, in 2001/02 and 2002/03.

The dream of playing in the AIB League was thwarted however on both occasions with Bruff and Queen's University narrowly edging them out in successive years.

The current side is again coached by Ger McDonald and with promotion a distinct possibility, Kilkenny, which has its roots deeply embedded in the local community, is hoping to restore its perch near the top of the provincial game in the near future.

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