We run the rule over the victorious sides of 1977 and the 1990s to select a dream team of players packed with talent, drive and no little style
By Kieran Murphy
IN these distressing times where sport has taken a back seat, enthusiasts of history and nostalgia have been given the chance to reflect on great sporting feats of teams and individuals in bygone eras.
Here we select a rugby Dream Team from the 1977 Provincial Towns Cup winning Carlow rugby team and Carlow teams in the 1990s who won five Towns Cups in six years.
To qualify for selection here a player has to have won at least one Towns Cup medal. That precludes the likes of Jim Nolan and MJ Nolan who were key Carlow players for many years but had their hearts broken on Towns Cup final day.
Full Back Barry Gordon
From a very early age Barry was earmarked to play with successful Oak Park teams. He actually featured on a Carlow under-10 side in an exhibition game in Lansdowne Road before a senior interprovincial clash. Son of Gerry, the legendary front row player, Barry would possibly have migrated towards the pack but he was fast and lithe so he settled into both the full-back and wing positions. He played on four Towns Cup winning teams and the year he didn’t play in the final (1996) his brother, Vinny, who had played most of his rugby in Dublin was in the side. He went on to play Gaelic football with Palatine and his son, Lee, was on the club side that won two senior football titles in a row in 2015 and 2016.
Right wing Paddy Purcell
When Carlow coach Jim Lowry arrived to watch his side for the very first time, midway through the second half he turned and asked his partner, Miriam, what she thought of the performance.
“They’re very enthusiastic,” was her short reply. It was hardly a ringing endorsement.
The Carlow coach would go on to put his fingerprints all over the side and in a complete running game Paddy Purcell prospered. He scored a bag full of tries every year and could adapt well in the back line where he won three Towns Cup medals on the left wing and one each at full-back and on the right wing.
Centre Roy Elmes
In an era where any stylish rugby that was played came inside the opposition 22m line (25 yards in 1977) the Carlow centre was probably years ahead of his time. He loved the Towns Cup and with little competition before Christmas he looked forward to the Blue Riband Leinster junior cup competition more than most. He had his heart broken in more than one final but 1977 was his year. Quick off the mark,his speed over the first 10 metres made him difficult to catch. He captained the club in the 1975-76 season and later on became President. He played junior rugby for Leinster.
Centre Ernie Porter
When Carlow won the Towns Cup in 1977 they needed a cohesive link between a strong set of forwards and a lively back line. They got it in Ernie who had a tremendous rugby brain. He had the vision to control the game plan and settle his side when danger threatened. While he wasn’t the team’s place kicker, his tactical kicking was superb. He was a formidable tackler and nothing went through his patch of ground easily. In later years, he went on to enjoy a sterling career with Old Wesley and represented Leinster on a number of occasions. His son, Andrew, who already has several caps for Ireland, looks set for a long and fruitful career.
Left wing Ian Dwyer
After being part of the successful winning Towns Cup team of 1993, the Carlow man went to work in Dublin where he joined Bective Rangers who were in the All-Ireland league. As an underage player he represented Leinster and Ireland while he was capped for the Leinster seniors from 1995 to 1997 before moving back to Carlow in 1998. It was around the time Carlow were making waves in the All-Ireland league and his pace, ability to beat the tackle and his astute rugby brain saw him help Carlow to win successive Leinster senior cups. Ian also captained the club in 1999. He enjoyed a term as club President in the 2017-18 season and is currently treasurer.
Out-half Harry Sothern
When Carlow were going for the three-in-a-row in 1994 against Tullamore in Tullow, their back-line was caught cold when conceding an intercept try. It looked as if their hold on the cup was loosening. If Harry thought so he never let on and with the back-line shaken he could have been forgiven if he had kept things tight for the remainder of the game. Not a bit of it. The next chance he got he called a back-move which went off without a hitch. With confidence restored, Carlow went on to win an historic treble. That was typical Harry. He had a prodigious kick of the ball but the Carlow out-half, who started in all the five Towns Cup victories around that time, had a tremendous rugby brain which went a long way in many dog-eat-dog Towns Cup clashes.
Scrum-half Leonard Peavoy
In today’s rugby world Lenny, as he was affectionately called, would surely have been head-hunted by senior clubs all over the province. Even back then there were several enquiries but his work and attachment to local rugby kept him at home. He was the quintessential scrum-half who was the eyes of the pack and boasted a great all-round game. Quiet and unassuming off the pitch, on the field of play he had it all. Coach Jim Lowry got the very most out of him and both were heavily involved with successful Leinster junior teams at the time. Lenny also captained Carlow to the Towns Cup victories of 1996 and 1997.
Loose head prop Padraig Brennan
Over the years Carlow had produced many top-class front row forwards but Padraig brought the position to new levels. As well as being tremendously strong he had a wonderful pair of hands and was tactically as astute as any player who ever wore the Carlow jersey. With well chosen words of encouragement he also had the ability to raise players and the team who might have been losing their way on any given day. He was with Carlow for the glory years as the club made their way into Division 1 of the All-Ireland league. The legendary Mick Galwey was associated with Carlow for a number of years and liked what he saw in Padraig. As a result he was linked with a possible move to Munster who were at the peak of their powers in the 2000s. It didn’t happen but that was the level Padraig was at as Carlow rugby supporters breathed a sigh of relief that they were not going to lose one of their most influential players.
Hooker Trevor Atkinson
To friend and foe he was known as Atko while on the rugby field, he was an ever present in the front row when Carlow completed the three-in-a-row. He added another medal to his collection in 1996 and was a member of the panel the following year. In relation to rugby as we know it today, he was ahead of his time and would surely fit in well in today’s game where fitness, an excellent rugby brain and an ability to do the right thing at the right time helped get Carlow out of a lot of sticky situations. His daughter, Ellen, won a Leinster junior football medal with the successful Old Leighlin ladies team recently while his son, Ian, is on the Old Leighlin senior team.
Tight-head prop Gerry Gordon
Affectionately known as “The Boot” when he famously converted a penalty on the half-way line to knock Navan out of the cup in the early 70s, Gerry remained one of the great characters of the club for many years afterwards playing well into his 50s when he won two Coonan Cup (fifths) medals. That just capped a remarkable career but it was never about medals for Gerry. He loved the game, the participation and even though he didn’t drink the camaraderie and the involvement in sport meant everything to him. It’s rare for a husband and wife to hold the position of President in any sports club, but that is exactly what he and his wife Maureen did when he held the reins in the 80s while she was elected in 2009. Multi-talented, he was also on the last Graiguecullen team to win a Laois senior football championship in 1965.
Lock Andrew Dooley
“No penalties. No penalties,” urged Carlow’s Andy Dooley as his side held onto a fragile-looking two-point lead in a league game up in Navan. The players responded and when the final whistle came the satisfaction of holding their discipline mattered as much to the squad as actually winning the game itself. This was Dooley as his best. Capped for the Leinster junior team, he had tremendous leadership qualities calling the shots and maintaining a high level of performance himself. Five Towns Cup medals says it all. He didn’t miss a minute of those wins, was a fiercely competitive warrior on the pitch but off it was and still is a gentleman to his fingertips.
His daughter, Amy, is a super basketball player who has been capped for her country at underage level while she plays football for Old Leighlin.
Lock John Alexander
He came to work in Carlow at the right time as the local rugby side began its domination of Leinster junior provincial rugby. If there is such thing as a specialist second row player then John was most definitely it. He was the go-to forward at line-out time and no matter how much the opposition tried to read Carlow intentions or spoil their line-out, John invariably won the battle to produce quality ball for the backs.
Flanker Andrew Melville
“That man Melly.” When the opposition PRO rang to get the Carlow team selection to put into their programme on the following weekend there would invariably have been an intake of breath when Andrew was confirmed as a starter in the Carlow team. He was big and strong but could cover an immense amount of ground. He may have won only won one Towns Cup medal, but in subsequent years he played a huge role in the club’s climb to Division 1 of the All-Ireland league. A native of New Zealand, Melly lived locally and settled well. Towards the end of his rugby career he enjoyed a coaching stint at Naas RFC. He married Jean Elmes, sister of Roy, and they now live in New Zealand.
Flanker Ivor Edgehill
When coach Jim Lowry picked his back-row, whether it was intentional or not, he modelled part of his selection process on the performances on Michael Jones, the great New Zealand open-side flanker. There isn’t the same emphasis on open and blind-side flankers today as there was in the 1990s but in Ivor, Carlow had their own Michael Jones. He was lightning fast to the breakdown where he knew no fear as he secured possession for his side or slowed down the opposition ball. Carlow couldn’t have played the expansive game they did without the open-side flanker’s contribution. Four Towns Cup medals later, Edgehill left that legacy for future Carlow teams who went all the way to Division 1 of the All-Ireland league.
Number 8 Paul Chatten
In Carlow’s 92 cup run away to Mullingar, in Paul’s first year in the side, coach Jim Lowry stood where he always stood behind the dead-ball line at the end Carlow were defending. The home side had a scrum close to the visitors’ line. Mullingar put into motion a rehearsed move and with a two-man overlap Lowry was convinced his side were going to concede what would almost certainly have been the match-winning try. The coach’s fears never materialised as Paul had read the ploy. Future Ireland international coach Joe Schmidt received the ball and a split second later, Chatten hit him hard but legally. With the move coming to nothing, it was a massive psychological moment in a teak-tough encounter as Carlow emerged victorious.
That was Chatten, affectionately called the Boy Wonder by his many admirers. He was a gifted and intelligent player. He struggled with injuries from an early age which curtailed what would have been an even more successful career.
If the 90s were the glory years for Co Carlow FC, it would be fair to say the players who were involved in those wins were benefitting from the tradition which had been handed down to them from previous Towns Cup teams. No matter how they were going in any season, Carlow were hugely respected coming into the cup competition. The 1977 team is one such example. They were not on too many people’s short-lists to win the cup but win it they did.
Full-back, on that team, Willie Fennell was probably the most versatile player the club ever had. He also played in the centre, was an accomplished scrum-half and loved playing in the back-row.
Tom Darcy won a Towns Cup medal with Tullamore in 1976 while Gaelic football star Joe Walshe was every good as bit a rugby player as he was a footballer.
The Hannon brothers, Larry and Justin, debated whether to join Naas or Carlow in the mid-90s. They opted for Carlow. It was a win-win situation for both sides as the front row players were pivotal to the club’s exploits in the All-Ireland league. Justin was President of the club a number of years ago.
Forward Liam O’Byrne excelled for Carlow in all rows of the pack operating as a tight-head prop, lock and in the back row either at blind side wing-forward or at number 8.
The list of great players who featured for Carlow is huge. Albert Edgehill, Martin Dunphy and John Joe Waddock are three more worthy of mention. Everyone associated with the club, particularly in the 90s, has their own special memory and favourite players.
This piece only scratches the surface of great times and great players who won Towns Cup medals for Co Carlow FC over the last 50 years or so.
1977 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 9 Athy 6
Carlow: Willie Fennell, Martin Murray, Roy Elmes, Joe Walshe, Bryan Carbery, Ernie Porter, Mick Murphy; Gerry Gordon, Noel Quaid, Harry Ardill, Tom Darcy, Liam Bradshaw, Johnny Quirke, Kennedy O’Brien, John Slattery.
1992 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 25 Enniscorthy 15
Carlow: Barry Gordon, Martin Byrne, Ian Dwyer, Jimmy Burke, Paddy Purcell, Harry Sothern, Leonard Peavoy; Trevor Shirley, Trevor Atkinson, Albert Edgehill, John Alexander, Andrew Dooley, Martin Dunphy, Ivor Edgehill, Paul Chatten.
1993 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 9 Mullingar 9,
(replay) Carlow 25 Mullingar 18
Carlow: Barry Gordon, Stuart Collier, Jimmy Burke, Donagh O’Brien, Paddy Purcell, Harry Sothern, Leonard Peavoy; Trevor Shirley, Trevor Atkinson, Albert Edgehill, John Alexander, Andrew Dooley, Martin Dunphy, Ivor Edgehill, Paul Chatten (Richard Ovington).
1994 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 20 Tullamore 15
Carlow: Barry Gordon, Stuart Collier, Jimmy Burke, Donagh O’Brien, Paddy Purcell, Harry Sothern, Leonard Peavoy; Trevor Shirley, Trevor Atkinson, Albert Edgehill, Billy Nolan, Andrew Dooley, Martin Dunphy, Ivor Edgehill, Paul Chatten.
1996 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 25 Mullingar 10
Carlow: Paddy Purcell, Richie Larkin, James Waddock, Vinny Gordon, Robert Kidd, Harry Sothern, Leonard Peavoy; Padraig Brennan, Trevor Atkinson, Albert Edgehill, Andrew Dooley, Liam O’Byrne, John Joe Waddock, Ian Bailey, Jimmy Oliver.
1997 Towns Cup Final
Carlow 21 Navan 3
Carlow: Barry Gordon, Paddy Purcell, Robert Byrne, Timmy Ashmore, Stuart Collier, Harry Sothern (Donagh O’Brien), Leonard Peavoy; Padraig Brennan, Justin Hannon (Trevor Atkinson), Larry Hannon, Liam O’Byrne, Mark Halpin, Andrew Kenny, Ivor Edgehill, Andrew Melville (John Joe Waddock).