Latest Laois Sport: A look back at Arlington AFC’s first 40 years
Arlington Football Club Forty Years on…
(First published April 2008)
This Friday all roads will lead to the Hazel Hotel, Monasterevin as the Arlington faithful gather for a deserved knees-up as they bathe in the warm glow of shared memories, hear tales of great feats, recall trophies won and lost and ponder on those dear friends now departed. For their club now has reached the ripe old age of forty.
It’s a far cry from the humble origins of the club. Portarlington had revelled in the extravaganza that was the televised 1966 World Cup. Seeing players of the calibre of Eusebio and Bobby Charlton in their living-rooms brought the dream of organised football to the forefront of the minds of a number of teenagers in the Barrowside town. These football pioneers included Pat Maher, Seamus McNulty, Christy Dunne, Jim Gorry, Tom Carey, John Mulligan, Michael Costelloe and Michael Troy. This band of trailblazers were soon joined by Sean Madden, John Hynan, Seamus Kelly, Murt O’Connor, Albert Mitchell, Michael Kavanagh and Eugene Finnegan. The average age of these founding fathers of organised football in Portarlington was a mere fifteen.
Led by their coach Pat Maher, they ran up against a problem of sourcing a pitch and then, as difficult, paying for it. Coach Maher came to the rescue as he organised a youth disco. Held in the local CYMS hall there was a huge turnout and it proved an unqualified success. The proceeds bought a set of jerseys: a fetching blue with white trim and a new leather football. When a deputation went up to collect the new kit in Clery’s in Dublin they weren’t ready. In recompense the flagship store numbered the jerseys for free. Such was the auspicious start to life enjoyed by the new Laois club.
Arlington’s home games were a moveable feast with Arlington players trouping out on The Nun’s Field, behind the ESB, in another pitch at the back of Mick Finlay’s pub and out in a field in Corrig rented from Willie Coogan. It was at this time that the fondly remembered John Beehan of Tierhogar stepped forward and offered the use of a field free, gratis and for nothing. That together with the return from England of club lynchman Tommy Ryan helped the nascent outfit grow wings. With some friendlies under their belt against the likes of Monasterevin, a team of Jesuits and a Bord na Mona works side Arlington were accepted into the Midlands league Division two on February 22nd 1969. This historic date was soon followed by another: Arlington’s first competitive game took place in Tierhogar against Tullamore.
The newcomers to Association Football in the Midlands made an immediate impact. The club finished runners up in the Midland League that first year and went on to win the Laois League the following season. Indeed such was the club’s progress on and off the field that the decision to purchase the club’s own grounds was taken on St. Stephen’s Day 1972: a mere four years after formation. The Club went from strength to strength thereafter and eventually purchased their pitch from the late Martin Kelly. Between leaving Tierhogar and moving into their own ground: now Castle Park, the club were very kindly given the use of a field on Lea Road by the late Jack Callanan RIP. In 1974 a 2000 pound loan allowed the growing club to secure the ‘Castle Park’ field and prepare it for competitive action.
With their grounds secured Arlington began to make waves on the pitch. The highlight of the 1975 season was the club’s ‘A’ side reaching the Midland final of the FAI junior cup. The club maintained its onward momentum with the official opening of Castle Park on Sunday July 29th 1979. Johnny Giles performed the opening and his Shamrock Rovers side played St. Patrick’s Athletic to mark the occasion. The following years didn’t prove successful as no league or cup titles were garnered. The spark that ignited a glorious era of success was a decision to enter two teams in the league. Indeed the 1983/4 season saw the ‘A’ team come so close to winning the league on the back of an awesome 113 goals scored. Next season saw the club snatch the Division 2B title from under the noses of rivals Abbeyleix.
The club then faced into the challenge of building the clubhouse in Castle Park. That completed Arlington then turned to its role of providing a footballing outlet for the youth of the town. 1987 saw the club represented by an U-16 side in the Offaly Schoolboys League. Fast forward to the present day and that tiny seed has swelled into almost twenty schoolboy teams donning the club colours this last season.
Inevitably when club members and supporters mingle at their anniversary bash this weekend the majority present will point out the 2000/1 season as the highpoint of the club’s first four decades. The ‘A’ side won the Leinster Football League’s Premier Division ( Counties). An almost perfect run saw just one loss in the league campaign. A 3-1 win at home to Walsh Island saw Arlington lift the league crown. Darren Lawlor’s eight goals plus five apiece from Darryl Foy, Paul Maher and Alan Dunne helped the club into the history books that season.
The club’s second string also did their club proud with the runners-up spot in the Division 3 Counties section. Not content with that near miss the ‘B’ side then went on to record their own glorious chapter in club lore when annexing the Tommy Grogan Cup by defeating neighbours Cloneygowan with the only goal in a replay. Johnny Keogh etched his name into the Arlington annals with that winning strike to help Arlington record its first competitive cup win ever. The club’s ‘B specials’ then landed the Emery Forwarding Cup by defeating Walsh Island in the final.
The move into the OWL; now the CCFL, saw the club’s ‘B’ side finish in the runners-up spot in Division 4 of the league. Again the ‘B specials’ tasted the heartache of coming so close to the big prize with a dramatic loss in extra-time to Carrickmacross in the Leinster Junior Shield semi-final. Such cruel luck will surely fuel the Barrowsiders’ desire to land local football’s big prizes in the coming decades. Here’s to another forty. It’s been a marvellous rollercoaster ride so far. There’s much more in store.