The Early Days
Mystery surrounds the introduction of rugby football in south Munster, but there was a strong tradition of it being first played at Midleton College in the early 1870s. Queen’s College Cork, as it was then known, opened its doors in 1849 and it must be assumed that students interested in sporting diversions engaged in some version of the modern game. It was not until 1872, however, that proof of rugby football in Queen’s College Cork was established in the form of a specially printed rulebook, which indicates that the game was firmly enshrined amongst the students who felt that it was time to set up some permanent order in the game. Rugby at UCC is probably as old as at Trinity College, Dublin, where a rulebook was also produced at that time. The book of rules became known as The Rules of Foot Ball as Played at Queen’s College Cork, 1872. Both Universities are distinguished in having been the first clubs in the country with their own rulebooks. Both sets of rules are discussed in the Centenary History of the IRFU.
In the early days during the 1870s Queens Cork played the likes of Montenotte F.C., Bandon, Waterloo, Queenstown (now Cobh) and Cork Bankers in games involving 22-a-side. At this time the teams kicker, Goulding, later came to fame as Sir William Goulding, Chairman of W.H.M. Goulding Ltd., and W.A.Cummins who became Professor Ashley Cummins, one of the greatest College rugby men of all time and the first College player to be capped for Ireland (1879) and then the Lions in South Africa (1910). Tom Harrison played fullback and went on to become one of the great Irish fullbacks (1879-82).
The origin of the distinct Skull and Crossbones emblem that adorns the UCC rugby jersey (and all UCC sports clubs to the present day) has been the cause of some dispute. Seemingly it was there from the outset when Queens College Cork was predominantly a medical school and the medical students adopted the skull and bones as an appropriate trademark when representing the college on the sporting field. To this day the UCC jersey is a much sought after garment amongst players, students- particularly International students – and alumni at home and abroad. The skull even features in the words of the ‘Ta Rax’ (College Victory Cry) “…we’ll make the old skull gasp or grin…”
UCC RFC and Ireland
Since 1879 no less than 55 UCC players have represented Ireland at full International, with 34 of these playing for Ireland while still playing with UCC RFC, most notably Tom Kiernan (’60-’63), J.C. Walsh (’60-‘65), Moss Finn (’79) and Donal Lenihan (’81-’82). All three UCC men went on to play with distinction for the Lions: Kiernan twice in South Africa ’62 and ’68, Walsh in Australia ’66 and Lenihan in Australia ’89.
The Lions connection does not stop there. Six other UCC graduates and past players of UCC RFC went on to play for the Lions: W. Ashby (S.A. 1910), W.J.Roche (S.A. 1924), M.F.Lane (Aus/N.Z. 1950), Moss Keane (Aus/NZ 1977), Paul Wallace ( S.A. 1997), Ronan O’Gara (Aus 2001 & N.Z. 2005). In all 9 UCC men have represented the Lions.
From the list of 21 College Internationals who were capped for Ireland after leaving UCC RFC are some household and some emerging names: Moss Keane, Gerry Holland, Brian Spillane, Paul Collins, Fergus Ahern, Darragh and David O’Mahony, Paul Wallace, Dominic Crotty, Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara, Frankie Sheehan, Mick O’Driscoll. John Kelly, and most recently, Denis Leamy who left UCC RFC in 2004. Jerry Flannery completes this list of luminaries having been called up to the Ireland squad for the 2005 autumn test against Romania .
In recent times ‘College’ have supplied countless players to the Ireland U21 and U19 teams at both six nations and World cup levels. Since 1997 alone 20 UCC men have played for the Ireland U19s while 29 have played International U21 since 1988, including the likes of Wallace, O’Driscoll, Sheehan, Stringer, Flannery. The Current Munster trio of Denis Leamy, Stephen Keogh and Frank Murphy played Ireland U21 in 2002 alongside ex Munster and UCC centre Conrad O’Sullivan. All four players were part of the UCC U20 All Ireland winning team of 2001-2002 and all four contributed hugely to UCC reaching the AIL playoffs for the first time in 2002 where they narrowly missed out on promotion to Division 1. In 2004-2005 UCC had 6 players on the Ireland U21 six nations squad and 4 on the Irish U19s. In 2005-2006 UCC had 5 players on the under 21 world cup team – a record for any Irish university.
On November 18th 2005, the revived Irish Universities played Scottish Universities in UCCs historical Mardyke grounds. The team featured four UCC players on a night when there were eight eligible UCC players taking part in an Irish U21 squad weekend in Dublin.