Navan Rugby Football Club is an Irish rugby union club, based in Navan, County Meath. The club was founded in 1924, Its founder members included local individuals Willie Sullivan, W.M. Kirk, Nat Lacey, Matt and Charlie Crinion, Jack Finnegan, J. Gibney and Bobby Byrne. Willie Sullivan was also the president of Meath Agricultural Society at the time, so the county show grounds became the home grounds for Navan RFC.
Rugby was not a very popular game at the time, but despite this, Navan won the Ryan Midland cup in 1929, under the management of W.M. Kirk, and captained by Pappy Russell. The teams discipline was exemplary and the fact that most players abstained from alcoholic drink demonstrates their blinkered commitment.
The club reached its first Town’s Cup final in the early 1930s against Carlow but lost out when the opposition won an injury time penalty and won by three points
Like most organisations, the club had its good and bad days. The decades following WWII were particularly harsh and in 1962, thirty-seven years after its formation, the club had no grounds or pavilion. There were two alternatives-to close down the club or to provide new headquarters for the club. Imagination, courage and daring now prevailed. Money was borrowed, a good field was purchased on the Dublin Rd and plans began for a €14,400 clubhouse. The project was completed in 1964
People came from all over the country to attend social functions held by the rugby club, and the rugby dance on St. Stephen’s night was recognised as the social event of the year in the area. A match was arranged on St. Stephen’s day every year and highly rated teams such as Wanderers, Landsdowne and Clontarf keenly sought the coveted invitation to provide the opposition on such occasions.
The most outstanding player to represent Navan at this stage was Ambrose Cassells. He captained, coached and encouraged the Navan teams of the 50’s and early 60’s. A brilliant provincial player, he missed out on more representative honours through his fanatical devotion to provincial rugby folklore.
The 60’s proved to be one of the prosperous eras in the history of Navan RFC. The titles won included the McGowan Cup in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968 & 1969, while Provincial Towns cups were collected in 1963, 1965 & 1967. The Provincial Towns Plate was won in 1962 and 1966 while the Oval Trophy was annexed in 1967.
The 1970s saw the formation of the Youth Committee. The club reached Towns Cup finals in ’70 and ’71 but the rest of the decade was lean on the playing field for the adult team. The only trophy won in the 1970s was the Housdon trophy at J1 level.
More scientific training and coaching was introduced in the 1980s which led to improved performances on the pitch. The McGowan Cup was won in 1981 for the first time in twelve years and the club reached its first Leinster final in the plate in 1986 when it was beaten, after a replay, by Roscrea. This was the first J1 Leinster Final contested by the club in 15 years though the J2 team had been in two finals in the 1970s.
The late 1980s produced some memorable victories for the club. In 1987 the club had victory in the Towns Plate, and in 1988, the Towns Cup was won. The team also contested its first senior cup match, having won through the preliminary rounds for the first time. The Towns Cup was won again in 1990
The improvement in results can be attributed to two main influences:
The players who started playing underage for the club in the 1970s started to come through to adult level. On the 1990 Cup winning team, 13 of the players had started their playing career underage at Navan. The second influence was the increased concentration on more scientific coaching and coaches such as Dick Brady, Leo Finlay and Michael Murray helped to evolve a winning style of play.
The U-19 teams in the 1980s had success in the 3rds Towns Cup in 1985 and 1987. The 1980s also saw St Patrick’s Classical School Navan and Kells Community school becoming involved with rugby, helping the youth section.
Floodlights were erected in the 1980s, initially for training purposes, although there has been an increase in floodlit games played. Tennis courts were also built but were disposed of to the newly formed Navan Tennis Club. The Ardboyne Hotel developed an expanded car park which the club has use of for important matches.
The 1990s began well with victory in the 1990 Provincial Cups final. The title was retained in 1991 with a convincing win over Athy 34–15. From then Carlow dominated Towns rugby and Navan didn’t appear in a cup final until 1997 where they were comprehensively beaten by Carlow who subsequently gained AIL Division 4 status and promotion to Division 3. However, Navan ended the decade as they had begun, by winning the 1999 final against Ashbourne on a scoreline of 18–10.
During the decade the club won other honours capturing the McGowan cup in 1991, ’95 and ’96. Other teams in the club gained honours also. The Kettle cup was won in ’95 and retained the year after. They also won the Jenkinson cup and the Harry Gale cup while the second’s plate was annexed in 1999.
Australian John Mulvihill was appointed as player/coach in 1998/99. He came with extensive credentials; captaining Queensland and capped for Australia at U-21 level. In December 1998 the club also appointed Australian Jim Hartnett as Director of Rugby.
In 1999 the Committees and Trustees of the club unanimously agreed to the construction of a brand new €1m state-of-the-art clubhouse. Funding for the project would come from a mix of land sale and fund raising. On 5 September 1997, the then Minister for the Environment Noel Dempsey T.D. launched the ambitious project. A major fundraising day in the form of a ‘Race Day’ was agreed upon and was held on 14 March 1998 at Navan Race Course. Up to 1,100 people attended and due to the success of the day, a second race day was held later in March. The state-of-the-art building was completed in 1999.
The new clubhouse was officially opened in April 2000 by the then IRFU President Bill Lavery. It is built on three levels, comprising 10 dressing rooms, a weights room, a medical room, shower rooms and toilet facilities in the lower ground floor. On the raised ground floor there is a bar and large function rooms.
The Rugby Bar can cater for up to 100 people. It is a cosy warm bar with two large screens for sporting events. The Balreask Bar is a larger function room which can accommodate up to 400 people comfortably. This room also has a raised stage and is ideal for any function, corporate event or private party. The first floor level has a new snooker room with two full size tables and is available for competitions and social snooker.
A ramp and a lift is provided for access for persons with accessibility difficulties. Along with the clubhouse, there are four full size rugby pitches, complete with floodlighting for evening training and matches.
Since 1999, the club has enjoyed great success on the playing field, winning the under 16 All-Ireland in 2002 and the under 18 All-Ireland the following year. At senior level, the club won the Town’s Cup in 2000 and the Leinster League Division 1 in 2001 though failed to achieve promotion after losing to Clonakilty and the Connemara All-Black (Cliften, Co. Galway). The mid 2000s saw a lean period at Navan RFC, player/coach John Mulvihill left the club to become assistant coach to Australian Super 14 side “Western Force”.
In 2006 ex-player Australian Brad Harris took up the position of 1st XV player/coach and New Zealander Ryan Roberts as assistant coach and Youth Development Officer. In their first season in charge, Harris and Roberts led Navan to win the Leinster Provincial Towns Cup for 2007. In 2008 they repeated this feet and added the AIB All-Ireland Junior Cup. In 2009 Navan win the Leinster League Division 1 for the second time and subsequently were promoted to the senior ranks of Irish rugby, gaining a place in the AIB All Ireland League Division 3 after winning the AIB Round Robin Playoffs. Navan beat City of Derry 20–19, Cashel 6–20 and Monivea 40–20.
Club honours include:
- All-Ireland Junior Cup – 2008
- Leinster League Division 1 – 2001, 2009.
- Provincial Towns Cup – 1964, 1966, 1968, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2008
- McGowan Cup – 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1981, 1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005