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Some famous Footballers of the Cardiff Rugby Club.
FOR nearly fifty years, there has been great interest in Rugby Football in Cardiff, and men, and women too, have followed with great interest the doings of Cardiff Rugby Football Club. When the Cardiff Club was young, Rugby was a very different game to what it is now. We have been reading "Cardiff Rugby Football Club – History and Statistics (1873 - 1908)" by Mr. C. S. Arthur, and the evolution of the Club and the Game as shown therein affords some interest. The rules of the early game played by the Club differed in many respects with modern Rugby. "There were twenty players aside, the ball was round not oval, and was never to be picked up off the ground, but must be clapping, if only a few inches. The ball, when caught in the full, or on any hop, was carried by the player, who made a run for a try, and passing was unknown. A player, when collared, sometimes handed the ball to one of his side, but never threw it. The usual thing was to put it on the ground and then form a scrum. When the ball went into touch there was no line out but the forwards, twelve each side, formed a line with their heads down, and the ball was thrown in the tunnel by a spectator. The object of the forwards was then to force the ball through, heeling out being unknown". Punting was considered bad form. Drop kicking and place kicking with a round ball produced grand results. Tripping was against etiquette but hacking (catching or hooking the leg whilst in the air) was permissible.
There was no regulation costume. Most of the players were in their every day attire, just taking off their coats: a player once playing in evening dress. Some did not discard their bowler hats! There were no packed scrummages in those days. It.was in 1876, that the Club was formed by the amalgamation of two local clubs: the Glamorgan Club and the Cardiff Club-so that their golden jubilee will take place next year. Colours were chosen: black with skull and crossbones. But the parents of the young men did not like the jersey with its uncanny emblems. Blue and black stripes were chosen the following year – the colours being selected after seeing them worn by a Cambridge student, T. W. Rees, who played for Cardiff. In the season 1881 - 82, the same colours were used but in quarters, not in stripes. In 1892 - 93, the modern jersey became the fashion. Touches down in those early days were of value - and a goal beat any number of tries. Fifteen players aside, however, very soon became the standard number in a team. There was no referee, each side having its own umpire. But the Rugby game soon evolved its code of rules. All this is, by the way of preamble.
Our main object is to give an impression that came into our mind as we turned over the pages of Mr. Arthur's book. It is this : the old Catholic Clubs in the town have played their part in building up the City Club, and it is interesting to see the names of many men, now in middle age, who figured conspicuously in the football annals of the Cardiff Club in the past. Names like Fitzgerald, the international threequarter – of old St. David's Club, and a decade later, Billy Neill and Jack Brown, those two sturdy international forwards of St. Peter's Club, who in turn were vice-Captains of the Cardiff team, figure prominently in the pages of Mr. Arthur's History.
It has occurred to us to go through its pages and make a few notes of Catholic names, and members of our Clubs, who played for Cardiff. It will just make the older enthusiasts reminiscent. Our notes willrecall many incidents and personalities of the Rugby football arena. We only wish that Mr. Arthur, who in his day was a Cardiff Captain, a great centre threequarter, and now for thirty-two years secretary of the Club, could continue the history. As it is we are content to run through this portion of the history of the Cardiff Club.
Before any Irishmen played for the local Club, a team called the Irish Wanderers of Newport defeated the Cardiff team at Newport on Nov. 13, 1880, by one try and two touches down to three touches down. "The Cardiff team turned up six men short, and had to call in the assistance of six of the second XV, who happened to be going to Newport to play Maindee. " On Nov. 9th, 1881, at Cardiff, the Irish Rovers were defeated by a try, which was disputed by the Irishmen. History does not relate what was the language used on that occasion.
Wales met Ireland for the first time this year, 1881-82, and won by two goals and two tries to nil. B. Norton (threequarter) and W. A. Phillips (forward) were the Cardiff men who played for Wales.
The first Irishman to play for the Cardiff Club was Jim Mahoney, who appeared in the season (1882 - 83) and lie played as a member of ‘Hancock's Invincibles’ as the Cardiff team was called in 1885 - 86 when the Club won all their matches, except the last against Moseley. In the season 1883 - 84, Ireland played Wales at Cardiff and no less than half the Welsh team, eight in all, belonged to the Cardiff Club. In the season 1884 - 85, Oueen's College, Cork played Cardiff here, and the game eventually resulted in a draw, one try each being scored. There was no international match with Ireland that season.
In the following year (1885 - 86) we find Jimmy Mahoney definitely in the Cardiff XV. He was a forward and a very small one at that, and he scored five tries that season. Jimmy was a great dribbler and did exceedingly well. Tim Sullivan was the ‘Old Stager’ of that year – being the football reporter for the South Wales Echo. In the following season, (1886 - 87) Jimmy was still the only Irishman in the Cardiff XV, and two tries are to his credit. In the year (1887 - 88) Jimmy Mahoney is first on the list of forwards, and we find members of the old St. David's team, M. C. McCarthy and Steve Cravos, among the forwards. In that season, Wales played Ireland at Dublin. C. S. Arthur, A. F. Bland, and three others from the Cardiff Club were in the Welsh team.
In 1888 - 89 Billy Harris, Captain of St. David's Club, was to be found in the threequarter line, being a wing man, and Steve Cravos and Jimmy Mahoney were among the forwards. Jimmy played in the famous match against Oxford University that year, when Cardiff won away by 3 goals and two tries to nothing, and he played the following year against the Maoris. He must have been a great player at the time, as we read he made a fine dribble into the Maoris' 25 in that match.
In the year 1890 - 91, Dai Fitzgerald played as full back and as centrequarter for the Cardiff Club. Jimmy Mahoney still held place among the forwards this season. Mr. Arthur writing about Jimmy has the following appreciative note about him. "Mention should be made of another forward, who for years rendered great service in the pack, namely, Jimmy Mahoney. He was short of stature but very sturdily built, and was a capital hand at hooking in the scrum, and a good tackler; and on a throw-out he invariably stood next to the line, and no opponent ever succeeded in doing him down".
In the year I891 - 92, the Cardiff Irish were well represented in the team. First of all, Dai Fitzgerald was full back for the Club, he played against the Barbarians at this their first appearance at Cardiff Arms Park. H. Godwin (St. David's), although not of Irish extraction, was half back this year, so too was Sam Coles in the forward line. Among others were S. Craves, Bob Guinee, Jimmy Mahoney, Jim Burke the singer, and Dick Davies who was unfortunately drowned skating some time later in the brick pond in Grangetown. It is to be noted that among the forwards was ‘Billy’ Cope, as he was called, who is now the Member of Parliament for Barry Division of Glamorgan.
In Tommy Pearson's year as Captain (1892 - 93), we find a goodly number of the St. David's Club amongst the Cardiff team. Jerry Murray played sometimes as a full back and sometimes as a forward in that year, weighing only nine and a half stone. Billy Harris and Dai Fitzgerald were in the threequarter line. Harry Godwin was half back. Steve Cravos, Bob Guinee, Jim Burke, Bill Davies and Tom Tustin figured amongst the forwards. St. David's Club, it seems, had disbanded in that season and joined the Cardiff Reserves. Among the scorers for the season were Dai Fitzgerald 3 tries, Billy Harris 2; Jim Burke 2; R. Guinee 1; S. Cravos I and Tom Tustin 1. In a match against Swinton the following sensational incident occurred. Mr. Arthur writes, "Swinton had by far the best of the game and looked like winners by a try to nil, when towards the end of the game the ball got into the hands of the Cardiff full-back, ‘Gaffer’ Francis, a St. David's man, and amid yells ‘drop a goal’, he took a shot which went sailing clean over the bar, amidst the wildest shouts of enthusiasm of the crowd, who seemed to go mad with joy at Cardiff pulling the match out of the fire, as time was called shortly afterwards".
In the year 1893 - 94, Jerry Murray was vice-Captain of the Reserves and played in the forwards for the Firsts. Dai Fitzgerald was threequarter. Paddy Ryan (‘Maneen’), and Gus McCarthy were half-backs. Bob Guinee and Steve Cravos were the other Catholics among the forwards. The famous Gwyn Nichols for the first time played, taking the place in the threequarter line of Dai Fitzgerald who was unable to play. Dai Fitzgerald was capped for Wales against Ireland this year. The Irish selectors made a great mistake at not snapping him up, as it was generally thought that they were going to secure him.
In the season 1894 - 95, Catholics were well represented again. Dai Fitzgerald and Eddy Spillane (of Newtown) were threequarters. Gus McCarthy was a half-back, and Steve Cravos, Jim Burke and Bob Guinee were in the forward line. Soon after the season 1894 - 95 opened Dai Fitzgerald joined the Northern Union, going to Batley. He was a great loss to the Club, being a fine centre with plenty of speed and swerve.
In 1895 - 96, some new Irish names appeared in the Cardiff team. ‘Hockey’ Driscoll was in the three-quarter line and sometimes in the half-back division. Tommy Savage was also a half-back. There was Steve Cravos in the forward line. ‘Hockey’ Driscoll scored 4 tries and dropped 2 goals during the season. Mr. Arthur, writing about ‘Hockey’, says he "afterwards attained celebrity".
In the following year (1896 - 97) Steve Cravos is no longer playing but Driscoll and Savage are still in the team. Sergt. Leary, an Irish soldier from the Barracks, figured in the forward line. ‘Hockey’ scored 10 tries that year and dropped 2 goals. He was a marvel at the game. According to Billy Neill he was the trickiest threequarter that he ever met on the.football field.
In the year 1897 - 98, the only Irishman in the Cardiff team was the famous ‘Hockey’, as wing threequarter. He scored 16 tries in the season and one penalty goal. He played occasionally this year also as a half -back.
E. Gwyn Nichols was captain 1898 - 99, and among his forwards was
that great man "in the line out"' Billy Neill. Billy was a St. Peter's boy. He had been Vice-Captain of St. Peter's team. He was also in the Cardiff XV the following year. There were no other Irish men. The two outstanding names in the Cardiff team at this time were Percy Bush and Winfield. Jack Aherne was in the pack a few times in 1900 - 01. He was from Newtown, the old St. Paul’s team. In 1901 - 02 there were two St. Peter's boys in the Cardiff team, Jack Brown and Billy Neill – both of whom were to become Welsh Internationals. Jack Brown was also a forward. In the following year 1902 - 03, two Irish boys, E. Coughlin and D. Ryan (St. Peter's) figured in the half-back line, and Jack Brown, Billy Neill and Dan Murray (of Newtown) were forwards. In the following season, Coughlin, Brown and Neill were still in the Cardiff team. Billy Neill got his International cap (1903 - 04) against Scotland and Ireland. In the season 1904 - 05, Billy Neill had a new honour – having been elected Vice-Captain of the Cardiff Firsts. There were in the Cardiff team this year Tommy McLean (St. Patrick's) three-quarter, Billy Neill, Jack Brown and O'Brien, forwards. Billy Neill played against England, Scotland and Ireland this year, when Wales won the ‘Triple Crown’. Billy Neill and Jack Brown were again in the team in the following year when the famous Percy Bush was Captain.
In a summary of try getters for the Cardiff Club from the start down to this time (19O5) 'Hockey' Driscoll is 19th on the list with 30 tries, D. Fitzgerald 20, J. Mahoney, B. Neill. In 1904 and 1905, Billy Neill got five international caps; and it must not be forgotten that Dai Fitzgerald got two in the year 1894.
In the year 1906-7, Jack Brown and Billy Neill played against England and Ireland, and Jack Brown against Scotland. Billy Neill was picked to play against Scotland also, but owing to a bereavement in the family he stood down. The two of them with Jim Casey (of Newport) were in the Cardiff team. Cardiff beat the South Africans that year by 17 pts.to nil. In this match all three played. In the following year (1907- 08) the three were still playing for Cardiff, and we notice that Dr.J.J.Buist was elected a member of the Committee. This season Jack Brown was elected Vice-Captain of Cardiff. Billy Neill scored 4 tries, J. Brown 4 tries, and Jim Casey I try during the season. The Cork Constitution played Cardiff at Cardiff Arms Park this year and were given a fine reception in return for the hospitality given in Cork to the Cardiff team in the previous year. We notice that among the charities of the Club this season Nazareth House received a donation of £20 and St. Vincent de Paul Society £5. In this season also Wales won the ‘Triple Crown’, Billy Neill playing in all the games and Jack Brown against England and Scotland. Both of them also played against France. This was a fine year in the annals of Rugby at St. Peter's, the two old boys securing seven caps between them. May I close this review at this crowning point – only wishing that we could bring the record down to this year, when so many Catholic men, including R. L. Turnbull, the0 Cambridge Blue, and Martin Regan, from our parish, have helped the Cardiff Rugby Club.
First published in the St. Peter’s Magazine, (Cardiff) February, 1925. The author is given simply as ‘C’.
Published in The Green Dragon 11, Summer 2002