By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)
Some clubs that I will cover in ‘Forgotten Clubs’ won’t have an illustrious history. Some may have been actually forgotten about. This can be said about the next club I am going to write about. Even the mention of this club’s name gets a reaction of, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot they were a League of Ireland club’. But for the fans of that club, it will never be forgotten.
Despite the lack of success and the lack of acknowledgment, this club still played a part in the history of the League of Ireland, no matter how long of a time they existed. It’s only right they should be remembered in the same way. Despite its relatively short existence, Kildare County FC still provided its fans with memories that they will never forget, and trust me, there are more memories than you would think.
Kildare County FC was formed in 2002 by members of Newbridge Town FC who decided to enter a football club into the League of Ireland First Division after St Francis (another club that will be featured) withdrew from the league just two weeks before the 2001-02 season. A number of clubs were approached by the FAI to join the league for the 2002-03 season, including Newbridge Town FC, but they decided to form the separate club Kildare County FC as to target more sponsors around the county of Kildare. The club were accepted ahead of Mullingar Town FC and decided they would play their home games at Station Road. So in February 2002 it was announced that Kildare County would take part in the League of Ireland First Division.
In March 2002 Dermot Keely was announced as Kildare County FC’s first manager, and he was assisted by the now Dundalk coach John Gill. The club played their first game in a pre-season friendly against Bray Wanderers, a game that finished 2-2. Keith O’Connor wrote his name into Kildare County history by being their first ever goal scorer. But it was Philly Gorman who scored the first official goal for Kildare in their first competitive game against Limerick FC on July 6th in a First Division cup game. The game itself ended 2-0 to Kildare, recording their first official victory. The same opposition provided Kildare County their first ever league game at Station Road.
Unfortunately, Kildare didn’t come out on top and lost the game to Limerick 3-1, with Philly Gorman also getting the clubs first ever league goal. It was one of many goals for Gorman, who ended up being Kildare’s all-time top goal-scorer with 27 goals in total. Kildare County remained a stable part of the League of Ireland First Division, coming 5th in their first season. The next season was disrupted by the departure of their manager Keely, who went on to takeover at Derry City, with Eric Hannigan taking charge of the ‘Thoroughbreds.’
Challenging for promotion to the Premier Division proved too much for Kildare, who always seemed to be one place short of the play-off spots, finishing 5th, 5th and 4th in their first three seasons. The closest the club came to any silverware was coming runners-up in the First Division cup. After topping their regional group, they went on to lose to Finn Harps 4-0 on aggregate. The only other success of note came in the FAI Cup when they reached the quarter-finals in both the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
But that’s as good as it got on the pitch for Kildare County as they finished 8th,(2005), 7th (2006), 7th (2007) and rarely challenged for promotion. Finally, in the 2008 season Kildare County finished 10th and bottom of the league. They had to play in a relegation/promotion play-off against Galway side Mervue Untied, which they lost and the defeat subsequently relegated them to the A Championship. Luckily for Kildare, Cobh Ramblers were not given a First Division licence and went straight from the Premier Division to A Championship, leaving Kildare County to return to compete in the First Division.
But the reprieve didn’t last long and in the 2009 season Kildare finished bottom again and decided to withdraw from the League of Ireland. Their final game was on November 7th, 2009 against Shelbourne FC, losing 5-1.
The writing had been on the wall for the club with the whole club board and then manager, Joe Somerville, resigning in the weeks beforehand. The players themselves had not been paid and were asked by the PFAI General Secretary to participate in the game, and to their credit, they did. The fans themselves had to run the gate and ticket sales. A relegation/promotion play-off was due to be played against Salthill Devon but with no players, board or manager the short existence of Kildare County FC came to an end.
For one fan, Cian Roche, it was 7 years of memories that he will never forget. In fact, it forged his love for League of Ireland football. However, it will never be the same as the Kildare County days. ‘I’ve converted to a Shamrock Rovers fan now as they are the next closest team to me but it’s not quite the same!’.
Being a Rovers fan would make sense as to why Cian’s favourite moment as a Kildare County fan. ‘I would have only been twelve at the time going up to the Bohs game, I remember myself and a friend from school went up with my dad. We were sat in the Des Kelly stand, but there were a good few fans in the Jodi Stand as well, and I remember seeing the black and white flags swinging when Shay Zellers goal went in. Dalymount felt so big in comparison to Station Road. We were buzzing after the game, I remember shouting over towards the Bohs fans, taunting them after the game, not that they would have cared what two twelve-year olds would have to say! It felt great to stick it up to a bigger team, especially one from Dublin’.
Indeed, going to bigger stadiums, and travelling to Dublin became a frequent thing for Cian and the Kildare faithful. He remembers travelling up to Tolka Park, to take on Shelbourne FC, a club who only a couple of seasons beforehand had taken on Deportivo La Coruna in the Champions League. ‘I was a little bit older at this stage, and I remember about twenty of us who used to go to the games, organised our own bus up and back to Tolka, so it was my first real away day with my mates in that sense! We sang our little hearts out in Tolka Park and ended up getting to a few grounds around the country over the next few seasons’.
Admittedly, Cian says visiting stadia with four stands is a big difference to what he would have been used to at Station Road, with exception to the time Dundalk FC came to town, expecting promotion, they brought a huge crowd with them. In preparation for such a large attendance coming to Station Road, the home club set up temporary stands. ‘That game with Dundalk was very memorable actually, they must have brought down close to 1,000 fans and they really outnumbered us, probably the biggest crowd we had seen there since Rovers were in the first division.’ And we all know how that ended, with Dundalk getting promotion virtue of a late Limerick equaliser at Tolka Park, after Dundalk had hammered their hosts 6-0. ‘Queue the massive pitch invasions and incredible scenes from the Dundalk fans and players…. definitely one of my fondest memories of attending matches.’
Even in their short history, Kildare County have had a former player named in the Republic of Ireland squad. A young Padraig Amond played there on loan, but it was another player who got Cian’s vote as the best player he saw wear a Kildare County jersey. ‘The best player, I would go with Ger O’ Brien….he was a classy right back and played for us for two or three full seasons.’
However, Cian’s favourite player was in no doubt. Philly Gorman, the local lad from the Curragh left an impression with the Kildare County fans and will probably go down as the clubs most memorable player. ‘He always knew were the goal was and scored some important goals for us, the fact that he was a local and ended up being our top ever goal scorer will make him the most synonymous name with Kildare County for most fans I think’. Cian’s comments echo what I have been told by other Kildare County fans, and even surprisingly to myself there were a lot of them.
Cian had plenty more stories about the club and the people who helped make those memories happen, The Casey family got a special mention, along with the volunteers who helped bring a ‘short lived love affair’ to those Kildare County fans. But what struck me most while writing this piece was the effect that League of Ireland has had on those ‘smaller towns’ outside of Dublin. Sometimes we forget that there is more to Ireland than just Dublin, and in my opinion, there are not enough football clubs outside of the capital playing League of Ireland football.
Some will say the support isn’t there, but to me that is nonsense. Counties like Kildare, Offaly, Kilkenny and Laois are full of sports mad people, who are passionate about the towns that they come from. Yes, they may prefer GAA to Soccer but why do they have to choose? Can they not have both? Hopefully, in the future of the League of Ireland, these towns will help expand our League with more clubs from different counties. It also makes for more away days, and who doesn’t love a good away day!
Next up is a club with an unusual name, one that many may not have heard of. They are the second Dublin club that will feature in ‘Forgotten Clubs’. Brooklyn FC, lets find out where you got that name from?