Historians are generally agreed that the ‘Battle of Clontarf,’ where the last High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, defeated the invading Danes in 1014, changed the course of European political history. Clontarf’s (District of the Bulls) defeat of Wellington Athletic F.C. in October 1966 may not have made such radical change, but there is no doubt that the tourists’ visit was to make a significant impact in Irish, and indeed International, Rugby Football.
Clontarf Football Club (founded in 1876), five years before the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) was formed, is situated on the North East peninsula of the capital, Dublin, serving principally as a community club and was not especially well known outside our shores as a rugby stronghold. But having challenged Wellington Athletic F.C., under the leadership of Neven MacEwan (the legendary All Black), much was to change for the better in rugby terms in the Dublin suburb, and many new landmarks were achieved.
Wellington Athletic was the first New Zealand club side to visit Ireland, and Clontarf F.C. became the first Irish side to defeat a New Zealand XV at any level on Irish soil. Neven MacEwan became the first All Black to be interviewed on Irish TV (R.T.E.) established 1961.
In the forty years since, players from all over Ireland were now eager to join the club as well as players from the UK, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and, of course, New Zealand, who have all donned the red and blue jersey of ‘Tarf. Underage Rugby for schoolboys was established and provided a much sought after platform for the game in the area, the most notable schoolboy being Brian O’Driscoll, whose father and grandfather’s family are lead players with Clontarf.
One of the best known of the international players was Gary Teichman from Natal, South Africa, who returned home and captained the Springboks in many international matches. Although it was not envisaged at the time, Neven’s rugby squad was to play a very large part in the evolution of the game in Clontarf and its transgression with the professional ranks in the country in which ‘Tarf is now established as one of the leading clubs in the country.