Chair hosts reception for Omagh Academicals RFC

23rd May 2022

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The Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Errol Thompson, recently hosted a reception in the Council Offices, The Grange, Omagh to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club.

Below is the text of the speech delivered by Councillor Thompson at the reception.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen

As Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, I am delighted to welcome you all here this evening to the Council Offices at The Grange, Omagh for this reception to mark the 70th Anniversary of Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club.

In 1952, three young men – Billy Beatty, Tom Hendly and Dai Waterson met to discuss the future of rugby in Omagh and decided that a fresh approach was needed.  They agreed to start a club on the basis of ‘by the members for the members’ and Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club was established.

The first President of the Club was the late Robert Waterson and at the time, through a few of his business friends, £25 was raised to purchase a set of jerseys and three balls.  During the early days, the Club meetings took place regularly in the Royal Arms Hotel, owned by founding member and one of two Honorary Members, Dai Waterson.

I understand the Club sent its first Team to Enniskillen on 13 September 1952 and they were determined to make a good impression on their debut against a team from Enniskillen who were a maturing club and were current holders of the North West Championship at the time.  The match was played at St Angelo, Enniskillen with large crowds and brilliant sunshine and it was a tightly contested match with Enniskillen emerging as the winners in the final play of the game.  This match proved to be more than just a friendly as I understand it is now an established tradition that Omagh Academicals start each season with a match against Enniskillen.

In 1956, another founding member, Billy Beatty, affectionately know as ‘The Beat’, organised the first Overseas Tour to France making Omagh Academicals the first Junior Club in Northern Ireland to play on the continent.  The club were victorious on the day against Racing Club de France winning 6-3 with a club stalwart, Biro Kerr, scoring two tries.  Further Overseas Tours took place in Canada (1979), Colorado (1983), the East Coast of the USA (1990) and Australia (1996)

A significant step forward for the Club came in 1968 when, after a generous donation by the Mellon Family in America, 21 acres of land were purchased just outside Omagh at Coneywarren and it was aptly named The Thomas Mellon Playing Fields.  Club members pledged 3000 hours of labour on site to ensure that the construction and maintenance costs of the building were kept to a minimum.  The grounds have been developed over the years and the Club now boasts a pavilion and assets worth close to three quarters of a million pounds including four pitches and some of the best playing surfaces in Ireland.  Over the years I also know the Club was a popular venue for a good night out and indeed played host to the Omagh Accies and Omagh Cavaliers Cricket teams who, I am reliably informed, enjoyed quite a few good nights celebrating their many successes!

Success on the pitch started in the 1964-1965 season when the 1st XV won the North West League and reached the final of the Ulster Junior Cup.  On New Year’s Day in 1982, the Club claimed the blue riband Junior Rugby in Ulster when they won the Ulster Junior Cup for the first time, defeating Bangor 22-9 in the final.  The club proceeded to lift the Junior Cup title in 1983 and 1984, putting Omagh Academicals in the history books of Ulster Rugby as the first club and only winners of the coveted trophy in three successive seasons.  The Club also reached the final 1985 only to be narrowly beaten by North II.  Further success in the Junior Cup came in the 1992-1993 season with the last appearance in the final coming in the 2016-2017 season, a defeat to a strong Ballynahinch team.

The nineties started off disappointingly for the Club with another Junior Cup Final defeat followed by a defeat in the Towns’ Cup Final, which you eventually annexed in the 2001-2002 season in what was a pulsating final against Ballynahinch RFC.  This was a momentous occasion as the Club celebrated its 50th anniversary.

However, under new coach Jack Reid and Captain Jimmy Ferguson, the Club refocussed and became a more consistent side and this resulted in the Club winning their section of the League for the first time.

In 1997, the Club played its first All Ireland League Game as a Senior Club on 22 November against Creggs Rugby Football Club from County Galway and the match ended in a significant victory with a final score of 8-3.  The Club was relegated in 2000 but returned strongly in 2017.

The Club continues to expand and build on its long history of success with 4 senior teams, a Ladies team, 3 boys youth teams and mini rugby sides, and I understand you hope to have an Under 16 Girls side in the near future.  In addition to this you have 7 Ulster Branch Referees affiliated to the Club.

The Club colours have changed from the original blue shorts and green shirts with white collars to green and white, however, the Club’s commitment to the amateur ethos has not wavered.

Richie McCaw, former New Zealand Rugby Player, once said “I don’t believe in magic, I believe in hard work” and that is an ethos which encapsulates what Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club is all about.

I believe the success of the Club is testament to the hard work dedication, and desire of the Players, Management, Coaches, Committee Members and Members to ensure the Club continues to develop and progress at the highest level in the game.  I also believe the community spirit and support is invaluable to the Club as it inspires our young people to take up the game of rugby at an early age and be a part of a team that is committed to success and encouraging them to develop new skills and confidence and make lifelong friends.

On behalf of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, and on my own behalf, I would like to congratulate all the Players, Management, Coaches, Committee Members and Members, past and present, for your initial foresight and continued commitment and enthusiasm to establish Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club and to develop the club to ensure that it continues to remain at the forefront of the game of rugby in the years ahead.

I wish you every success for the future and I look forward to watching the Club continue to grow from strength to strength.

Thank you.