100 Years – All Ireland League

The newly inaugurated All Ireland League was a huge success and injected new life into the club season. Constitution and Garryowen were the leading teams during the first season and, as fate would have it, they met in the final game at Doordoyle to decide the winner. It was as tense as any of the great games between the clubs. Constitution were victorious on a 9-3 score line, for captain Michael Bradley to collect the first AIL title. The crucial score was a second half penalty try. Constitution had a strong pack with front rows, Philip Soden, Paul Derham and Paul McCarthy, all of whom gained representative honours with Munster and Ireland ‘A’.

The club’s centenary season 1991-92 was celebrated in style with a full programme of events under President, Tom Kiernan. Donal Lenihan, who had retired from International duty, was the centenary club captain. The famous Barbarian touring team played a combined Constitution / Old Wesley XV at Temple Hill in September, while the full Irish team played a warm up game against Constitution prior to the Rugby World Cup tournament in October. Edmund van Esbeck, the noted sports journalist and a former Constitution player, wrote the script for the club Centenary History book, while Jack Kyle was the guest speaker at the Centenary Dinner held at Jury’s Hotel on 30th November 1991.

Ralph Keyes was at out half for Ireland in the World Cup games and emerged as top points scorer in the tournament. Ireland were defeated by Australia at the quarter final stage in a dramatic game in Lansdowne Road. Ken Murphy and Pat O’Hara were also members of the Irish squad.

With the All Ireland League dominating the club fixture season, it was unfortunate that the Munster club competitions declined in importance. Constitution contested two Cup finals during the period which were lost narrowly to Shannon in 1996 and Garryowen in 1999. Meanwhile the Junior XV kept the momentum going with three Cup successes under the captaincies of Peter O’Leary, Ray Clarke and Roy Healy, while Kevin Flanagan set a record of eight MJC medals. Subsequently, two finals were lost to Midleton in 1997 & 1998.

The Rugby World Cup party in South Africa in 1995, managed by Noel Murphy, included Michael Bradley, Paul Burke, Gabriel Fulcher and David Corkery. Ireland again reached the quarter final losing to France. The IRB decision in September 1995 to declare the game open to professionalism would have major consequences. It had become inevitable during the Rugby World Cup as outside forces were attempting to wrest control of players and teams. The IRFU took prudent steps over the following years to structure the professional game in Ireland via the four provincial teams. The advent of the European Rugby Cup in 1997 then gave a competitive platform for players from which to advance to the national team.

However, that progress did not come in time for the 1999 World Cup tournament played in Europe. Ireland lost a play-off game with Argentina and failed to make the quarter finals. That event was a turning point in Ireland’s attitude to professionalism which was then intensified in the following years. Donal Lenihan was Manager of the Irish team for RWC99 and assisted the transformation in attitude that followed that disappointment.

Constitution won a second All Ireland League in 1999 defeating Garryowen 11-6, after extra time in the final at Lansdowne Road. It was a new format that season with the top four teams playing off. The team, captained by Philip Soden, contained players who were also contracted to the Munster team, including John Kelly, Anthony Horgan, Ronan O’Gara, Frank Sheahan, David Corkery and Donncha O’Callaghan.

Munster reached the final of the European Rugby Cup against Northampton at Twickenham in 1999 having beaten Toulouse in Bordeaux in the semi final. It was a marvellous occasion for Munster’s huge support, but disappointing to lose 7-9.

Ken Murphy was selected for Ireland v England at Twickenham in 1990, thus becoming the third generation of his family to be capped. His father, Noel Murphy was President IRFU 1998-99, once again emulating his father who was President 1960-61.

Nine players affiliated to the club were capped during the decade: Donal Lenihan’s international career ended in 1992, having won 54 caps, 24 as captain. Michael Bradley won 40 caps with 15 as captain – his last appearance was against New Zealand in 1995 World Cup. Paul Burke won his first cap against England in 1995 while a playing member with Constitution. David Corkery won 27 caps between 1992 &1997, when a serious leg injury ended his career prematurely. Gabriel Fulcher won 21 caps between 1994 & 1995. Pat O’Hara won 15 caps between 1988 & 1994. Ken Murphy won 11 caps – the same number as his grandfather. Ralph Keyes won 8 caps, while prop forward Paul McCarthy won 5 caps.

In 1994 the club appointed former President, Bill Jones, as part-time club administrator, to oversee day-to-day operations, including the management of sponsorship and advertisement portfolios that were becoming increasingly important to the club finances. Spectator facilities at Temple Hill were greatly improved during the decade with the erection of terraces to enclose the main playing pitch.