A Brief History of BRAFP/ACADEMY Rugby Football Club.
At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Old Boys’ Association in May 1945 a proposal to form an Old Boys’ rugby club was passed. The first General Meeting of the Rugby Club took place in June 1945 after which an application was submitted to join the IRFU Ulster Branch. This was accepted and the Club, to be called BRAFP, was placed in Section D of the Junior League. A ground was procured outside Glengormley and in September 1945 the Club set out on a long road.
In the first few years the Club was very successful. The 1st XV won the McCrea Cup in 1947 and 1950, by which time the team had also reached the top division of the Junior League. Major problems did exist with very poor pitches, no changing rooms and no training facilities. However, money raised from holding Saturday night dances in the School gym helped fund the acquisition of grounds at Hydepark and several years later these grounds facilitated rugby, cricket and hockey pitches along with changing rooms.
The 1950s were very successful years for BRAFP and the McCrea Cup was won another three times. In 1954 the Past Players’ Cup was also won and in 1955 and 1958 the team was runners-up in the Junior Cup. With this excellent playing record and good playing facilities the Club applied for Senior status in 1958. This application, along with several more, did not succeed but the Club continued to be successful in the 1960s. The 1st XV won their League in 1963-64 and 1965-66, the 2nd XV won their League in 1963-64 and the 4th XV won the 4th Division Championship in 1963-64 and 1964-65. Following this ongoing success, the Club was eventually awarded Senior status in 1966.
By the early 1970s the Club was turning out seven teams, but the lack of a clubhouse was a disadvantage. This was partly overcome with the use of premises at Salisbury Bowling Club and this proved to be very successful until the clubhouse at Hydepark was opened in 1981. Prior to that the Club became open in 1975 and those who did not attend Belfast Royal Academy could now join. As a result, the Club was re-named Academy RFC.
In the 1970s the 1st XV consolidated its position in senior rugby. The team was runners-up in the floodlit Boston Cup in 1974, won the Collegians Tournament in 1975 had a very successful tour in Eastern Canada in 1977. There was other Club success with the 2nd XV winning Section 3 of the Junior league and, notably, the Club had two teams in the Junior League with the 2B XV being in Section 5. As well, the Tankards (4th XV) won Section 1 of the Minor League, the Ravenhill Cup, the McCambley Cup and 1986 also had a successful tour of Western Canada.
In the late 1970s a main aim of the Club was to have a clubhouse at Hydepark and this was eventually realised in 1981. Despite this fine addition to the Club’s facilities and reasonable success on the playing field the Club’s fortunes began to decline in the 1980s. In general, this was the outcome of societal changes, the financial crises in the economy and the ongoing ‘troubles’ during those years. The number of players declined and gradually the Club’s financial situation became critical. The Club had a huge overdraft which could not be serviced and 1987 the decision was made to sell the grounds at Hydepark, although the clubhouse was retained.
For three years the Club played at the School grounds at Roughfort and when that became financially difficult for the Club to sustain the Ulster Branch permitted the 1st XV to play home matches at Ravenhill for the season 1990-91. Realistically this situation could not be sustained so in 1991 the Club applied to the Ulster Branch to be re-instated as a Junior club. This was granted and the 1st XV was placed in Section 5 of the Junior League.
The Club rented pitches at Three Mile Water Park and the Valley Park and despite the turmoil survived. In 1993 the 1st XV won its league to gain a place in Section 3 of the Junior League, in 1994 were runners-up to Instonians II in the McCrea Cup, and in 1995 the 50th anniversary of the Club represented a milestone which was well celebrated. Further success was achieved in 1996 when the 1st XV gained promotion to Section 2 of the Junior League only to return the following season. In the following years the Club consolidated its position and a major step forward was achieved in 2005-06 when the Club moved back to Roughfort after agreeing a lease with the School. This arrangement included the Club funded provision of two new sand-based pitches along with floodlighting for training purposes.
These improved circumstances had an immediate impact and in 2006-07 the 1st XV won Section 3 of the Qualifying (Junior) League and the Gordon West Cup. In 2008-09 the 1st XV was promoted to Section 1 and following a fourth-place finish in 2010-11 qualified for the All Ireland Junior Cup the following season. In the first round the team defeated Richmond from Limerick but then lost to Tullamore. These years of success came to an end in 2013 when the team returned to Section 2 where it has since remained.
However, the Club is now in a very healthy position and the Clubhouse at Hydepark has recently been extensively renovated both inside and outside, aided by grants from several sources e.g. Newtownabbey Borough Council. Three teams are currently being fielded and all are performing strongly in their respective leagues. The vibrancy in the Club is also very well reflected in the mini-rugby section which was created in 2000 following the considerable success of Ben Madigan sides. Participation has been such that the Club’s mini-rugby now takes place at the Castle Grounds on Saturday mornings with around 100 boys, drawn from over 20 primary schools, regularly attending.