TAIT FITS THE BILL
by Robert O’Shea (Evening Echo Sat Oct 25th,2003)
One day eight years ago, Mary Tait told her husband she had received a phone call from Midleton RFC. The Club wanted him to become its president, she said. He was reluctant, but as the day went on Mary proved persuasive. Later that night, five members of the Club came knocking on the door of the couple’s house in Aghada.
Before you meet the oldest rugby club president in the world, anyone you care to ask will tell you that he is a gentleman. That is a word you will hear again and again. It is a word not used often enough these days, and is now mostly found in speeches or nailed on a lavatory door. Bill Tait is in the Mill Wheel Pub, a place that is steeped in the history of Midleton rugby, and where he can sometimes be seen drinking a glass of scotch with ginger. He is sprightly for his age and he has a cheerful demeanour.
A few years after Bill was elected as president of the club, Mary died. It was tough after that, but he says he found an outlet in the club. “It became a bit like an extended family,” he says. And in a way it was, because Bill had been one of its founding fathers. Bill tells the story, “The original club broke up in 1938. Then in 1967 a few of us were going up on the train to Dublin for an international match and we were talking rugby and about how it was a shame that there wasn’t a club in Midleton. Well, we decided there and then to re-form the club.” “We held our first meeting in Cuddy’s out near Ahanesk just outside Midleton. Dr. Con Cunneen was elected president and I was the Chairman.
We were a minor club without any grounds, so I approached Jim Smith, the headmaster of Midleton College and he gave us permission to use the college grounds for training and our home matches.” Midleton College have always been a great help to the club. It is Bill’s old school and also the place where he grew to love rugby. “I never played past school’s rugby. Every year though, the College used to play against the town of Midleton and we’d always have a tough game. I was hooker. My son actually went to a GAA school and never played until he left. But then he joined Midleton and went on to play for Munster Counties, hooking. And then his son, when he was in Midleton College got picked for Munster B, also hooking. So we’re three hookers in the family.”
“John Williams, who was the same age me, was a great player here in the town who went on to play for Dolphin. We were always feeding Cork city clubs with our players then. But I guess that we have benefited from movement in the other direction more recently. Before our games against Midleton, our headmaster when I was in the College, Tim West, would simply say, “Watch John Williams.” John would have made the Irish team but the war years happened just when he was prospering.” Thirty years later the Club was setting off on a long road.
“We were lucky when Larry McGovern and Dan Lynch, who owned the Mill Wheel here, joined us. They were senior players with Cork Con and the helped us on our feet. We had a lot of local lads who didn’t know one end of the ball from the other and Dan and Larry were great for coaching them the skills of the game. We were minor then for a few years before we got up to Junior. We were lucky too because John and Des Hurley came down from Rockwell College and they were two fine players.” John who owns SuperValu in the town, is now the main sponsor of the Club. He is also the most exciting player Bill says he saw play in a Midleton jersey. “He was a full-back and he was worth 12 points before any game because he was a great place kicker and a great punt of a ball and always had the opposition under pressure with it.
” Youghal, Cobh, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Fermoy were regular opponents in those days. “Bandon were really the team to beat at the time. There was also great rivalry between us and Youghal, but we always seemed to be able to hold them off by a point or two.” Midleton were the first of the above teams to make the breakthrough to senior. But it didn’t come easy. “Cork Con were Midleton’s bogey team, always winning by a few points, like we did against Youghal. We always maintained that the day we could beat Cork Con at junior level, we were entitled to go senior.” In the mid-90′s they were to beat Con in the Junior Cup final in two successive years. “I have a lot of proud moments with the Club,” says Bill, “but that first win against Con is probably the proudest.” In 1998 after beating Con a second time in the cup, the Club was promoted to senior rugby.
When Midleton triumphed over Sligo in a play-off on a wintery Easter day in Portlaoise, it was the end of a long journey and a beginning of a new one: one that would see them promoted two years running at senior level. They now play in division two of the All Ireland League. Outside of the team the Club was moving forward too.
“There was the building of our Clubhouse in 1998. There was a lot of hard work put into the club through the committee when Brendan McCarthy was the Chairman of the club and I served six years with Brendan. We have a good committee now too and they all work well together. It’s hard though. Professionalism is a good thing for the players, but it costs a lot of money to run clubs these days.
” The future of rugby, of course is the thing that concerns him most. He has special praise for Noel Murphy, the former president of the IRFU. “Noel was a help to rural clubs and was a man who you could pick up the phone and talk to if you ever had a problem to do with rugby.” As the tape clicks off, Bill actually feels the need to apologise for not being able to give a good interview, for not being able to remember things. He protests that he is old and smiles and says that he will not be around much longer anyway. Gentleman? It’s a word that fits like a coat.