The game of Rugby Football had been played in Ireland for over 40 years before it reached the provincial town of Banbridge. In 1918 the Headmaster of Banbridge Academy, W J Warren, introduced the game to his pupils, but it was eight years before a town team was formed.
Late in 1925 a nucleus of former Academy pupils and others interested in the game from in and around the town got together a team to play Newry. The date of that historic first game was 2nd January 1926 and the score as recorded in the local press was 6-0 in favour of the frontier town.
The Banbridge Chronicle noted that “they had hard luck in not crossing the Newry line.”
Presumably to establish the Club on a more formal basis, a preliminary meeting was held in Banbridge Orange Hall on Monday, 25th January. This lead to the first General Meeting, held on 1st February.
Meanwhile the return fixture with Newry had taken place on 30th January.
Newry again came out on top, by two tries to one, and the rugby correspondent of the Chronicle reported that “the forwards were good in the loose, but weak in the scrummaging”.
On the 6th February, before a “fair muster of spectators” at Rifle Park, Bann had a little more success against Lurgan, recording a 6-6 draw. The display was “not scientific, but the players showed plenty of vigour and enthusiasm”.
That year two local boys, Gerald Finney and Teddy McWilliam were on the Campbell College side in the Schools’ Cup final at Ravenhill.
The Banbridge Club got some wider publicity in April when a reporter from the Northern Whig went along to Pirrie park on Saturday 17th to watch Bann take on Queen’s Island. Though going down by one drop goal, one penalty goal and three tries to one goal, Bann earned some praise from “Impartial”. He described the team as “quite a lively lot with a hefty set of forwards and a smart back division”. It was a “fine open game, played in the proper spirit”. The writer concluded by “wishing Banbridge every success in the Minor League next season”.
So in 1926-27 Bann had their first experience of League Football, competing in Section C of the Minor League against Knock 3, YMCA 2, King’s Scholars, C P A 3, Cooke 2, Sirocco and Holywood.
On 2nd October 1926 the firsts suffered a 17-0 defeat at the hands of Portadown, but in the return game at Portadown two weeks later turned the tables completely to win by the same result. The players who represented Bann in this, the club’s first victory were: J.W. Patton, Rev I.R. Peacock, G. McSpadden, J. Kennedy, H.L. Chambers, T. Hynes, J.B. Carter, T. Henry, D. Finney, T.L. Moffett, R. Hamilton, R.W. Carson, A. Nelson, J.T. Gailey and L. Kirk.
In late October a Second XV was formed, thanks to a large and enthusiastic membership. On 6th November for the first time two teams were fielded.
The Chronicle of 4th December 1926 reported that J.W. Lusk, a Banbridge man attending Edinburgh University and captain of the students’ team, played for Ulster against Munster on 27th November. The paper noted that : “Lusk always assists the local club while on vacation and coached the team at the start of the season.
Bann entered the Towns’ Cup that season but drew tough opponents in Donaghadee, who had won the Junior Cup and Junior League the previous year. The 6-0 defeat in that game of 8th January 1927 can be seen as a very creditable performance.
The club did not have to wait long for representative honours. In March T. Henry and Rev C.I. Peacock were capped for Co. Down and Co. Antrim.
In their first season of rugby under the captaincy of Tom Henry a total of 22 matches were played, winning 12, losing 8 and drawing 2. The points tally was 236 for, 119 against. Four league games were lost but Bann’s overall record was considered good enough to warrant promotion to the Junior League. A credit balance of £20-8-0 was reported at the end of the season.
The 1927-28 League fixtures were against Knock, Sydenham, Bangor, Portadown, King’s Scholars, Newry, Carrick and Cooke. Their first entry in the Junior Cup resulted in a 6-5 defeat by Newry on 4th December 1927.