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 Boxing coach Maurice Walsh at St Coleman’s Boxing Club in Shanagarry, East Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Boxing coach Maurice Walsh at St Coleman’s Boxing Club in Shanagarry, East Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
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From Rhode Island to East Cork, the story of boxing coach Maurice Walsh

A legend of Cork boxing passed away last weekend. Here we reprint Pádraig Hoare's 2011 interview with one of the most influential figures in the sport in Rebel county... 

 Signed gloves from Jake LaMotta, the Raging Bull, which were given to coach Maurice Walsh. Picture Dan Linehan
Signed gloves from Jake LaMotta, the Raging Bull, which were given to coach Maurice Walsh. Picture Dan Linehan

THE man known affectionately as the Angelo Dundee of East Cork shows no signs of slowing down. 

It's a freezing Monday morning in Shanagarry, with rain and fog thrown in for good measure, but legendary boxing coach Maurice Walsh knows no other way to live.

When most good citizens are enjoying their well-earned retirement, the patriarch of the three Walsh boys - who amassed 22 All-Ireland titles between them during their magnificent careers - is on the pads with his super-heavyweight from Youghal, Mike Kalilec, in preparation for the All-Ireland senior championships in February.

It takes some coaxing to get Maurice talking about his storied career since he first coached the youngsters at St Colman's Boxing Club in Shanagarry in 1983, but when he starts, it is a veritable treasure trove of wonderful memories, great characters and stories that could make you laugh and cry.

"If I talk, can you make sure that the right people get the credit? A coach is nothing without his team. Nothing. If we didn't have such brilliant people in this club from day one, then there would have been no titles. We've been blessed with some truly remarkable people."

There would have been no 34 All-Ireland titles for the club, plus countless Munster and county championships, without the vision of men like Noel O'Brien and John Hartnett back in 1983, according to Maurice.

"Noel had the idea of resurrecting St Colman's, which had been gone for 21 years, out of Shanagarry. Noel had the passion and John Hartnett had the drive. John was a genius that way. If it weren't for Noel and John, we wouldn't be talking right now."

Picture: Doug Minhane
Picture: Doug Minhane

Maurice, a native of Providence, Rhode Island in the USA, had been a semi-professional quarterback in the Atlantic Coast League as a youngster and had coached teams to state championships before returning to his ancestral home of east Cork with his wife Margaret to take over her family bar in the '70s. 

Even though he never picked up a hurley before, he used his coaching knowledge to drive Russell Rovers to an East Cork final, and it wasn't too long before the boxing club came looking.

"I said I'd do it but my knowledge of boxing was minimal at the time. Back in the US, we used to train in a cellar owned by a cop just to stay fit and that was the extent of it. Boy, we were green back then.

"Our first year of the counties and four of our five lads were stopped in the first round. Then young Brendan Walsh, who was a good honest kid, survived the first round in his contest. We were telling him how proud we were and sent him out for the second. In the middle of the round, I said to John Hartnett that something wasn't right. 

"Brendan's jaw was all contorted, it didn't look right. We made the decision to pull him out before he got more hurt and I was just about to throw the towel in when the bell rang. I asked Brendan how bad he was hurt and he said: 'I'm not hurt - you put my damn mouthpiece in upside down!' That's how green we were."

Every coach should have to go through an apprenticeship, according to Maurice. It was the makings of St Colman's, leading to an array of titles that would make Shanagarry one of the centrepieces of Irish amateur boxing. His sons Billy, Kevin and Pa would win 22 All-Ireland titles, including senior for Billy and Kevin and a European silver for Pa.

"I got home after that tournament and I started thinking. I called John O'Neill in Cork and I asked could I bring up kids training. He is a great guy, he really took me in and spent time with me. Then I went out to other clubs and the late Albie Murphy took me in. Albie was Mr Boxing. He was the president of the association. I learned so much.

Maurice Walsh unveils the plaque in honour of Albie Murphy as Lord Mayor Cllr Des Cahill and Michael O'Brien, President of the Cork County Boxing Board, look on. Picture: Doug Minihane
Maurice Walsh unveils the plaque in honour of Albie Murphy as Lord Mayor Cllr Des Cahill and Michael O'Brien, President of the Cork County Boxing Board, look on. Picture: Doug Minihane

"They give me credit for the success over the years but it's always the guys in the background. I'm considered the boss by name, but we have a treasurer, Bartie Higgins, who has been with us for 29 years. He's the most honest guy in Ireland and we couldn't do it without him.

"If I left tomorrow, we now have a structure in place that I wouldn't even be missed. We have Pa, Adrian Lewis and Liam Hickey, who are outstanding coaches. You have to have that structure."

The renowned disciplinarian had a difficult relationship with his own sons as he tried to juggle being a coach with being a father. It was often fractious, but then club president John O'Connor kept him in check.

Maurice is proud of his boys' accomplishments.

Maurice Walsh with sons Billy and Kevin, who between them won a total of 17 All-Ireland boxing titles from 1985 to 2000. Picture: John Walshe
Maurice Walsh with sons Billy and Kevin, who between them won a total of 17 All-Ireland boxing titles from 1985 to 2000. Picture: John Walshe

"They never gave Margaret and I any trouble - they were good boys. Sure, we had fierce arguments, and Billy was a bit wild, you could coach him all day long and he'd still do his own thing in the ring. The late John O'Connor, who was our club president, was just the loveliest man ever. 

"Our boys loved him as much as they could love another human being. John used to give me a hard time, telling me to lay off, especially Billy. He was just a tremendous human being. We miss him every day."

It wasn't just the Walsh boys who succeeded at St Colman's. The last senior Irish champion from Cork was the Fighting Doctor, Eanna Falvey, who became doctor to the Irish rugby team.

"Eanna was real dedicated and was a pleasure to coach. All our guys were. 

"That is what is most satisfying to the team here - many of our guys have succeeded in business and in life, and say they got something here that they didn't in college. That is what boxing can bring. I'm happy to have played my small part. I may be called the boss, but I achieved nothing without a great team here for the past 28 years."