Cork Boxing honours one of its finest ever, Dan O'Connell

Cork Boxing honours one of its finest ever, Dan O'Connell

Conal Thomas, President Cork Boxing Fraternity Assoc. makes a presentation of a Lifetime of Distinguished Service Award to Dan O'Connell, watched by Michael O'Brien, President of the Cork County Boxing Board, and Paddy McSweeney, President-Designate Cork Ex-Boxer's Assocation.

FITZGERALD'S PARK on Cork's famous Mardyke on a warm summer's day was the picturesque setting for a presentation to one of Leeside's great boxing administrators recently.

"No definitive history of Cork boxing could ever be written without comprehensively acknowledging the contribution of Dan O'Connell."

Those were the words of the current President of the Cork County Boxing Board Michael O'Brien who was speaking on what he described as hallowed turf as Fitzgerald's Park was the venue for the first-ever open-air County Boxing Championships in May 1914.

This presentation, which took place last week, was hosted by the Cork Boxing Fraternity Association, led by its President Conal Thomas.

When making the presentation, Thomas said, "this award reflects the relentless work put in by Dan over many years to promote and develop amateur boxing during an illustrious career."

The Cork Ex Boxers Association also attended the presentation, represented by their President-designate Paddy McSweeney.

On behalf of Cork's former boxers, McSweeney warmly congratulated O'Connell on his award which he said reflected his commitment, dedication and longevity.

Dan O'Connell first took an interest in boxing in 1960 even though he had no family background in the sport.

Around that time, while living in the Churchfield area of the city, he knocked around with Mick Leahy's brother.

He then joined the Fr Horgan's club which was founded in 1959. Leahy boxed out of the unit before turning pro and claiming the British middleweight title in 1963.

Cork at this time was a very frugal and primitive place. There was no TV sets or supermarkets. Few people had cars, and there were no credit unions. Bread and jam was a treat, and Chester cake and a bag of chips was a luxury.

Hurling, football, boxing, basketball and bowling were the big sports in the locality. However, the Harriers continued to walk the bagels, puppies, whelps and hounds.

The Burney Lane Pigeon club was the pride of the Northside, while Jones pawn shop at the bottom of Shandon Street was the people's chamber of commerce.

The 1930, 1940s and 1950s saw boxing flourish in Cork, but in the 1960s the sport began to wane. Dan O'Connell continued to box with Fr Horgan's during this period and also joined the army.

Here, he met up with Major Victor Aston who had given tremendous service to the sport on Leeside and in Munster.

In 1970, O'Connell began as an administrator with the Fr Horgan's unit. However, from a variety of reason boxing completely slumped in Cork. But O'Connell and Aston met this challenge head-on.

O'Connell went on to become Secretary of the County Board, and through inspirational thinking and operation skills, he built up the Board to a healthy state once again by the mid-1970s.

During this period he was fully immersed in the sport and from 1969 to 1977 he was the Defence Forces lightweight champion having never lost a contest.

O'Connell began his service at 22-years-of-age and served for many years in his capacity as Secretary.

He also served for many years as President and Secretary of the Munster Council. Inside the ring, he advanced to the highest standards as a referee and toured the world in that capacity.

Later, he completed a high-profile international coaching course at Crystal Place in London and was appointed assistant coach to the Irish team for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

In 1988 he was promoted to the World Body of referees. For the next 25 years, he officiated at the highest level internationally but never forgot to come home to referee bouts in Munster and Cork.

During his career, O'Connell developed contacts all over the world, and it was his influence that secured the services of Georgia's current Irish head coach Zaur Antia.

Amongst his fondest memories in boxing, O'Connell recently reflected on leading a Cork side to Canada in 1993.

He also recalled his role as Chief Official at the World Military Game held in the Curragh in 2002, organizing a multi-nations tournament in Cork in 2007 and promoting the EU Championships at the National Stadium, also in 2007.

Over the years he has received many accolades both nationally and internationally, and in 2016 he received an Outstanding Service Award from the IABA.

Meanwhile, the recent presentation was a piece of Celtic Heritage wood depicting a youthful leader pointing the way forward.

This symbolism was explained by Mick O'Brien who said Dan O'Connell "was a beacon of light during the darkest hours of Cork boxing in the 1970s and all who followed in the sport for the next fifty years were beneficiaries of the steadfast work of a man who may have prevented the decimation of Cork boxing."

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