The history of Cork boxers in the Olympic ring

The history of Cork boxers in the Olympic ring
Kieran Joyce with his coach Albie Murphy.

CORK boxers made up almost half of the Irish squad for Ireland’s first venture into the Olympic Games as an independent nation at Paris 1924.

Leesiders Maurice 'Mossy' Doyle, James Kelleher and Willie 'Boy' Murphy lined out at bantamweight, lightweight and middleweight at the 7th Olympiad along with Myles McDonagh, Paddy Dwyer, Robert Hilliard and John Kidley.

With the exception of Kerry-native Hilliard, who was representing the Trinity College BC, all of the team were boxing with the Army.

Cork’s Dan Flaherty was also included on the eight-strong Irish panel, but the Rebel flyweight didn’t make weight and did not box, according to the Army archives and the classified results.

The Ireland squad had barely settled into their surroundings in Paris when Major General Sean Quinn, who was one of the officials in charge of the team, was rushed to hospital with a serious illness.

Quinn, one of the founding members of the Army Athletic Association (AAA), was taken to the Hertford Hospital in Rue Villiers suffering from peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue that lines the inside of the abdomen.

Less than three weeks later, Quinn was dead. “We saw him alive for the last time on July 19th,” said Commandant Patrick Colgan of the AAA who, along with Larry O’Brien of the AAA was also part of the management team for Team Ireland Boxing in Paris.

Leaving aside the facilities at the Club de France, Team Ireland Boxing was not impressed with the way they were treated overall. It was reported, after the Games, that the squad were afforded the “princely” sum of £12 for expenses, about £617 today.

The report read: “The arrangements made by the Irish Olympic Council for the housing and training of the team were unsatisfactory throughout. The team was housed in the centre of the city, and the food (described as soft and sloppy) was totally unsuitable for men in training.

“The assistance given by Irish officials was nil. The boxing Team reached Paris having the grand sum of £12 to cover the expenses of providing lunches, taxis, etc. The boxers who, as events have proved, were the only hope of Ireland, were financially starved.

“Other Irish teams had their busses and taxis. The boxers had Shank’s Mare (a euphemism for the fact that they had to walk). Let us hope that the Irish Olympic Council has learned by their experience that, one-man Councils, are unsuitable for National Athletic needs.”

Meanwhile, Mossy Doyle lost to America’s Jackie Fields, the eventual gold medallist in his first fight in Paris. Fields was just sixteen when he won the featherweight title and is the youngest Olympic champion of all time.

Kelleher was beaten after being stopped in round two by Ben Rothwell of the USA in the 60kg class and Willie 'Boy' Murphy KO’d Poland’s Jerzy Nowak in round one but exited on a points to Canadian middleweight Lesley Black in the last 16.

Irish boxing failed to medal in Paris, but the sport had left its calling card. Ireland was now an Olympic boxing nation. Ireland sent a nine-strong squad to the Amsterdam Games where Willie Boy Murphy, now boxing at light-heavy, got off to a spectacular start at his second Olympiad.

Now boxing with the Garda BC, Murphy, now boxing at light-heavy, KO’d Jose Montilor Pastor of Spain in the first round to record his second first frame stoppage at the Olympic Games, but he bowed out to Germany’s Ernst Pistualla, the eventual finalist, on points in the next phase.

James Murphy was probably the unluckiest Cork boxer of the lot. The Army BC lightweight received a bye into the quarter-finals at Los Angeles 1932 where he beat John Miller of the USA to guarantee himself a top-four finish.

But he was beaten in the semi-finals by Italy’s Gino Rossi after he had to retire with an injury. That injury kept him out of the bronze medal box-off with Denmark’s Peter Joergensen who took home a medal on a walkover.

Twenty-eight years later, Paddy Kenny, who sold copies of this paper on the streets of Cork, lined out at the 1960 Games in Rome which featured a young American called Cassius Clay who secured light-heavy gold.

Kenny beat Emile Anner (Switzerland) on a unanimous decision in his opening fight but exited on a 3-2 split to Jerry Armstrong of the USA in the last 16.

The Sunnyside BC provided Cork’s three final Olympians, not counting Christina Desmond appearance at the 2014 Youth Olympics in China, with Kieran Joyce, Paul Buttimer and Michael Roche boxing at the Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000 Games.

Kieran Joyce with his coach Albie Murphy.
Kieran Joyce with his coach Albie Murphy.

Joyce, boxing at welter and middle, beat Basil Boniface of Seychelles and Tonga’s Fili Vaka in LA and Seoul but lost to Finland’s eventual bronze medallist Joni Nyman and Uganda’s Fred Wanyama on split decisions in the last 16.

Buttimer made his Olympic debut against Nigeria’s Moses Malaguo in Barcelona — where Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough won gold and silver — but was on the wrong end of a narrow 12-8 verdict under the newly introduced computer scoring system.

Roche, who qualified through the Chemistry Cup in Germany, lost to Turkish light-middle Firat Karagollu in Sydney at the turn of the century.

Overall, Cork’s boxers were involved, including walkovers, in 17 Olympic bouts and won six and lost 11. The wheel will turn full circle in four years time at Paris 2024, 100 years after three Corkmen wore an Irish vest at Ireland’s inaugural outing as an Olympic boxing nation.

Cork Boxing At The Olympics:

Paris 1924 Featherweight: Maurice 'Mossy' Doyle (Army) Lost to eventual gold medallist Jackie Fields (USA) Pts Lightweight: James Kelleher (Army) Lost to Ben Rothwell (USA) KO2 Middleweight: Willie ‘Boy’ Murphy (Army) Beat Jerzy Nowak (Poland) KO1 Lost to Leslie Black (Canada) Pts

Amsterdam 1928 Light-heavyweight: Willie ‘Boy’ Murphy (Garda) Beat Jose Montilor Pastor (Spain) KO1 Lost to eventual silver medallist Ernst Pistulla (Germany) Pts

Los Angeles 1932 Light-heavy: James Murphy (Army) Beat John Miller (USA) Pts Lost to Gino Rossi (Italy) TKOI1 Bronze Medal Box-Off Lost to Peter Joergensen (Denmark) W/O

Rome 1960 Bantamweight: Paddy Kenny (Cork News Boys) Beat Emile Anner (Switzerland) 5-0 Lost to Jerry Armstrong (USA) 2-3

Los Angeles 1984 Welterweight: Kieran Joyce (Sunnyside) Beat Basil Boniface (Seychelles) TKO1 Lost to eventual bronze medalist Joni Nyman (Finland) 1-4

Seoul 1988 Middleweight: Kieran Joyce (Sunnyside) Beat Fili Vaka (Tonga) TKO1 Lost to Fred Wanyama (Uganda) 2-3

Barcelona 1992 Flyweight: Paul Buttimer (Sunnyside) Lost to Moses Malagu (Nigeria) 8-12

Sydney 2000 Light-middleweight:

Michael Roche (Sunnyside) Lost to Firat Karagollu (Turkey) 4-17.

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