The Leeside legends series: Joyce was one of the greats of Irish boxing

The Leeside legends series: Joyce was one of the greats of Irish boxing
Cork boxer Kieran Joyce in action for Ireland. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

A FAMOUS saying from Muhammad Ali springs to mind: “I can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”.

He was a man who touched the hearts of millions all over the world including a raw nine-year in the northside of Cork who adored his skills and who made it an ambition from that early age to become a famous boxer himself.

For Kieran Joyce’s record in the ring made him one of the greatest boxers that this country produced in modern times.

Olympic boxer Kieran Joyce being greeted by supporters on his homecoming to Fair Hill.
Olympic boxer Kieran Joyce being greeted by supporters on his homecoming to Fair Hill.

Kieran was born in Fair Hill in 1964 and it was through the encouragement of his neighbour, the late Mossy O’Callaghan, that he took up boxing and joined the Sunnyside club.

Joyce won numerous All-Ireland titles up to the age of 16, and under the watchful eye of his late coach Albie Murphy Joyce was well prepared to take on the best when he moved up to the welterweight division.

Looking back on those early days Joyce recalled achieving one of his greatest feats in the ring in 1982.

Cork boxer Kieran Joyce represented Ireland at senior level on 85 occasions
Cork boxer Kieran Joyce represented Ireland at senior level on 85 occasions

“I had just won the All-Ireland U18 title and the Irish Senior team were due to fight the United States.

Refused...

“At that time the Americans had a tough welterweight called Joe Walker and all the leading fighters in this country refused to fight him.”

The prospect of taking on the American became a reality for Joyce.

“My coach Albie Murphy put my name forward and although Walker knocked me down in the opening round, I recovered my composure to win the fight and I never lost my place on an Irish Senior team again,” said Joyce.

The following year saw Joyce win a bronze medal at the European championships and in 1984 it was off to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Sadly for Kieran he lost on a split decision at the quarter-final stage in Los Angeles when he went down to Joni Nyman of Finland after boxing exceptionally well in the opening two rounds.

It was back to hard training for Kieran as he set his sights on winning an Olympic medal at Seoul in 1988 but sadly once again the judges were not in his corner as he went down to another split decision at the same stage, which denied him another medal.

On this occasion the decision was more baffling for the Corkman as he looked to have got the better of Uganda’s Franco Wanyama but the judges went against Joyce on a 3-2 split decision.

Kieran’s patience finally ran out with the judging system and he decided to retire at the age of 26.

“To be honest, I just got fed up with losing on split decisions when I knew in my heart and soul that I won both Olympic quarter-finals.

“Don’t get me wrong I was never a bad loser but after four years of training, diabolical judging finally killed the fire inside me,” said Kieran.

The present computerised system has come all too late for Joyce.

“You now have one guarantee with this system: that the best fighter should always win the fight.”

By the time Kieran had retired in 1990 he had fought 85 times for Ireland at Senior level as well as in three World Championships and two Olympic Games.

For many years, the Sunnyside Boxing Club trained at the Griffin United Harrier club near the North Cathedral in Cork and the atmosphere at this club was always something special.

“Even Steve Collins enjoyed his workouts before his World title victories against Chris Eubank,” said Kieran.

Joyce is now head coach with the Sunnyside club and is always quick to pay tribute to people like his former coach Albie Murphy and late parents Brian and Lilly who supported him throughout his career.

Kieran Joyce at Sunnyside Boxing Club in Cork.
Kieran Joyce at Sunnyside Boxing Club in Cork.

The life of a boxer can often be a lonely one as many of the top fighters train 365 days a year and it takes a special dedication to make it to the very top of the sport.

Kieran Joyce will long be remembered for his contribution to boxing in Ireland and although he is no longer floating like a butterfly or stinging like a bee it goes without saying boxers like him are born and not made.

Coach Albie Murphy with Sunnyside internationals and greats of Irish boxing: Gordon Joyce, Paul Buttimer and Kieran Joyce.
Coach Albie Murphy with Sunnyside internationals and greats of Irish boxing: Gordon Joyce, Paul Buttimer and Kieran Joyce.

FACTFILE

Kieran Joyce retired at the age of 26 after he represented Ireland 85 times at senior level.

Joyce represented Ireland at three World Championships and two Olympic Games, Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988.

Kieran was trained by the late Albie Murphy.

As head coach of Sunnyside Boxing Club Kieran has produced boxers like Michael Roche who represented Ireland at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Two split decisions cost him two Olympic medals.

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