The Leeside legends series: Cork boxer Roche battled all the way to the Olympics 

The Leeside legends series: Cork boxer Roche battled all the way to the Olympics 
Cork boxer Michael Roche preparing to represent Ireland at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The sport of boxing is among the toughest in the world but for Corkman Michael Roche it meant fun and enjoyment for 22 years of a successful career.

Born in 1971, Michael was brought up in Fair Hill and although never getting involved in sports like hurling or football his passion for boxing was evident from the age of 10.

Roche joined the Sunnyside Boxing club and began boxing in the 39-kilo weight division and starting at juvenile level he had an incredible record.

By the time Michael had reached the U16 age group, he had won six county, six Munster and four National titles.

Through the encouragement of the late Albie Murphy, he moved into the senior ranks in the 1991/92 season and his first fight in the top flight gave him a good idea of the calibre of fighter he was going to be meeting if he wanted to make it to the top.

“I fought Michael Carruth and he beat me fairly handily but when I look back on that fight, I think I gave him too much respect, but it was all a learning experience for me,” said Michael.

It was a measure of Roche’s talent that he had gone punch for punch with the man who created history by winning the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Roche’s breakthrough came in 1997 when he won his first National Senior title at lightweight when defeating fellow Corkman Tomas Fitzgerald at the Glen Boxing club.

Action from the light-middleweight contest featuring Michael Roche, Sunnyside (red corner) and Tom Fitzgerald, Ballyvolane, (blue corner). 	Picture: Ray McManus
Action from the light-middleweight contest featuring Michael Roche, Sunnyside (red corner) and Tom Fitzgerald, Ballyvolane, (blue corner). Picture: Ray McManus

Roche made it two in a row the following year and completed the treble in 1999 with a win over Frank O’Brien from the Drimnagh club in Dublin.

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 were looming but Michael had to set his sights on getting prepared for the pre- Olympic games tournament to qualify for the Olympics.

After failing in his first two attempts he finally succeeded on his third attempt to become the only Irish boxing representative at the Games.

Michael, however, did not get very far at the Sydney Olympics as he was defeated in the first round by a Turkish fighter in his first bout.

Recalling the experience at Sydney he couldn’t hide his disappointment.

Michael Roche spoke of his lack of preparedness for the Olympics. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Michael Roche spoke of his lack of preparedness for the Olympics. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

“I was very disappointed with the way I fought and looking back I will never forget the Irish support I had in Sydney but the pressure got to me as when I came to get in the ring it was like something from a Rocky film.

“Sadly, I got caught up with the hype and I changed how I normally fought and, no excuses, I was well beaten and to be honest the experience shattered me as I waited all my life for this opportunity and I blew it.”

When Roche reflected where it all went wrong, lack of preparation for the Games became the number one factor.

“There was no such thing as a training camp and maybe if there was it could have been a different outcome because speaking to other people from different countries my preparation for the games was miles apart.

“On each occasion, I think about Sydney I think of Roy Keane’s words ‘fail to prepare — prepare to fail’ and that summed up my inadequate preparations.”

After the Olympics Roche was defeated in the last 16 of the World Boxing Championships by a Russian, and because of a shoulder injury he was forced to hang up his gloves in 2003 that brought the curtain down on his glittering career.

The names of Albie Murphy (RIP) and Kieran Joyce who were the biggest influences on Michael’s career.

“They were great coaches and great friends to me and that’s crucial when you are competing at the top level of any sport.

His parents, Margaret and Paddy, plus his uncle Davy Long, were all very supportive throughout his career.

“I couldn’t have done it without their help as they were always there for me.”

Cork boxer Michael Roche preparing to represent Ireland at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Cork boxer Michael Roche preparing to represent Ireland at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

In 1997 Michael married Lorraine and they reside in Kilcully.

In a sport which demanded a lot of travelling for a lot of time away from his job, his employers Pfizers were also very supportive, particularly when he was training for the Olympic Games.

Anyone that has ever met Michael Roche will say he is a gentleman.

The sport of boxing produced a man who always gave his best shot throughout an impressive career.

FACTFILE: 

  • Michael Roche is the holder of five consecutive Irish Senior titles from 1997 to 2001.
  • Roche was the sole representative of Irish Boxing at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
  • Michael lost to Michael Carruth in his first Senior bout of 1991. Carruth later went on to win the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
  • Roche had to retire from boxing at the age of 32 in 2003 because of a shoulder injury.
  • More in this section

    Sponsored Content