Cork’s Mr Boxing is still a knockout at 90

Cork’s Mr Boxing is still a knockout at 90
Tim O'Sullivan, president of the Cork Ex-Boxers Associaition, who first represented Ireland 70 years ago this year and is still a regular attendee at events throughout Ireland. Picture: Doug Minihane

TIM O’SULLIVAN, affectionately known as the father of Cork boxing and the breadwinner, celebrates his 90th birthday this month.

To mark the occasion, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, will host a reception for O’Sullivan, his family and sporting colleagues at City Hall.

The former Irish international was born in a house situated on Wise’s Hill off Sunday’s Well on Friday, March 23, 1928, the fifth in a family of four brothers and four sisters born to Hannah and Michael. His father worked as a tailor in Cashs, now Brown Thomas. Amongst his work colleagues, who were also tailors, were the fathers of Taoiseach Jack Lynch and Tommy Hyde, the Irish welterweight champion.

O’Sullivan’s first school was Blarney CBS. He concluded his education at the South Monastery. Initial sporting activities included GAA, football and basketball. His interest in boxing was not expressed until years later.

At the time, Cork was a place of impoverishment. There were many tenement buildings in the city where large families were reared in one and two rooms.

During the destitution of that era sport provided a social escape. Leeside was known for its merchant princes in that epoch. The focal of trading was the famous coal quay.

In the year of O’Sullivan’s birth, the world saw the introduction of the Academy Awards. The famous cartoon character Mickey Mouse – and his partner Minnie – saw the light of day and the first TV in the world was sold for $75. The President of the USA was John Calvin Coolidge and the Evening Echo was 35 years old and sold for one penny, 1d in old money.

O’Sullivan, who through boxing and his work as a physio, went to meet the stars from other sports. He shares his March 23 birthday with many famous people.

Among those is the illustrious Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe who became the world’s longest undisputed champion in two weighs, middleweight and light-heavy. Calzaghe once edged Gordon Joyce (Sunnyside BC) on a split decision in an Ireland versus Wales match.

O’Sullivan’s ring activities more or less started by accident in the Christian College Newsboys Club on Lavitt’s Quay. The academy was run by the club’s past pupils union.

The president of the unit was well-known Cork solicitor, John K Coakley. Others involved included the secretary of the Munster rugby branch, Jimmy Rearden, and one of the great boxing coaches of the day, Charlie McCarthy.

O’Sullivan was spotted by McCarthy as he trained and he invited the young prospect to don the gloves to spar with the Munster Youth champion Dan Vaughan. The debutant made an immediate impression and thus began a glittering career. Vaughan went on to the Birmingham City BC where he became a coach with fellow Corkonian Frank O’Sullivan who was presented with OBE by the Queen of England for his services to the sport.

The young O’Sullivan entered the competitive arena in 1947 and won the Cork County Junior fly title. The following year he secured County Munster and County Senior honours and reached the National semi-finals.

His first international bout was against Hughie Thomas of Wales, the brother of Eddie, the British and European welterweight champion. O’Sullivan progressed to collect many Cork County and Munster belts. In his career, he represented Ireland on 14 occasions and boxed against all the major nations from Wales to the USA.

One of his abiding memories was taking on the legendary Pappy Gault of the USA. This fight took place in the National Stadium in Dublin where Gault earned a narrow decision. Gault become a household name in the pro ranks where he was unlucky not to take the world bantam title from Jimmy Carruthers in Sydney in 1953.

Meantime, O’Sullivan was only a whisker away from representing Ireland at the 1948 Olympics in London. At the last minute, he failed to travel with the team after IABA politics changed the selection.

He was subsequently acknowledged by the IABA and presented with a medal of Olympic standard. O’Sullivan boxed all over the country and was known in every hall from Cork to Belfast.

He once traded leather on a barge in Cobh and on another occasion was victorious in a tournament in Stuake Hall in Donoughmore in 1947 where the prize was a loaf of bread. Hence, he lovingly became known as “The Breadwinner.” Amongst O’Sullivan’s friends in the world of boxing were British heavyweight champion Henry Cooper, John McNally, Ireland’s first Olympic medalist in 1952, World lightweight champion Rinty Monaghan, German heavyweight Karl Mildenberger who fought Muhammad Ali, as did Cooper, and his lifelong friend from his own club, Paddy Kenny who now lives in Coventry.

Kenny represented Ireland at the Rome 1960 Olympics and shared a dressingroom with the then Cassius Clay (Ali) who won light-heavy gold in the Eternal City.

In 1972, O’Sullivan founded the Cork Ex-Boxers Association with Paddy Martin father of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. He was also a founder member of the Ballinlough BC which lasted over 20 years.

Amongst those who boxed with the club at the time was another lifelong friend, Paddy McSweeney. During a spar, McSweeney once broke O’Sullivan’s ribs. Today, McSweeney is the head coach at the Spartan BC and treasurer of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association.

In his long career as a physio, O’Sullivan had many famous people amongst his clientele. These included athletes John Treacy and John Walker and the world’s great rugby teams, the All Black, South Africa and Australia. He also worked with many of Cork’s GAA stars and was a physio to the famed Kerry All-Ireland winning team led by Micko Dwyer.

The sporting life of Tim O’Sullivan, who also excelled at hockey, could fill a book. This point was made recently by the IABA in Dublin where he was inducted as the first Corkman into their Hall of Fame.

O’Sullivan said it was the proudest moment of his life to receive a standing ovation from over 500 people. He was surrounded on the occasion by his wife Eleanor and his family of four daughters and three sons.

Following his acknowledgement by the IABA he received a letter from his friend Micheál Martin which concluded: “My late father Paddy marvelled at your vision, energy, and on-going commitment to boxing.

“I have said on many occasions publicly that you are boxing’s encyclopaedia. You continue to enrich the sport and I am thrilled that you have received this distinguished award from the IABA.”

Martin, echoing the sentiments of the Leeside boxing fraternity, concluded his letter by saying “we are all so proud of you in Cork. “

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