Glen Rovers Boxing Club and Tom Kelleher steeped in history and success

Mr Cork Boxing is 70 years involved in the sport he loves so much
Glen Rovers Boxing Club and Tom Kelleher steeped in history and success

Mr Cork Boxing, Tom Kelleher, outside his beloved Glen BC clubhouse in Blackpool recently. Picture: Doug Minihane

IN Cork boxing circles today, Tommy Kelleher is now regarded indisputably as Mr Cork Boxing.

This is a mantle richly deserved and has been achieved through a lifetime of dedication and commitment to promoting amateur boxing in the Rebel County.

The famed Glen BC coach is now a sprightly 78 years of age and is looking forward to the resumption of competitive boxing.

After 70 years of activity in the sport, Tommy is well-known throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. However, in his beloved Blackpool, he is admired and respected most as a boxing icon.

He strides the streets with a confident swagger and a broad smile as he meets and greets friends and acquaintances from many generations and various sports.

Tommy enjoys all sport and is a lifelong supporter of the Glen Rovers hurling club and Cork hurling and football teams.

There are very few days in the year when Tommy does not enter the Glen club, and he takes great pride in knowing that his unit is Ireland's oldest club, steeped in history, success and tradition.

The head coach works with a great committee that are constantly improving and updating their clubhouse.

The Glen BC enjoys an elevated status and stands in splendid isolation on the North Ring Road overlooking Blackpool.

As an eight-year-old, Tommy followed his older brothers John and Noel into the old Glen club in Spring Lane.

Coaches Tom Kelleher (left) and Robert O'Driscoll at a recent training session at the Glen Boxing Club
Coaches Tom Kelleher (left) and Robert O'Driscoll at a recent training session at the Glen Boxing Club

His brothers were accomplished boxers and All-Ireland champions.

However, even at a very young age, Tommy was intrigued by the Glen trainers and his main aspiration was not to be a boxer but a trainer.

Tommy never lost sight of his dream and went on to give a lifetime of service to the sport as a very successful coach.

If was, however, with three clubs that he honed his craft and imparted his knowledge to hundreds of boxers. 

Having left the Spring Lane club in 1966 after its demolition, the Glen BC was somewhat rudderless for the next 15 years and was operating from here and there.

With a good committee in place , in 1981, they built and opened their existing clubhouse, which now stands for forty years.

During the same year the Brian Dillon's BC was established and Tommy was approached and agreed to take the post of head coach.

The Dillon's Cross unit was built on solid foundations. 

Amongst his charges at the cub was a young Roy Keane who displayed great potential as a boxer and remained undefeated after six bouts.

However, he moved on to concentrate on football where Brian Clough, and Alex Ferguson worked his corner. There is a famous photo of Tommy Kelleher giving Keane instruction en route to victory.

Maurice 'Pip' Walsh, left, with his colleagues from the world of boxing at an awards ceremony in the Commons Hotel, Mick Devane, Riverstown,Tom Kelleher, Glen Boxing Club, and Billy O'Donovan of Leeside Lough. Picture: Doug Minihane.
Maurice 'Pip' Walsh, left, with his colleagues from the world of boxing at an awards ceremony in the Commons Hotel, Mick Devane, Riverstown,Tom Kelleher, Glen Boxing Club, and Billy O'Donovan of Leeside Lough. Picture: Doug Minihane.

Tommy moved to another newly established club, the Ballyvolane BC. 

Here he produced a conveyor belt of All-Ireland champions which included his son Michael who he coached to win five All-Ireland titles. This club won many national accolades as the IABA's top unit. 

However, the premises was tragically burned to the ground, which led to the demises of an outstanding boxing club.

The IABA quickly acknowledged Tommy's talents, and he was appointed coach to the Irish Gaelic Youth team, who enjoyed success at home and a world tournament in Canada.

ELITE

Three years later, Tommy was promoted to coach the Irish Elite squad. Here, he enjoyed continuing success with fellow coach Mickey Hawkins.  Tommy toured all over Europe with the national team. 

In 1989 he was coach at the World Championships in Russia, where Michael Carruth win bronze Following this Championships, Tommy retired as an international coach and three years later, Carruth won Olympic gold in Barcelona.

The success that Tommy enjoyed with the Ballyvolane and the Brian Dillon's BC are cherished memories. He reflected on the many train journeys during the 1980s and travelling with Albie Murphy and John Martin and a large contingent of boxers from various clubs.

The Championships at Dublin's National Stadium was the highlight of the year. 

Then, coming home with three or four All-Ireland titles, the Cork boxing community rejoiced in song and "The Banks" was bellowed all the way from Dublin to Cork.

In the 1990s, boxing blossomed at the Glen BC when Tommy returned as head coach to fulfil his childhood desire.

He has held this position today for thirty years, and his success has been an inspiration.

Former Elite international John Morrissey said he was coached by three outstanding trainers, but he had no hesitation in declaring that Tommy Kelleher was the greatest boxing coach that Cork has produced.

For years the coach has studied the science of the sport and has gathered a comprehensive study of boxing which includes books, programmers, articles and magazines.

He has the wall of the club displaying many greet boxers from yesteryear, and in the club, he has a section that takes great pride in the history of our country and displaying our National leaders since the foundation of the state.

He also has a section dedicated to Chisty Ring and outstanding Glen Rovers hurling teams of the past.

President of the Cork County Boxing Board, Mr Michael O'Brien and Tom Kelleher of the Glen BC celebrating Glen Rovers Senior County success with the Sean Og Murphy Cup. Picture: Doug Minihane.
President of the Cork County Boxing Board, Mr Michael O'Brien and Tom Kelleher of the Glen BC celebrating Glen Rovers Senior County success with the Sean Og Murphy Cup. Picture: Doug Minihane.

Tommy says that the last seven years have been the best ever.

This started with a Centenary Dinner.  He believes that the concept of the Cork Boxing Breakfast is a masterstroke as it provided a platform to honour many boxers from the past.

He said the opening of the Cork Boxing Centre in Churchfield was a milestone for the Board. He believes the venue provided Cork with years of outstanding boxing. 

2016 was the Centenary of the Glen BC and they organised seven events in a big year of celebration.

He said history was made in 2018 when the first IABA National Convention was held in Cork while the following year a boxing exhibition at the City Library attracted in excess of 23,000 visitors.

During this three of four years, he said: "Cork boxing enjoyed a magnificent harvest with over 30 All-Irelands each year and a selection of gold, silver and bronze European medals and four Elite titles."

Tommy also has proud memories of the unveiling of a plaque to the Glen Club in Bishop Lucey Park, being honoured by the IABA as the oldest club in the National Stadium and being elected as the Cork Boxing Personality of the year in 2019.

ON HOLD

Reflecting on 2020, Tommy said the year Covid-19 made the world stand still but he is very proud that the Glen BC organised events with the only public marking the Centenary of the death of Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain who was the first president of the Glen BC.

One hundred guests attend this ceremony attended by the then Lord Mayor Dr John Sheehan.

And a second event was held on Saturday the 12 of December when the Taoiseach made his first official visit to any sports club in Ireland.

Significantly, this historic event was captured when the Taoiseach autographed the canvas on the ring, following a request from Mr Cork Boxing, the legendary Tommy Kelleher.

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