Dan O'Connell has been a visionary and a saviour of Cork boxing for many a year

Dan O'Connell has been a visionary and a saviour of Cork boxing for many a year

Dan O'Connell, former President of both the Munster Council and Cork County Boxing Board and an AIBA (World Body) Referee. Picture: Doug Minihane

IN 1971, exactly 59 years ago, boxing in Cork was at its lowest ebb and in a very bleak place.

This proud boxing city was reduced to just one club and had only one senior boxer in training.

This club which stood tall but alone flying the Cork boxing flag was the Fr Horgan's BC founded in 1959 and operating out of the Parochial Hall, Gurranabraher.

This unit also had a number of juvenile boxers in training, and they had their own hero in Harry Butt, the man who won the RTÉ Ringside series which was run by the national station in 1960s and televised live over ten weeks.

Boxing in Cork began to wane in 1970. 

However, prior to that, it had enjoyed some great years when large crowds flocked to the County Championships which then took place at St Francis Hall on Sheares Street.

This hall also attracted huge crowds every weekend as it was a very popular dance venue during that era.

In early 1971, boxing in Cork almost disappeared overnight. 

Many clubs began to fold in quick succession. 

John Wiseman, Secretary of the Cork County Boxing Boardpictured with former International Referee Dan O'Connell, who was home for a short break from Spain for the presentations in Shandon. Picture: Doug Minihane
John Wiseman, Secretary of the Cork County Boxing Boardpictured with former International Referee Dan O'Connell, who was home for a short break from Spain for the presentations in Shandon. Picture: Doug Minihane

The CCYMS became defunct while the Matt Talbot BC lost their base in Grattan Street as the building was converted into a community centre. 

At this time also the Glen BC lost their club in Spring Lane and were temporarily out of boxing.

Premises were also lost by Dean Sextons on Lower Road.

The Mayfield BC and Sunnyside also went to ground.

Suddenly, clubs and boxers had no where to go and found alternative interests. 

As an uphill struggle took place in an around the city, clubs were also lost in rural locations.

In Cobh, Bandon, Mallow and Fermoy the bottom fell out of the sport which left high voids the product of which was a sport in complete disarray.

At this point the only club affiliated to the County Board was Fr Horgan's. 

However two other clubs did exist; the Collins boxing club was there but only took part in the Defence Forces competitions and UCC had a club but only participated in University Championships, leaving the Fr Horgan's BC with Dan O'Connell as Secretary being the only club affiliated to County Board.

This was the darkest period in the history of Cork boing, and many believed the sport had flown away with the tide.

Many reckoned that the sport had seen its best days. 

However, the fightback was just beginning.

At this juncture, two steadfast boxing men motivated by fear and survival set out to save the sport. 

Sargent Major Victor Aston has given great service to Cork boxing up to that point. 

He was meticulous in his approach and had all records of County Board affairs in order.

Award Sponsor Conal Thomas of Conals Tree Services presenting a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award to Dan O'Connell in recognition of over 40 years service to sports in general and in particular to boxing at local, national and international levels. Picture: Doug Minihane
Award Sponsor Conal Thomas of Conals Tree Services presenting a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award to Dan O'Connell in recognition of over 40 years service to sports in general and in particular to boxing at local, national and international levels. Picture: Doug Minihane

Sadly, however, he was President of a board that was attempting to survive in quicksand. 

Action was encouraged by the young Dan O'Connell of Fr Horgan's. 

He asked his fellow army man to take the position of Board Secretary and join him in devising a plan to save Cork boxing. 

Around this time the Cork Community Games had been established. 

Their brief was to cater for field and indoor sports where parish competed against parish.

At this point, the Community Games had their own roster of sports, However, this did not include boxing.

On the 18 of May 1971, Dan O'Connell and Victor Aston made a late submission requesting that boxing be included in the Community Games.

The venue for the Boxing Championship was the Community Centre in Ballyphehane. 

The parishes that contested the first boxing Games in included The South Parish, Blackpool, Togher, Ballincollig, Cobh, the Ascention, Blarney, Bandon, the middle Parish, Ballinlough, Mayfield, Mallow and Bishopstown.

Immediately after the Games were over O'Connell and Aston put their master plan into action and encouraged all those parishes to continue their good work and convert the teams in their areas into clubs.

This conversion was achieved with great success and six months later Cork boxing came from one club to having 12 affiliated units and the sport never looked back.

In the 50 years that followed Cork boxing flourished, producing many Olympians and Elite champions. 

Dan O'Connell went on the serve as President of the Cork Board and Munster Council and later went on to achieve international recognition and status as one of the greatest administrators this country has ever produced, while the young Michel O'Brien went on to become President of the County Board and arguably over the last five years presided over its most successful period in its history.

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