Cork boxing owes a lot to the late great Tim O’Sullivan

Mick O’Brien pays tribute to the late CorkEx-Boxers Association found member Tim O’Sullivan who passed away in 2020
Cork boxing owes 	a lot to the late great Tim O’Sullivan

presentation to Tim O' Sullivan on his 90th birthday, from left to right, Michael O'Brien president of the Cork County Board, Ellenor O ' Sullivan, Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, Tim O'Sullivan, Michaeál Martin leader of Fianna Fáil

LESS than 96 hours before he died, Tim O'Sullivan, the grand old man of Cork Boxing, expressed a wish to his daughter Mary from his bedside at his home in Ballinlough.

Ireland's oldest living international boxer in the country said he wished to see Paddy McSweeney and Mick O'Brien. The message was conveyed on a Saturday night and as agreed, his two close friends arrived at his home at 11am on a Sunday morning On their arrival, Mary had told them how Timmy was looking forward all night to the visit. 

As they entered the bedroom, Timmy shot up from beneath the bed clothes and embraced both men. He smiled broadly, then cried, and then smiled again. This was the spirit of a man optimistic to the last.

He then put out his hands and with took theirs. He put one on top of the other, as a sign of unity and togetherness and said: “Lads promise me ye will keep the Ex-Boxers going." 

Timmy immediately got a cast iron guarantee. His friends ask him to exercise his prerogative as president, and name that year's Cork Ex-Boxers Hall Of fame award winner. This he duly did.

In that room that morning, as life faced death, there was reality, bravery, sincerity and respect. The boxer was about to leave the ring. He had given his all but, as he so often said throughout his life: Stand up and fight until you hear the bell

For Tim O'Sullivan, one of nature’s true gentlemen, that bell rang on October 9, 2020. The founder member of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association had passed away in Covid times, but he would have been well pleased to know that the newspaper headlines stated: 'Taoiseach leads tributes to Tim O'Sullivan'.

Pictured at the Jack McAuliffe plaque, (unveiled by Bernard Allen, former Lord Mayor in 1988) at Bishop Lucey Park, Cork were Paddy McSweeney, treasurer Cork Ex Boxers; Mick O'Brien, president Cork County boxing board; Gary 'Spike' O'Sullivan, Bernard Allen, Conal Thomas, sponsor of the Cork county boxing board and Tim O'Sullivan, president Cork ex boxers.
Pictured at the Jack McAuliffe plaque, (unveiled by Bernard Allen, former Lord Mayor in 1988) at Bishop Lucey Park, Cork were Paddy McSweeney, treasurer Cork Ex Boxers; Mick O'Brien, president Cork County boxing board; Gary 'Spike' O'Sullivan, Bernard Allen, Conal Thomas, sponsor of the Cork county boxing board and Tim O'Sullivan, president Cork ex boxers.

This is the Golden Jubilee Year of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association and many tributes will be paid to his foresight. In March, to coincide with his birthday, a plaque in his honour will be erected in Bishop Lucy Park. A special souvenir publication will chronicle, in great detail, his many achievements and innovations in his lifetime and in his capacity as a physiotherapist. 

Tim met sports people from all codes and all of these Associations will be afforded an opportunity to attend the unveiling of this plaque, which will acknowledge his journey in the world of boxing and his contribution to setting up the Cork Ex-Boxers Association.

On Sunday, September 4, 1972, Tim O'Sullivan and his wife Eleanor and members of his family were sauntering down along O'Connell Street in Dublin. It was the morning of the All-Ireland final between Cork and Kilkenny. The pre-match banter was in full flow and the buzz of the occasion was infectious, even to the birds on the trees who were chirping with glee outside the Gresham Hotel. 

Many patrons were making their way in and out of the hotel in search of match day medication or sparkling refreshments. The hawkers were buying and selling match tickets outside the iconic hotel amidst a brisk trade. 

Then came a shout: “Timmy.... Timmy Sullivan". It was the voice of Maxi McCullagh, the famed Dubliner who won his place in Irish boxing history by winning a European Championship Title. 

“Are ye going to win today?” enquired Maxi.

“Of course we are,” said Tim. 

"The game is not on until 3.30pm, would you like to go to a Dublin Ex-Boxers meeting? Ye will still be in plenty of time for the game.” 

Reluctantly Tim agreed, leaving the family to walk around the capital while he experienced what the Dublin Ex-Boxers Association was all about.

He was so impressed that he though the same would work in Cork. That meeting took place in a back room of the Parnell Bar. However, while enjoying the benefits of a city centre location, the bar also had a hatch facility attached to the back room, which was of great inspirational benefit to Dublin former boxers. 

As the meeting broke, Timmy shook many hands and to his surprise, he was lifted by a few burly men and jousted into the air, as the Dubliners, all now of the one boxing family, gave an impromptu rendition of the Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee.

Tim knew there was only one man who he would discuss the idea of bringing the same set-up to Cork and that was long-time friend and former international Paddy Martin. 

First up was Croke Park with his family, a sea of red, with Rebels confident after winning the All-Ireland two years earlier. From the throw-in, Cork were lords and masters; Ray Cummins had them up eight points. However, following an Eddie Keher goal, Cork fell asunder and Kilkenny won by seven points. 

All was not lost; Tim O'Sullivan was returning to Cork an inspired man.

Tim was born in March 1928, the third youngest of nine children, to Hannah and Michael O'Sullivan. They lived in Rope Walk, a lane off Sunday's Well. 

Tommy Kelleher Recognition Night, Cork City Hall pictured with the Cork Ex-Boxers, including Tim O'Sullivan.
Tommy Kelleher Recognition Night, Cork City Hall pictured with the Cork Ex-Boxers, including Tim O'Sullivan.

After a couple of years at that address, economic hardship forced the O'Sullivans to immigrate to London. Tim's father was a tailor and followed the work to where it was available.  At one stage, he worked with Cashs of Cork, today known as Brown Thomas. During that period his colleagues were Jack Lynch's father and Tommy Hyde's father.

While living in London, the Second World War bombings in the 1940s were of grave concern to the family and they decided to return to Cork. They found accommodation at the bottom end of Oliver Plunkett Street, before settling in a house in Gillabbey Park. 

Tim later described this area as a little paradise for children and often told stories of the magic days, of simple summers, where they enjoyed great times swimming and fishing in the River Lee. It was also adjacent to the Mardyke, the Merries and Fitzgerald Park, which was explored by youths, who enjoyed the open spaces, while young lovers walked amidst the simplicity of life. Where making up your mind on which sport you would concentrate or take part in was a major decision in those days.

Following a couple of chats, Tim and Paddy Martin contacted many former boxers. All agreed that it would be a good idea to form a group. On Sunday, September 25, 1972 a meeting took place at the back of Canty's Bar in Pembroke Street. A couple of years ago, a plaque was erected on one of the walls to mark that historic day.

Over 40 former boxers attended. The order of business was to come up with a name and to define the scope of work the group would do. After much debate, it was agreed to name the group along the same lines as their Dublin counterparts: The Cork Exboxers Benevolent Association. 

Their primary purpose was to support former boxers who fell on hard times. The main speaker at the meeting were Tim O'Sullivan and Paddy Martin. Various ideas were put forward and all agreed, it was now time to put words in action. 

New members were welcome at all times and so that first meeting elected the following committee PRESIDENT: Tim O'Sullivan, VICE PRESIDENTS: Paddy Martin and John Kid Cronin, HON SECRETARY: Jim Fitzgerald, ASSISTANT SECRETARY: Jack Corbett, TREASURER: Ray Donnelly, ASSISTANT TREASURER: Eamer Coughlan, COMMITTEE Tommy Hyde, Willie O'Leary, Thomas Kelleher, Johnny O Driscoll, George Fitzgerald, Connie Morrissey, and Tony Flanagan. 

In January 2012, the other original founder member Paddy Martin died. Paddy was a bus driver and later an inspector with CIE. He was known as 'Paddy the Champ'. He had a good boxing pedigree and represented Ireland on 14 occasions. 

Later that year, in the month of November, Timmy and Mick O'Brien were having a late-night boxing conversation on a Sunday night, when the thought arose wouldn’t it be great to have the Martin family put up a cup and call it the Champ of Champions Cup, presented annually to a Cork standout boxer who won a national title that year. 

Both men agreed it was a good idea. It was now after 11pm and Tim asked O'Brien, "do you think it's too late to ring Micheál?" O'Brien said “Well for me it is, at this hour on a Sunday night, but for you Timmy, he will show you the respect he always has." 

Tim phoned Michael and the boxing Taoiseach was absolutely delighted to oblige and for the last ten years, he has presented his father’s cup each year and will be doing it again this year at the Golden Jubilee Banquet on April 30 at the Rochestown Park Hotel. 

In Cork the press has always acknowledged Timmy as the Sports Boxing Ambassador. He featured occasionally in local press reports written by Val Dorgan, George Cronin, Willie Cotter, and Billy George. His opinion was valued, trusted and appreciated.

Tim O'Sullivan was a great humanitarian and renowned for visiting people in hospital. He was the first man in Cork to make arrangements along with Paddy Martin to have the Gorgeous Gael, Jack Doyle returned to Cork and given an ex-boxers guard of honour and given a funeral and burial, with dignity in his home town of Cobh.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, an honorary life member of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association, pictured with Tim O'Sullivan and Paddy McSweeney of the CEBA. The Taoiseach lead the tributes on the death of his familys life long friend last weekend. Picture: Doug Minihane
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, an honorary life member of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association, pictured with Tim O'Sullivan and Paddy McSweeney of the CEBA. The Taoiseach lead the tributes on the death of his familys life long friend last weekend. Picture: Doug Minihane

Tim commenced boxing when he joined the CBNC club. A club based in Lavitts Quay below the opera house. Tim won five senior county titles and three Munster Championships at three different weights, flyweight, bantam and feather. He represented Ireland on numerous occasions and was unlucky not to be selected as an Olympian at Earlscourt London in 1948. 

The IABA subsequently addressed this and presented him with an Olympic trial medal. Much of the work to have this matter righted was done by the then president of the Cork County Board, Charlie Atha.

Later in his professional career, Tim operated as a physiotherapist from his office in Maylor St. It was also Cork's Official Boxing Museum and Tim had records, magazines, programmes, photos and the 'Leeside Book of Kells', a Monstrosity in size, it contained more knowledge on boxing than Madison Square Garden.  Hence Micheál Martin often referred to Timmy as a boxing encyclopedia. 

In his office, Timmy provided a service for some of the greatest names in local and world sport. It was here Dan O'Connell a leading officer in Cork and Munster boxing first met Timmy. He had sustained a hand injury prior to refereeing at the Irish Senior Boxing Championships, but that’s a story for another day.

His talents as a Physio were being widely acclaimed. He had many of the touring international rugby teams including the All Blacks, the Aussie Rules football team lead by Ron Barassi, the South Africans and the Australian Rugby touring team. Pat Spillane and Paidí Ó Sé were among his Clients. He was also physio to the 1975 Kerry All-Ireland winning team under Mick O'Dwyer, local athletes Marcus O'Sullivan and Valerie O'Mahony and a host of local soccer and GAA players from club and county teams.

In fact, Kevin Cummins of Blackrock, a former Cork All-Ireland winning minor hurling captain, wrote in the Echo in 2018 about the time the Blackrock minor hurling team paid a visit to Maylor Street for treatment prior to a hurling final against the Barrs in 1963. 

Kevin said: “We had never heard of anything like this treatment before, and were highly impressed by Timmy's electric apparatus. The fact that our teeth glowed in the dark for days after, was an added bonus! Blackrock went on to win that game 8-5 to 5-7 after being five goals down at half-time. Maylor street later became known as Wonderland."

During his sporting life, Tim made an outstanding contribution to Boxing. In the 1970s and '80s, he played a big role in the promotion of the Ballinlough Boxing Club. There, he was club secretary and head coach. 

During the Community Games in the 1970s, Paddy Mc Sweeney joined the Ballinlough Club. Paddy became a very accomplished boxer with the club and Tim was his coach. Paddy continued for years with the Ballinlough BC and developed a life-long friendship with Timmy. He later joined the Cork Ex-Boxers Association and today Paddy is the new president following Tim's death.

For his 90th Birthday, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, then Lord Mayor of Cork, gave Tim a big-bash party at Corks City Hall. This was 2018 and in the same year, he was inducted into the IABA Hall Of Fame at a function in a Dublin hotel. On that night Tim said, "This is the greatest day of my boxing life.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo WISA

Read all about the monthly winner’s and more.
Click Here

EL_music

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more