FIFTY years ago, the proud and traditional sport of amateur boxing was on its knees in the City of Cork.
In 1972 on Leeside, a pugilistic plague and blight, had ravaged and wreaked havoc on a sport which had enjoyed great days and produced great boxers whose names were revered in the four corners of the Island of Ireland.
Since the early 1900’s those boxers emerged in their droves out of many Cork laneways, tenement houses, homes without electricity or adequate toilet facilities and no transport with the exception of an odd bicycle.
This was shared amongst neighbors to attend official functions such as a rare job interview or to visit a sick relative on the other side of the city.
However, during these times of despair and destitution for many, joining a local boxing club was an escape to sporting enjoyment and hundreds of Cork youngsters joined club’s which were dotted all over the city but came and went with the tide.
However, a young enthusiastic boxer just moved to the next club as the sport ebbed and flowed but always thrived and flourished.
It was the aspiration of all young boxers in the forties to box in the City Hall.
This was Leeside’s National Stadium. The 40’s 50’s and 60’s were the halcyon days with big tournaments, great crowds outstanding contests, blood, sweat, honour and tears were shed but Cork Boxing was the big winner on all occasions – suddenly it was all gone.
It had vanished overnight, in the early 1970’s only the smoldering dust of the great Cork Boxing bonanza survived.
The great wipe out came from a variety of reasons. The oldest club in the country The Glen had lost their base in Spring Lane after 55 years. Sunnyside went into decline through lack of premises, Mallow as a club fizzled out, Fermoy lost the Boat House and so the saga went the same way with so many great clubs such as Matt Tabbott's, who saw their club converted into a Community Centre which like many others reduced their clubs to ashes.
However, in 1972 just one Cork Boxing Club remained that was Fr Horgan’s operating out of the Parochial Hall, Collins B.C. were also in operation up in Collins Barracks.
However, they were only participating in competitions in the Defense Force Championships, with the Navy etc.
The Cork County Board was reduced to rubble but suddenly through the intervention of two army men, boxing slowly began to rise like the phoenix from the ashes.
Dan O’Connell was the Secretary of the Fr Horgan's Club.
At this juncture Fr Horgan's were the only club flying the Cork Boxing Flag.
The club boasted over 30 boxers amongst them the only senior boxer in Cork, Harry Butt.
O’Connell at the time was an army man and was also Secretary of the Collins B.C.
This Cork County Board while diminished was still in existence, with major Victor J. Ashton as its President.
Victor Ashton was determined to revive Cork Boxing and so, O’Connell and Ashton set about building up the once great Cork Boxing Empire.
The same year the Cork Ex-Boxers Association were about to be established in an effort to ignite the flame and rekindle the spirit of Leeside Boxing.
Here we had two former international boxers Paddy Martin and Tim O’Sullivan, however, their primary purpose was to look after and honour former great Cork boxers.
This at the time was very significant as it once again got people talking about boxing and this was both positive and productive.
Ironically now you had four men working for the welfare of the sport in the southern Capital.
However, they were working independently of each other and while they travelled by different pathways, they all wished to reach the same destination _ The revival of Cork Boxing.
The Ex-Boxers chartered their course which to some extent was plain sailing, however, Victor Ashton secured the election of Dan O’Connell to the post of Secretary of the County Board.
Both men with military precision put a plan in place, it was to become the dawn of a new horizon for Cork Boxing.
Every avenue was explored, and encouragement given to any former pugilists to get involved again in the sport.
The Community Games Movement began in the early seventies. This was parish versus parish in all sports, and boxing was included.
Here O’Connell and Ashton saw a great opportunity to convert parish participation into boxing clubs and this was done with great success.
Boxing began to flourish in Cork City and County. The Glen and Sunnyside were also back in business, then came Rylane, Brian Dillons a great Ballyvolane club, St Colman's and Riverstown etc.
Cork Boxing was back on the map. The eighties saw magnificent achievements from the famed Sunnyside Club winning twenty Elite Titles in a few years.
The outstanding work of Victor Ashton and Dan O’Connell had yielded a rich harvest.
O’Connell went on to distinguish himself as one of Ireland’s greatest referees and judges acknowledged all over the world.
The Cork Ex-Boxers have played their part in continuing to help in the promotion and development of the sport. This year 2022 the CEBA in great style celebrated their Golden Jubilee.
The Cork County Board have enjoyed their most successful year in their history. Of the four men who set out in 1972 to save Cork Boxing only one remains with us.
In gratitude for setting those seeds in a somewhat Barron field 50 years ago.
This week Cork Boxing says thank you to Dan O’Connell.