Boxing is booming on Leeside again this Christmas.
The dark shadow of Covid, now has little or no effect.
Club tournaments are back in full swing and the sport is continuing to flourish following another outstanding year for Cork clubs.
Outside of the ring it was a bitter sweet year with sadness and celebration.
The sport lost four icons in Billy O’Donovan, Dave Dunlea, Albert McGrowarty and Tony Flanagan.
The Cork Ex-Boxers Association CEBA, celebrated their Golden Jubilee.
The focal point of their year was the magnificent dinner dance at the Rochestown Park Hotel, with an Taoiseach Micheál Martin as guest of honour.
Ironically when CEBA was founded in 1972, they held their first dinner on the 17th December at the Sunset Ridge Motel and the guest of honour was Cork’s first Taoiseach Jack Lynch.
The loss of Billy O’Donovan of Leeside Lough BC was deeply felt by pugilists all over the city and county.
He put in a great shift of over forty-five years of volunteerism. He was born and reared in a house overlooking the fever hospital steps adjacent to Murphy’s Brewery.
When he was ten years old, he ran out to Spring Lane in Blackpool to join the Glen Boxing Club. Many of his school friends were boxing with the club.
He recalled meeting Paddy Martin, John kid Cronin and a trainer named John Morrison who had a great reputation.
Billy travelled to the Glen Club on five or six nights and declared his retirement from the sport.
He told that story many times over the years as he said he was too small and he got mangled in the ring.
Billy later confined his sporting talent for the soccer pitches of Cork. Many years later he went to work in the Cork Docklands.
Here he worked with Paddy Kavanagh, who was an officer with the Leeside Boxing Club. Paddy, convinced Billy to join the club and he went on to give nearly half a century of service to boxing.
Billy also gave sterling service to the Cork County Board and the Munster Council. He attended the CEBA Golden Jubilee Dinner last April and on the night surrounded by his family, he received a special presentation.
Six weeks later Billy ‘The boss’ O’Donovan was laid to rest with full boxing honours provided by an extended guard of honour comprising of Munster Council, Cork County Board and Cork Ex-Boxers Association member’s.
The summer months also saw the passing of a great boxer Dave Dunlea of the Fr Horgan’s Boxing Club.
Dave won three Irish Championships and many County and Munster titles. He was a fearless fighting machine who never believed in defeat.
He was a bell to bell performer, and outside of the ring he was a man of great compassion and a very generous soul.
Dave was also a very accomplished coach and trained amongst many others, his son Damian to win an Irish title.
As a member of the Cork Ex-boxers for many years, Dave was a great fundraiser. His last boxing event was in September to see a plaque unveiled to his lifelong friend Tim O’Sullivan.
Following mass in the Church of the Ascension in the heart of his beloved Northside, Dave Dunlea was buried following a very moving graveside eulogy which beautifully encapsulated his sporting life.
The town of Cobh has always been linked with Cork Boxing historically referred to by its previous name of Queenstown, it was universally acknowledged as the birth place of the Gorgeous Gael Jack Doyle. Since 1948 Cobh has flown the amateur boxing flag.
The sport has always been synonymous with the town, however various clubs came and went.
In the early eighties, another local club was established by two boxing enthusiasts John Hennessey and a native Donegal man Albert McGroarty.
For over twenty-five years they produced some outstanding local boxers.
Albert went on to give remarkable service to the promotion of boxing. He was honoured at a Cork Boxing breakfast and also by the Munster Council.
He was known and respected throughout the boxing world in Ireland. Following a long illness, he passed away during the year. However, he left a legacy of magic boxing times.
In November, the last remaining member of CEBA’s first committee Tony Flanagan left the ring of life.
He was honoured at the Jubilee dinner as the last man standing. Tony originally hailed from Roscommon. He loved the G.A.A and athletics.
He loved to be called a Rossie particularly during the year when the Connaught Football Championship was on. He was devoted to his wife Anne during his boxing career.
He was a National Army Champion. In later life he worked as a gardener in Christian’s College where he developed a great interest in Rugby.
He was a close friend of Ireland Grand Slam and Cork Con rugby star, Donncha O’Callaghan.
Up until his death in 2012, Tony had a great friendship with Tommy Hyde who was the most stylish Boxer Leeside produced.
In a year of celebration for Cork boxing, the sport lost four diamonds.
Their contributions will be crystallised among the stars and their spirit will live on as part of a proud history that is Cork Boxing.
“A Happy Christmas to all readers!”