The Seoul Olympics of 1988 was a huge one for Cork and Irish boxing

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 was a huge one for Cork and Irish boxing
Michael Hawkins (Irish coach) Pat McCrory (Irish team manager) and Albie Murphy (Irish coach) at Seoul Olympics 1988

IT was the Games that featured the most infamous decision in Olympic boxing history, two Irishmen that would reach Olympic finals four years later, two Corkmen and a Wexford fighter, who would win World Coach of the Year Award in 2016.

Ireland's seven-strong boxing squad headed east to Seoul, South Korea in 1988 searching for an eighth Olympic medal. 

Hughie Russell had been the last Irish fighter to finish in a podium position (bronze) eight years previously at Moscow 1980.

The late Albie Murphy (Sunnyside BC) and Michael Hawkins of the Holy Trinity BC in Belfast were working Ireland's corner, and Ulster's Pat McCrory was the team manager.

Cork's Boxer of the Century Kieran Joyce, also of the Sunnyside BC, lined out at middleweight for his second successive Games.

"Albie was so enthusiastic about the Olympics, and it rubbed off on everyone," said Hawkins. 

"He was an absolute mine of information. Albie knew things going back years and people I'd never heard off. He was boxing through and through."

Kieran Joyce , Boxer Of The Century
Kieran Joyce , Boxer Of The Century

Most of the world's top boxing nations were in Seoul. But politics once again denied boxing fans the opportunity to see the tremendous Cuban class of 1988, as the Caribbean Island, who had boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, also stayed away from the Seoul Olympiad.

However, the USSR, who had also boycotted the 1984 Games, was back in the Olympic fold, and one of their boxers, Timofei Skriabin, denied Ireland's Joe Lawlor.

Lawlor made a winning start, stopping Archer Fausto of Mozambique in round two of his opening bout, but the Dublin flyweight bowed out on a unanimous decision to the Soviet who progressed to secure bronze.

Joe Lowey was the only Irish boxer to register a double in Seoul, positive decisions over Iraq's Mustafa Saleh and Nigeria's Shana Mohammed seeing the Ledley Hall BC bantamweight through to the last-16.

But Lowey went out on a split decision to Nurshan Altankhuyey of Mongolia, who would drop a unanimous decision to Phajol Moolsan of Thailand in the quarter-finals.

Wexford's Billy Walsh, the former Irish head coach and now the chief seconds with the USA, had beaten Korea's Kyung-sup Song in a pre-Olympic tournament in Seoul a few months before the Games after dropping and stopping the Asian.

They met again in Seoul, but Song got the verdict after Walsh was forced to retire with a cut over his left eye in the second round.

The Irish corner pleaded with the ringside doctor to allow the fight to continue, but the pleas fell on deaf ears and seven-time Irish Elite champion, who claimed the World Coach of the Year four years ago with the Americans, was out.

Song reached the quarter-finals but was shaded on a split decision by eventual silver-medallist, Laurent Boudouani of France.

Kieran Joyce, appearing in his second Olympiad, once again got off to a winning start after beating Tonga's Fili Vaka in the opening frame.

However, the Leesider then lost 3-2 to Uganda's Fred Wanyama in the last-16, while Paul Fitzgerald outpointed Emilio Villega of the Dominican Republic but was beaten by Great Britain's Dave Anderson.

Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth also won their opening contests in Seoul. Positive verdicts over Uganda's Frederick Mutewata and Japan's Shinju Higashi saw both men have their hands raised in triumph.

Coach Albie Murphy pictured with a trio of Sunnyside Internationals and greats of Irish Boxing, Gordon Joyce, Paul Buttimer and Kieran Joyce. In 1987 all three won National Senior titles on the same night at the National Stadium in Dublin.
Coach Albie Murphy pictured with a trio of Sunnyside Internationals and greats of Irish Boxing, Gordon Joyce, Paul Buttimer and Kieran Joyce. In 1987 all three won National Senior titles on the same night at the National Stadium in Dublin.

But the Irish pair were eliminated in the next phase following reversals to Canada's Scott Olson and Sweden's George Cramne who took home silver.

However, the experience of competing at the Seoul games proved invaluable for McCullough and Carruth as they would return for their second Olympics four years later.

The 1988 Games was the scene of probably the most outrageous decision in the entire history - a history which is littered with outrageous verdicts - of Olympic boxing.

Roy Jones of the USA beat Park Si-Hun of South Korea from here to Calcutta and back by way of the Blarney Stone in the light-middleweight final.

Jones found the target with 86 punches to Si-Hun's 32, but the Korean got the verdict amid absolute outrage.

But despite all the protests and clear cut evidence of daylight robbery, Si-Hun still stood on top of the podium, a silver medal winner with a gold medal around his neck.

The three judges that scored the bout against Jones were suspended, and the American picked up the Val Barker trophy as the best stylistic boxer of the 1988 games in one of only three occasions that the award did not go to a gold medal winner.

Meantime, the uproar over Jones' final with Si-Hun would see the old scoring system scrapped and a new computerised scoring system, "to make judges officiating more objective", introduced in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The new system was first used at the AIBA World Championships in Moscow in 1989. Michael Carruth had to settle for bronze after being beaten in the semi-finals by East Germany's Andreas Otto in the Russian capital.

Carruth and Otto would renew acquaintances at the Barcelona Olympiad three years later. Carruth won the rematch en route to gold and McCullough reached the final. Cork's Paul Buttimer also fought for Ireland at Barcelona 1992.

Irish coach Hawkins will always recall Albie Murphy in the Irish corner in Seoul. 

"Albie was an absolute gentleman and a fantastic coach. He used eat, sleep and drink boxing, and he cared about the boxers. I used call him "Mr Boxing."

 Kieran Joyce and Michael Carrurth at the Cork Boxing Centenray dinner at the Montenotte hotel /Picture: Eddie O'Hare
 Kieran Joyce and Michael Carrurth at the Cork Boxing Centenray dinner at the Montenotte hotel /Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Irish Boxing At Seoul 1988 Team Manager: Pat McCrory Coaches: Albie Murphy (Sunnyside BC) and Michael Hawkins (Holy Trinity BC) 

RESULTS:

Light-flyweight: Wayne McCullough (Albert Foundry) Beat Frederick Mutewata (Uganda) 5-0 Lost to Scottie Olson (Canada) 0-5 

Flyweight: Joe Lawlor (Darndale) Beat Archer Fausto (Mozambique) KO2 Lost to bronze medalist Timofei Skriabin (USSR) 0-5 

Bantamweight: John Lowey (Ledley Hall) Beat Mustafa Saleh (Iraq) 5-0 Beat Shana Mohammed (Nigeria) 4-1 Lost to Nurshan Altankhuyey (Mongolia) 2-3 

Featherweight: Paul Fitzgerald (Transport) Beat Emilio Villegas (Dominican Republic) 4-1 Lost to Dave Anderson (Great Britain) 0-5 

Lightweight: Michael Carruth (Drimnagh) Beat Shinju Higashi (Japan) 5-0 Lost to eventual silver medalist George Cramne (Sweden) TKO1 

Welterweight: Billy Walsh (St Joseph's) Lst to Kyung-sup Song (Korea) TKOI2 

Middleweight: Kieran Joyce (Sunnyside) Beat Fili Vaka (Tonga) TKO1 Lost to Fred Wanyama (Uganda).

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