BOXING CLUB FIGHTING FIT IN NEW HOME
TRALEE BOXING CLUB HAS COACHED THE ART OF QUEENSBURY RULES FOR OVER EIGHT DECADES. STEPHEN FERNANE CHATS TO CLUB MEMBERS ABOUT THEIR PASSION FOR BOXING AND THEIR DELIGHT AT FINALLY HAVING A PLACE TO CALL HOME - AT THEIR NEW PREMISES ON DEAN’S LANE.
FOR 83-years Tralee Boxing Club was the nomad of Kerry sport. It had seventeen different addresses but on each occasion was forced to move on. But fortune favours the determined as much as the brave and today the club has a place it can call home in Dean’s Lane where a state of the art gym is its reward.
The history of the club is brought to life in Benner’s Hotel on a Monday afternoon as I chat with Donie Jack Griffin, Brian O’Sullivan and Peter ‘Abbo’ Moriarty. Their stories reflect the passion they have for the sport, and between them they represent over 70 years of boxing history in Tralee. Peter started boxing in 1950 when the famous Raymond family from O’Rahilly’s Villas encouraged him to lace the gloves.
“We loved it, and I remember our mothers would make sandwiches for us for when we would break from sparing. We trained in a hall in Boherbee and the club was run by the Brassils and the Powells,” he said.
“It was tough as we were only 12 or 13 and we were often put fighting men. Mike O’Sullivan and I eventually changed that and we brought in a law that meant you had to fight your own age and weight. We then moved to a hall in the old monastery and trained lads from 12 up to 16. You had to be that age to train with Tralee Boxing Club.”
Peter explains that due to a lack of clubs in Kerry in the ‘50s and ‘60s they couldn’t compete in Munster Championships. The club knew it had a good crop of boxers so it boxed in the Cork Championship instead. Young fighters like Seamie O’Mahony, Jimmy Moriarty, Noel and Tommy Kelliher, Christy and Gene Powell, Bob and Michael McCarthy are just some of the names Peter lists with admiration.
“We won five Munster Championships with that bunch,” Peter says. “We boxed under the Cork banner but in the finish they stopped us as we were taking their titles away from them. That’s when our club really started.”
Donie Jack Griffin is another for whom Tralee Boxing Club is close to his heart. Donie is a current coach at the club and he was introduced to the sport in the 1970s. He started boxing when he was 10-years-old under the stewardship of Peter Kelliher – father of Noel and Tommy, both past boxers and key members of the club today.
“It was tough fighting in those early years,” said Donie. “We trained in the Old Parklands Hotel and the Houlihans, Richie and Donie, were great friends to our club through the years. It’s much stricter today as boxers must have a provisional licence at 10 and a full boxing book at 11. This logs all their fights and information. The Irish Athletic Boxing Association divide young fighters between ‘boys’ and ‘youths’ level for competitions,” he explains.
Donie said the sport is more professional today than it was in the past with coaching badges and strict protocols now a requirement. But it’s as much about the guidance given to youngsters as it is about boxing. The generational bonds and friendships forged through the club is also important. To demonstrate his point, Donie rests his hand on Peter’s shoulder.
“This man here was like a father to us when we were growing up in the club. That’s no word of a lie. He would always ask us how we were and put us straight. I think that’s what I got out of boxing, that bit of respect. Even today I find myself teaching the same to young lads. You have to have respect and we don’t take any young fella who doesn’t show respect,” he said.
Brian O’Sullivan is the current chairman of Tralee Boxing Club and a former Munster Champion boxer. He stressed how important it is to present a positive message and to change people’s perceptions about boxing. Organising the Katie Taylor bout in 2016 gave the club a huge boost. But it’s not just about fighting – It’s about discipline, self-confidence and respect.
“It’s not just about teaching a young guy to box; it’s about teaching him to be a bit more confident,” Brian explains.
“If you can use boxing for that purpose alone it can be advantageous. A naturally good boxer usually tends to be confident. This is where coaching comes in and their role is to develop the young person. Coaches can actually bring a kid out of himself through boxing without ever actually making him more aggressive or turning him into a fighter.”
Brian, Peter and Donie are all
in agreement that ‘discipline’ is often the unseen benefit of boxing. This is usually because it doesn’t become apparent until later in life when the individual has finished the sport. Brian explains that hard work in the gym at a young age instils a concept of hard work that helps in later life when facing jobs and adversity.
“It subconsciously gives you that discipline to do the things you don’t want to do,” he says.
The image of boxing as ‘aggressive’ is often one that has overshadowed the sport. But the recent surge in interest in cage fighting and MMA - often an unregulated and uncontrolled form of aggression - has no place in Tralee Boxing Club. The guys insist that boxing is the antithesis of cage fighting where sportsmanship, respect and self-control are the core characteristics. Brian also wants to invite parents to visit Tralee Boxing Club and see for themselves what’s involved during a routine gym session.
“It’s very health and safety conscious nowadays. It’s not like it was back in Peter’s day when guys fought in unfair contests. No kid is even left near a ring for the first few months until they can demonstrate the basic skills. The coaching is also excellent in our club. We have a brilliant product with excellent people overseeing it,” Brian said.
As the afternoon wears on I become more absorbed in Peter, Donie and Brian’s enthusiasm for the sport. It’s a rare opportunity for me to enter a world of boxers – past and present – who have excelled in Tralee Boxing Club over many generations. The club is proud of its champions.
Young boxers like Mike and Patrick McCarthy (the latter was just one win away from a bronze medal at the European Junior Championships in 2017), Chris Mongans, who won an All-Ireland title last April, are just some of the new names that have built on the success of former champions like Bobby McCarthy and Kevin Cumiskey.
These are exciting times for Tralee Boxing Club as it can finally build for a better future. It’s been difficult for them up to now as they were basically paying rent just to keep the club alive. But the days of renting warehouses with no running water are a thing of the past. The new gym is purpose built for boxing and is also very central. Having a hardworking committee is half the battle, and joining Brian and Donie on the club’s board is Noel and Tommy Kelliher, Cathal O’Shea, Seamie O’Mahony, Maeve Moriarty, Con O’Shea and Pat O’Shea.
The hope now is that Tralee might one day host events like the Munster Championships and Irish international training sessions. The potential is limitless.
“We’re waiting over 83-years for a place of our own,” Donie said.
“We want to see it in our time as many great people have served this club and never had a place to call home. We’ve had our eye wiped in the past when it came to getting a place of our own. Cllr Jim Finucane has also been a great friend to the club. A gym of our own would help change the perception of the sport as it would give us a footing to show the parents and public what we have to offer.”
ABOVE: Fighting fit members of Tralee Boxing Club during a training session in the club’s permanent new home in Dean’s Lane.LEFT: Club mentors Donie Jack Griffin, Brian O’Sullivan, Tommy Kelliher and Peter ‘Abbo’ Moriarty.