The Kerryman (Tralee Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­taCt re­porter Stephen Fer­nane on Fer­nane03@gmail.Com

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.

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