Forever punching above their weight
SPORTS CLUBS IN THE RECESSION:Like most boxing clubs, St Michael’s, Athy, is an enterprise that reaches beyond the ropes. The local people don’t only line out on the gym floor like the seven- and eight- year-olds doing sit ups on a Wednesday night but they are present in the roof and the floor, they are there decorating the walls and in the punch bags.
The storied walls of the gym tell of St Michael’s 50-odd year journey, the first accounts in the 1960s when a cousin came to current chairman and coach Dominic O’Rourke and asked if he’d get involved if the council started a boxing club. Dominic said no, he’d no time. They came back to him and asked to give one night a week, nothing more. He cracked and said “okay”. One night it was.
“A local man, Bill Philips, said ‘I’ll put a roof on it for you’,” O’Rourke recalls. “Seán, the man who owns the garage up the road, he did the floor. That’s how it started. Without community support and goodwill, we couldn’t have done it.”
Now it’s every night, all the time, a life born out of a request. It seems to be how boxing works.
In the ring is a lean 15-year-old, Willie O’Donoghue, working the pads with his coach. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat . . . His earring is flashing but it’s his movement that catches the eye.
“A natural,” says O’Rourke. When they allowed O’Donoghue into the ring the effortless grace was there from the beginning. His light feet and balance are nothing you can teach but in many other sports clubs a traveller probably wouldn’t be a prized member.
“We don’t turn anybody away,” O’Rourke says, sounding almost puzzled by the idea. In time, O’Donoghue may adorn the wall of the gym like Beijing Olympian Johnny Joyce or the four national senior champions of 2006, Eric Donovan, Johnny Joyce, David Joyce and Roy Sheehan.
The Joyce family, who travel in to the club from Mullingar, 60 miles away, are also members of the travelling community who have successfully pitched their tent in St Michael’s and made the club richer for it. David Oliver Joyce, John Joyce, Hughie Joyce, David Joyce, Christy Joyce and another Christy Joyce.
The club’s wealth has always been in the members, their success and their resilience. Not unlike any boxing club in Dublin, St Michael’s know how to hunker down and survive hard times. Boxing never got fat in the boom times and being naturally frugal seems part of their genetic material. Tightening belts, regulating the metabolism to meet the various challenges has been their survival mechanism from the day O’Rourke said “okay” to one night a week.
Back then it was local priest, Fr Laverty who was provider with his Community Club and the old parochial hall. Then they moved to a stone-walled grain house and put up their ring.
One day Dick Warner arrived into town off his boat on the canal while doing a series on the Irish inland waterways. They wanted to film the local boxing club, get a taste of the Athy sporting life.
“You should have seen the amount of shite we had to clear out of the way to make the place look half-decent,” chuckles O’Rourke. “Then they put lights on the ring and it looked fantastic.”
On the wall there is a picture of the inside of the old Grove cinema that stood in the middle of the town and where the club once staged an international boxing match against Canada.