Civic reception for world boxing champion Andy Lee

WBO middleweight champion ‘blown away’ by reaction since arrival after Las Vegas win

WBO middleweight boxing champion Andy Lee waves to crowds after stepping off a jet at  Shannon Airport on Wednesday. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

WBO middleweight boxing champion Andy Lee waves to crowds after stepping off a jet at Shannon Airport on Wednesday. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Becoming a world champion is a dream within every young child’s reach, the newly crowned WBO middleweight champion has told his home town.

Speaking in Limerick where he was honoured with a civic reception, boxing champion Andy Lee said he has been “blown away” by the reaction he has received since arriving back on home soil.

Lee, who beat Russian Matt Korobov in Las Vegas with a sixth round stoppage for the vacant belt, confirmed on Wednesday that the wheels are already in motion for a title defence at Thomond Park.

“I have known a lot of world champions and trained with a lot of world champions over the years and I don’t think any one of them, no matter how big they are, have come home to a reception or been treated like I have been today.”

‘Warm feeling’

“It’s been a while since I was in Limerick, but once I was back it was like I never left - it’s the warm feeling that I get when I am here,” he added.

The 30-year-old boxer, who now lives in London, grew up in Castleconnell when his family returned to Limerick, where he spent his child hood dreaming of one day coming back a world champion.

The 30-year-old - who now wants to defend his world title in Thomond Park - admitted arriving at Shannon Airport with his WBO belt was exactly how he had imagined it would be, even down to the weather.

“When I pictured this day I even pictured it was raining,” he quipped.

Lee, who started boxing with St Francis Boxing Club in Limerick aged 14, had a simple message for the huge crowds who gathered outside City Hall on Merchant’s Quay for the homecoming celebrations.

“For me to win this world title shows kids around Limerick and Ireland that it is not impossible to become a world champion - it is not a dream beyond their reach. They can emulate what I did - and more.

“I would encourage any young boxers because it is a great social outlet and teaches kids discipline - and there is no real downside to boxing.”

Lee’s mother Ann, who was among those to greet him at Shannon Airport, recalled how she “dropped to her knees and cried” when she watched her son win the world title in Las Vegas in the early hours of last Sunday morning.

The mother-of-six said she hasn’t slept or stopped smiling since.

“It’s a dream come true for me and for all the family, but to see a child’s dream come true and knowing how much it meant to him and how much he tried for it, and how much he trains, how much of his life has gone into it.”

Fourth in a family of six children, Lee had huge praise for his mother and how she helped him get to the top of the world of boxing.

“I know it means so much to her and my family. When myself and my brothers were boxing, she had years of driving us to the gym and paying for boxing equipment - so it’s nice to repay her.

“She encouraged every bit of it – my older brothers boxed and my younger brother. As we grew up she also learned about what to cook us and is now actually very educated in boxing,” he said.

Lee’s proud wife Maud said becoming world champion was her husband’s destiny.

‘His destiny’

“I knew he was going to do it, I knew it was his time, it was his destiny. I was in Las Vegas with him and it was an incredible achievement, it’s something he has been dreaming of for a very long time,

“It’s quite surreal to be honest that it’s all come true, it’s quite an unbelievable day - so I am delighted to be here celebrating the world title.”

Lee, who beat Russian Matt Korobov in Las Vegas with a sixth round stoppage for the vacant belt, confirmed on Wednesday that the wheels are already in motion for a title defence at Thomond Park.

He said a fight at the venue in front of 30,000 people would be “very special”.

“It would be brilliant - not just good for me and for Irish boxing but for Limerick city,” he said.

When asked about other great Limerick sporting heroes, Lee admits he takes inspiration from Munster and Irish rugby star Paul O’Connell.

“I take inspiration from the likes of Paul O’Connell - he is such a professional and inspirational when he talks about his sport and an ambassador for Limerick - not just in rugby but for all sport - and I always watch him and listen to his interviews.

“They say he is intense but I think he is just passionate and I can relate to him.”

Speaking at the civic reception, Mayor of Limerick Kevin Sheahan said the council was delighted to welcome home someone who now joins an elite group of Irish boxers and who has cemented his place in Irish sporting history.

“St Francis Boxing Club can now proudly claim to have played a central role in the career of a world champion,” Mr Sheahan said.

“You are in illustrious company and deservedly so. In your own words directly after the fight Andy, you truly are “on top of the world”, he added.

“On behalf of my colleagues and the people of this proud sporting city and county, I want to wish the best of luck to you as you seek to defend your title on home soil.

“We will all be behind you, although sufficiently back from the ring so as to avoid your right hook,” he joked.

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