Just over ten years ago I shared an unbounded enthusiasm with a good deal of other folk, lay and religious, young and not so young, who like me were concerned for the future of Athy. We came together without any hierarchical structure free from strictures of rules or obligations to talk out ideas and see how we could help challenge the social decline which gripped the town. The group, one of the most successful one I was ever associated with, established a number of projects all of which are still going strong. These included a play school in Castle Park, a monthly newsletter, a community council and a boxing club. I was reminded of that last week by Noel O’Mara on the occasion of the civic reception accorded by Athy Urban District Council for St. Michael’s Boxing Club. Noel who was also a member of that group was given the responsibility of restarting the Boxing Club which had lapsed some years previously. He claims that he was told rather than asked “get it up and running again”. To his credit he undertook the task with an enthusiasm and doggedness which could only lead to success.
He first sought out Dom O’Rourke who had boxed with the original club founded by Fr. Laverty in the 1960’s. Dom’s involvement was crucial as was that of Jimmy Walsh who with Pat Nolan were brought in by Noel at a very early stage to resurrect the Boxing Club. Mount St. Mary’s the former girls national school building opposite Perry’s supermarket was the Boxing Club’s premises for the first few years. Here with Jimmy Walsh as Chairman Noel O’Mara as secretary, Pat Nolan as Treasurer and Dom O’Rourke as trainer, St. Michael’s Boxing Club was reborn with what we now know were incredible results. Early successes for the Club were achieved through two very gifted boxers, Noel Johnson of Dooley’s Terrace and Pat Phelan of Clonmullin.
Today the Club restarted almost ten years ago by Noel O’Mara is the most successful club in the long history of any sport in Athy. Out of the thirty or so active boxing members there are no less than four international boxers. Tommy Sheehan is back from representing Ireland in the European Junior Championships in Birmingham where he reached the Quarter Finals. Patrick Phelan and Jimmy Philips have also represented Ireland at junior level while Gary Sheehan is to travel to Macedonia on the 4th July as an Irish youth international boxer.
The range and number of titles won by boxers from St. Michael’s Club is quite astonishing. Tommy Sheehan has won no less than five All Ireland titles while Patrick Phelan and Gary Sheehan have each won three All Irelands. Roy Sheehan has already won two Irish titles at schoolboy level and Eric Donovan won his first schoolboy All Ireland title earlier this year. Provincial titles have been won by the Club members with an amazing regularity. John Donovan won six consecutive Leinster titles from schoolboy to youth level. James Philips has won five provincial titles and was defeated in four All Ireland finals.
This year has been the Club’s most successful year. No less than four All Ireland titles were won in 1977 by St. Michael’s Club members, Eric Donovan, Roy Sheehan, Gary Sheehan and Tommy Sheehan. The latter three are brothers from Clonmullin and their’s is a unique record in the annals of Irish amateur boxing. Sons of Gerry and Geraldine Sheehan , they have the inspiration of following in the footsteps of a grand uncle from Knocknagoshel in the County of Kerry who was famous as an exponent of bare fist fighting of another era. John Greaney was famed far and wide for his prowess as a County Kerry boxer and his nephew Gerry Sheehan from Millstreet, County Cork is now the proud father of no less than two Irish international boxers and his younger son Roy has already won two All Ireland schoolboy titles.
Dom O’Rourke and Jimmy Walsh are still involved in the Boxing Club and are today ably assisted by Jimmy Walsh, Johnny Fennell, Marie O’Rourke and many others who help out from time to time. The achievements of St. Michael’s Boxing Club have been recognised by the Irish Boxing Authorities who have sanctioned a full international boxing match between Ireland and Canada to be held in the Grove Theatre on the 13th July. I understand this will be the first Senior International boxing match held outside of Dublin and it is fitting that four local club members, James Philips, Tommy Sheehan, John Donovan and Vivien Carroll will box that night in the green singlet of Ireland.
We have been slow in recognising the successes of the men and boys who have brought such great honour to their Club and to their home town of Athy. The recent award of a civic reception by the local town Council for the members of St. Michael’s Boxing Club has been the first step in re-addressing this omission. For the rest of us there is the opportunity of supporting the boxers when they host the international match in the Grove Theatre on the 13th July next. See you there!