Con Carr, a sporting hero in my youthful years, passed away last week. I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Con on several occasions in recent years and each time we promised each other that we would get together for an interview for a future article. By a strange coincidence I was talking to one of the surviving members of the Green Star Cycling Club on Sunday afternoon and on returning home I made a note to phone Con on Monday morning to arrange the long promised interview. I was not to know that on that same day the legendary Con Carr had died just a month short of his 85th birthday.
I was a school boy when Con was capturing the sporting headlines with his cycling records in the mid 1950’s. He set the record for the Cork to Dublin cycle run in 1955, covering the 160 miles in 6 hours 55 minutes. It would remain unbeaten for almost 40 years. A year later he set records for the Galway to Dublin and the Limerick to Dublin routes. 1956 was also the year of the Melbourne Olympics and Con was chosen by the National Cycling Association to represent Ireland and as such would have been the first Olympian from the County of Kildare. Sadly, funding was not available to send him to Melbourne and so Ireland’s greatest cyclist missed out on the opportunity to represent his country down under.
My youthful admiration for Con Car, the cyclist, was more than amply deserved and when I met him for the first time about 10 years ago I found a warm hearted and considerate man whose success in the sporting world of cycling gave pleasure and enjoyment to many over the years. His name will always be associated with long hot summers of the 1950’s and the sporting headlines of the day which recorded and acknowledged the talents of the Monasterevin cyclist. Con Carr was from another parish, indeed from another diocese, but he fulfilled the criteria for one young Athy lad’s unswerving support and allegiance. He was Ireland’s greatest cyclist and he was from the County of Kildare.
In the week when one sporting legend passed from us, a young man, too young to be called a legend, achieved a level of success never before reached by a Kildare man. Eric Donovan, just 19 years of age, won his second Irish National Senior Boxing Title in the National Stadium in Dublin on Friday night last. He was one of three members of St. Michael’s Boxing Club who boxed their way to Senior National Titles on the same night. It was an amazing achievement for a small boxing club and the success of David Oliver Joyce, his cousin David Joyce and Eric Donovan represents the greatest sporting story ever to come out of Athy. It is a story which goes back to 1966 when Fr. Denis Laverty started the Boxing Club in Athy. Based in St. John’s Hall which had been built in 1926 as the British Legion Hall, the Club lasted for a few years but long enough to nurture the talents of one young man. He was Dom O’Rourke, one of four brothers, all of whom joined the Boxing Club. Fast forward to 1989 when Dom O’Rourke, Jimmy Walsh and Noel O’Mara revived the Boxing Club which had faded away in the early 1970’s. Dom O’Rourke has been in charge of St. Michael’s Boxing Club for the last 16 years and in that time he has overseen the Club’s phenomenal success. Numerous National titles at underage and junior level have been won by some of the Club’s boxers and their success has resulted in St. Michael’s winning the Boxing Club of the Year award.
Last year the first ever National Senior Boxing Title came to Athy when Eric Donovan became the Bantam weight champion of Ireland. Throughout the history of Irish boxing only three men from the County of Kildare have won Senior Boxing Titles. These were Mick Collins and Colm McEvoy of Kilcullen and Tommy Tobin of Newbridge. Tobin was the last Kildare man to achieve success at Senior level when winning the National Title in 1985. That same year was born Eric Donovan who last week became the first County Kildare boxer to win a second Senior Boxing title. Eric’s unique boxing success has seen him win ten All Ireland titles to date including every underage title from 11 years to 18 years. He is the current National Under 21 champion and has won gold medals in Finland, at the Four Nations Championship in Cardiff, as well as a host of medals at other National and International tournaments. Eric who joined St. Michael’s Boxing Club in 1992 won a bronze medal at the Junior European Championship in Liverpool four years ago and is now a member of the Dublin based High Performance Programme which is funded by the Sports Council of Ireland. Under the Programme sporting excellence in young sports people is nurtured and perfected under a regime of training which permits full time involvement in a chosen sport. For Eric Donovan the aim is to represent Ireland at the next Olympics and if and when he does he will join the great pantheon of Irish sports stars such as the late great Con Carr who passed away just a few days before Eric’s latest success in the National Stadium.
For a young man to achieve such success so early in life requires dedication and talent. However, the opportunity to realise that potential must also be there and in that case that opportunity has been ever present in the guiding hand of St. Michael’s Club trainer and mentor, Dominic O’Rourke. Dom has achieved great success with his young boxers over the past 16 years and last weeks tally of three senior titles for the Athy Club is an achievement unsurpassed in the annals of Athy’s sporting history.
Earlier this year the inaugural Osprey Sports Personality Awards for County Kildare were awarded and they brought together for the first and last time Con Carr, Dominic O’Rourke and Eric Donovan. Con was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, while Dom O’Rourke received the Mentor of the Year Award. Young Eric Donovan was nominated for the Young Sports Personality of the Year Award which however went to another nominee. At 19 years of age Eric Donovan has achieved enormous success for one so young and the hope and expectation is that he will continue in his chosen sport and become in time a sporting legend to equal my great sporting hero of 50 years ago, Con Carr.
As I left the National Stadium on Friday night I noticed on a wall plaque the names of those men who had made possible the opening of the Stadium in 1939. Fr. John McLaughlin’s name figures prominently and many of you will remember him as senior curate here in Athy in the 1950’s. For the first time ever, the Fr. John McLaughlin perpetual trophy presented at the end of the Senior Championships to the best boxer of the championships, went to a member of St. Michael’s Boxing Club in Athy. Fr. McLaughlin would be pleased to see the town he loved so dearly figuring so prominently in his favourite sport.