02 September 2009 – By Steve Wellings
The Holy Trinity boxing club in Belfast holds an esteemed reputation as one of the best gyms in Ireland. Excellent facilities paired with high pedigree personnel, makes it easy to see why.
Siblings Harry and Michael Hawkins run the club, having took the reigns over from father, and still club treasurer, Thomas. Harry deals with the professionals and Michael the amateurs.
“The club was formed in 1972 although we were here from 71 we werent affiliated to the IABA for the first year,” Michael explains.
“In our first year my younger brother Gerry won the Irish and Ulster championships which provided a big boost. Even though we were very young in coaching terms, we knew from the beginning that we could produce champions, after Gerrys success. Everybodys confidence grew as we produced Irish champions.”
Harry meanwhile spends his time in the Turf Lodge establishment dealing with WBA super-bantamweight world champion Bernard Dunne and former European title challenger and British and IBO king, Brian Magee. When I arrive, Harry is busy erecting posters and drilling holes in the wall for the mural unveiling which – in conjunction with Monkstown – would take place the following morning. I interrupted the ring dismantling and, after spying former St Johns protg Ruairi Dalton on the bags, duly took Michael aside to explain more of the Trinity ethos.
“We always get boxers from other clubs joining us and thats happened for years. People say we poach boxers but boxing is an individual sport and the lads only get one chance at it. If a parent sees a club that can do better for their youngster then theyll take him there. I understand feelings of loyalty and the hard work people put into developing their boxers and clubs.
“Any boxer who is progressing well should be moved to enhance and realise their potential. Over the past few years weve had a few boxers join us, like Peter Brady, Ruairi Dalton and Anthony Cacace, who missed the Olympics by two points which was obviously disappointing.”
Dalton is being taken through his paces on the pads by fitness guru Alex Doherty, who has done strength and conditioning work with Bernard Dunne and whose son Conor is a rising amateur star, while Cacace is absent on the night. Peter Brady is more than willing to engage though and explains his personal journey from Charlie Brownes Poleglass ABC to Turf Lodge: Ive been here about two years now but was at a previous club as well,” he reveals, as father Peter Snr listens in. “Im a 48 kilos light-flyweight and have fought in Irish and Ulster championship plus the four nations. My aim is to qualify for the 2012 Olympics and have been training with the high performance team for that, but well see what happens from there.”
What about punching for pay? “Professional boxing…” Peter considers, “Maybe one day that might happen and I could follow in the footsteps of Andy Lee and also Bernard Dunne who inspires us in the gym. Im happy as an amateur for now and Harry and Michael are both great for skills and movement training.”
Holy Trinity and Monkstown may not be literal neighbours but both Michael Hawkins and Paul Johnston share a good friendship and working relationship. Matching murals were due to be officially recognised as Barry McGuigan and other luminaries were due for a day that proved how boxing transcends cultural divisions.
Michael fills in the background: “Monkstowns a Protestant club and were a Catholic club so for the past five years weve been involved in a cross-community initiative. To be honest though, boxing has always been cross-community right throughout the Troubles and you had to be careful sometimes where you went because we were looking after children. People use clichs of how boxing brings us together etc. but its just a fact that even though were doing work with Paul Johnston at Monsktown, were just doing what weve always done basically. Its more a friendship than an agreement and were all very good friends having travelled to Washington twice and boxed out there with the gangland group.
“We take five Catholics and five Protestants to Washington and we box as a team against the gangs, who all have different names and numbers of what they belong too and they come together to box us. So its the Catholics and Protestants versus the gangs (many of whom have stabbed and shot each other in the past) so with 600 people at the show we are bringing everybody together.
“Out there they are all sponsored locally by high profile businessmen and the event is well supported so we look forward to doing it next year again. We have been to Germany as well and purposely change who goes so everyone gets a turn and we go down to Dublin so often I could practically be living there! So it doesnt matter who or what you are, boxing is a close-knit community and a lot of good lads involved.
“The club is closed tonight for the only night this year because of the function involving Barry McGuigan and the unveiling of the murals and rubbing shoulders with world champions.”
Switch hitter Sean McComb and his ring partner Mark OHara had completed some intense sparring so it seemed right to interrogate them on the Trinity product. “After four or five years here now I enjoy it,” muses OHara. “A friend started boxing so I followed him down here. Ive grown into 60 kilos and just want to stay amateur for the time being, theres no plans to turn over I just want to win an Irish title.”
McComb adds: “Ive been boxing around eight and a half years and Im a 54 kilos fighter at the moment. Irish finalist 2009 and I am looking forward to getting in there and competing as I am comfortable boxing orthodox as well as southpaw. My two brothers boxed so I trained and go into it, so if any big fights come on then I pay for it and watch it. Hatton and Mayweather are both good fighters and then watching Bernard training in the gym you see what he does and try to copy what he does.”
Michael Hawkins is a prominent figure in Irish amateur boxing so I cannot resist the opportunity to quiz him on the role of the IABA and that old chestnut computer scoring.
“Its alright people criticising the computer system, and I was there in Seoul 1988 at the infamous Roy Jones and Park final, which caused the computer being brought into boxing. The Olympics council said simply, after that contest, to boxing clean your act up or youre out and the sport introduced computer scoring. Amateur boxing isnt like the 100 metres where you run a distance and the first over the line wins, clear cut, because there are five judges who need to push the button at the same time to score points. Its basically down to individual impressions and button pressing, which unfortunately is not foolproof as people can cheat and not press the button or press it too late.
“However, until something better is thought of then we cannot complain. Amateur boxing the world over is run by volunteers and very few people know about the master read-out that the computer produces during bouts that give second by second accounts of who pressed what and when. Theres no capacity within the sport to sit down and analyse this data, but I believe that to make judges accountable, anybody in dispute of a score or scoring by a judge could take the data read-out and analyse it themselves to provide the evidence. This can then provide accountability to a judge who is scoring biased or with error over a consistent period of time in tournaments.
“Dont throw the computer in the river until you come up with something better to judge contests with and so far that hadnt happened. Some very astute journalists have said, all you need is three honest men, well where are they?!
So is the Irish team moving in the right direction?
“What do you think?!” He throws back at me with a glint in his eye, but before I have time to respond he offers me a reprieve.
“Irish boxing is absolutely booming at the moment; both amateur and professional. Martin Lindsay and Paul McCloskey are British champions [McCloskey has since given his up to chase European honours], while big Rogie [Martin Rogan] was on a great unbeaten run and then Bernard Dunne at world title level; who of course is from Dublin but trains here in the Trinity. Brian Magee as well is here, so its all on the up at the moment with younger lads doing well. Theres a good structure in place and the Ulster Council are employing a business manager and a full time talent coach this year.”
So the feedback is a resounding thumbs-up as both the Holy Trinity and Irish boxing head along the same path.
“Were all moving in the right direction and can only improve from here on in.”