Ireland has a storied history in boxing both amateur and professional, with dozens of past legends and many present-day stars. Such is the boxing culture in this country, there are a number of other famous Irishmen who have stepped into the ring in the past and who may have made waves if they had stuck with the sweet science.
Possibly the most talked about man in Ireland at the minute. McGregor recently became the UFC interim featherweight champion, and is due to challenge the champion, José Aldo, in December. As some will know, part of his skill in the octagon has been derived from his youth spent with Phil Sutcliffe Sr. in Crumlin BC.
The outspoken Dubliner won Dublin novice honours during his time in the squared circle, before switching to mixed martial arts and John Kavanagh’s Straight Blast Gym. ‘The Notorious’ still occasional spars the boxers in Paschal Collins’s Celtic Warriors Gym.
The Ballymena actor has serious boxing pedigree. An accomplished underage amateur, Neeson fought out of the All Saints club between the ages of nine and seventeen. In this time, Neeson was Ulster champion three times, as well as an All-Ireland runner-up twice.
Before he portrayed heavyweights such as Oskar Schindler and Michael Collins, Neeson won around thirty of his forty bouts, however he stopped boxing after suffering a nasty concussion. On his style, the actor modestly described himself as being “OK, I was competent. I was a jabber, I had a good jab.”
Neeson would make a return to boxing as narrator for the critically acclaimed Manny Pacquiao documentary, ‘Manny.’
The former Ireland and Manchester United captain has a fearsome footballing reputation which was partly cultivated by the sweet science. As a boy, Keane began boxing in his native Mayfield aged 9, and trained for a few years -winning all four of his novice fights.
Writing in his first autobiography, Cork’s most famous son explained how the noble art helped him on the football pitch as “I was very small for my age and the techniques and disciplines learned in the boxing ring gave me a psychological edge – I acquired a certain confidence when confronted by physical aggression.”
Daniel Day Lewis
In the 1997 Golden Globe nominated film ‘The Boxer,’ Day-Lewis transformed into professional pugilist, Danny-Boy Flynn. Flynn is a recently released republican prisoner in Belfast who seeks to set up a non-sectarian gym and become a successful boxer. Featuring realistic fight scenes, interwoven with a love story and politics, ‘The Boxer’ is one of Day-Lewis’s most underrated movies.
For the role, Day-Lewis trained under adviser Barry McGuigan (whom the film is very loosely based on) for nearly three years – sparring over a thousand rounds and breaking his nose in the process Such was the intensity of preparations, McGuigan at one stage said “Daniel, it doesn’t have to be this tough, we can make it easier on you” – but the Oscar winning character actor would have none of it. At the end of filming, ‘ The Clones Cyclone’ described Day Lewis as “a natural” and that “he could have made it as a pro.”
The Clare man was British Champion Jockey six times. However, before he took to the saddle, the legendary jockey was an impressive underage boxer for the nearby Gort BC. Trained by Jimmy Regan, Fallon boxed in his early teens as well representing Connaught with distinction.
Like horse-racing, boxing is one of the few sports where men of such small physical stature can prosper. Indeed there are further parallels with self-discipline and supreme fitness. Jimmy Regan wonders how far Fallon would have made it if he didn’t swap his boxing gloves for a riding crop, noting that “he had all the basic skills – the courage, the coolness, the aggression and, most surprising of all, the power.”
The 2011 presidential candidate and Dragon’s Den judge, showed a degree of pugilistic skill when he won RTÉ’s Charity Lords of the Ring back in 2009. With training tips from Barry McGuigan and Tyson Fury, the then-47 year old slugged his way to victory in the final over newspaper editor Paul Martin. Gallagher’s win was even more impressive considering he only has partial eyesight and that he was carrying an injured thumb and ribs going into the final.