The atmosphere was positively electric long before the theatrics of the announcements stirred the air in the Community Centre in Kilmacow on Saturday night, writes Barrie Henriques.
The crowd (800) were fired up; their vocal chords well lubricated for absolute effect. The dry ice was everywhere for effect. The sound boomed into the furthest corners of the room, and the razzmatazz of flashing lights and sound effects created the desired ambiance commensurate with a great night of action inside and outside of the ring.
Kilmacow GAA club are no strangers to white collar boxing. They pitched the very best of their pugilistic athletes against first timers, Slieverue in a fund-raising exercise to keep their respective clubs solvent for another year, at least. Kilmacow chairman, Micheál Atkins was absolutely thrilled with the entire spectacle.
“We were nervous because we were not too sure that it would have been as remotely success as it was two years previously, but we needn’t have worried on that score,” said a relieved Micheal. “We had a remarkable experience when we coupled with Mullinavat back then, which was a very lucrative exercise from our club’s point of view.
“Whilst we didn’t expect to reap the same rewards for our efforts, nevertheless, we felt that something remotely close would be worth the effort. In addition, we placed the entire enterprise in the capable hands of two of our most trusted clubmen, Shane Gaule and Paddy O’Keeffe, who performed handstands for us on this on. They carried the entire organisation of the affair on their own.
“Of course, other club men came on board to assist on the night, while others looked after some of the sponsorship, but in fairness, Shane and Paddy were tremendous leaders. I would also want to thank all the generous sponsors, and it would be remiss of me not to say a big thank you to the people of Kilmacow who put their hands in their pockets to support us as well.”
Given that Kilmacow were getting into the arena of pain and struggle for the second time in two years, we asked the chairman if they had any problems filling the 11 bouts with boxing hopefuls. “Not a bit,” he responded with a smile. “In fact, we had an over subscription of lads who wanted to throw the leather. Our problem was to accommodate so many. The only boxer who fought last time and who fought tonight was Luke Harney. He brought the house down last time against a trained boxer from Monaghan, and given that Slieverue could not come up with an adequate opponent for Luke it was agreed that another trained boxer could take him on.
“The crowd vindicated that decision. They loved every second of the contest. I mean the chanting of Harney, Harney would make the hair stand on the back of your neck.”
Bob ‘Big Bad Bob’ Croke (Kilmacow) v Niall ‘Knuckles’ Walsh (Slieverue).
Bob Croke and Niall Walsh were first into the ring. They received a tumultuous welcomes as they took their presentation to the baying hordes from the presentation podium. Bathed in a multi-coloured aura, the theatre of the pre-fight was truly inspirational. One had visions of Rocky Balboa arriving, head bathed in a shimmering gown and hood. The crowd loved it.
Niall ‘Knuckles’ was first into the ring. His followers were delirious with excitement. It made one feel the need for relaxant, such was the passion in the air.
Walsh, the Kilkenny under-age and senior county hurling panellist, was first into action with a couple of tentative left hooks, one of which was on target. The ‘Bad’ Croke had no intention of being the block to Walshe’s chopping swings. While Walsh dominated the early part of the first round, Croke came back strongly with some telling shots to level the first round scoring.
Again Walsh was the early aggressor in the second round, but as in the first, Croke stormed to the front with a late flurry of punches to probably shade the round. The third round was tough, hard and full of action. Walsh paced himself better, and turned the tide on the Kilmacow man with plenty of attacking boxing, laced with a few scoring shots inside the final seconds.
The judges scored it in favour of the Slieverue man. The house exploded. It was a great start to what was going to be a tremendously entertaining night for all!
Paul ‘The Beast of Ballykeoghan’ Laffan v Brian ‘Grinder’ Grant (Slieverue)
Paul ‘The beast of Ballykeoghan’ Laffin (K) took on Brian ‘Grinder’ Grant in the second bout. The crowd had warmed up. Those that were still a little tepid were warmed up smartly.
The ‘Ballykeoghan Beast’ came out of the blue corner like the 6.10 express from Houston to Waterford. A huge round-house right nearly caught the careful ‘Grinder’. He was lucky, because one felt that had he been on the end of it he may well have woken up some time later with a crowd around him in Waterford Regional Hospital.
The fluidity of this match left much to be desired, but what it lacked in the defined skills of the sport, it more than made up for in raw courage, and not too little passion. It was hard to split them after the first round, and still harder to do so after the second.
A few nice, clean shots from the ‘Grinder’ midway through the last round probably swung it for the Slieverue man, who got the nod of all three judges. There were some who would have disagreed.
Two nil to the first timers from Slieverue. It was going to be a long night!
Dylan ‘Dynamite’ Cooke (K) v Bill ‘Pretty Boy’ Irish
This was a cracking fight with both lads flogging themselves to the wire in the effort to win. The bigger pressure was on Cooke as he had to arrest the dominance of the visitors. In a tentative opening round, there were plenty of haymakers directed, but few connected.
Both boxers were very good defensively, and the round ended on fairly level terms. ‘Dynamite’ Cooke had ‘Pretty Boy’ in serious trouble early in the second, but the Slieverue lad made a terrific recovery to come late with a storm of punches to probably shade the round. The third round was not for the feint-hearted.
Both punched themselves to a standstill for the cause, and a standing count for the Slieverue lad was the deciding factor in the judges awarding the fight to the Kilmacow star. It was very hard luck on young Irish, but those are the vagaries of sport. The home side were out of the blocks, registering their first win of the night.
Emmet ‘Baggie Boy’ Blanchfield (K) v Conor ‘Con Rod’ O’Toole
No shortage of entertainment in this one. The leather was flying, and the action was frantic. The crowd really loved this one, and well they might. I felt that the ‘Con Rod’ got the better of ‘Baggie Boy’ during the all-action first round. He probably had more shots on target.
Blanchfield was more the aggressor in the second half, and his persistence really paid off to give him the round. The crowd really got into this one. There was a lad beside me, whom I was convinced was in the fast lane to a coronary. In the third round ‘Baggie Boy’ worked a lot to the solar plexus, and that certainly weakened the Slieverue lad, causing him to drop his guard a little.
The Kilmacow lad got away a number of good shots, but it was still difficult to separate them in a close finish. The judges unanimously gave the fight to the Kilmacow man, which certainly suited the host club’s support. The match was level. Passions were more than bubbling around the packed hall.
Paul ‘Lucky’ Long (K) v Robert ‘Rashers’ Roche (S)
There was nothing lucky about this bout. The cagy, wiry Long was an exercise in the conservation of energy as he held his position in the middle of the ring forcing ‘Rashers’ to come and tango. Long picked him off with ease, and he really only got himself into bother when he had to move out of his comfort zone to chase the fight.
Long was giving away a bit (?) of weight, and a few inches in reach. ‘Rashers’ was as game as a ferret, but ‘Lucky’ was as cute as a fox. Long won the first round with the superior ring craft, and while Roche, roared on by his frantic mother and all of his aunts, tried gamely, he just couldn’t manage to tag the wily Long often enough. He shaded the second round, but the more focussed Long took the third, and the bout.
Both had put on an entertaining encounter, but Long got the greater value from his work. ‘Rashers’ was consoled by his mum who proudly threw her arms around his neck as he walked disconsolately to his dressing room.
Damien ‘The Omen’ O’Sullivan (K) v Richie ‘Rocky’ Roche (S).
When the result of this one was announced, I could not believe my ears. I had the Slieverue lad in front by a city block, but it was called as a draw by the judges. To be fair to O’Sullivan, he deserved great credit to get into the ring as he was conceding over 30 kg in weight.
His shots were not causing too much discomfort for the heavier, stocky Roche, but on the other hand, every time Roche connected, he was hurting. I felt that there had been a total mismatch in this bout. Anyway, credit a hundredfold to the brave O’Sullivan, but for me, I feel that the judges got this one wrong. O’Sullivan was flattered by that result.
Kevin ‘Dangan Gestroyer’ McNamara (K) v Sean ‘Wrecking Ball’ Roche (S)
Both fighters showed a good knowledge of the boxing craft, as they delivered plenty of admirable and orthodox shots. There was very little of the customary round-the-house swings. Both men stood erect and shot their best.
‘Wrecking Ball’ hit the younger ‘Destroyer’ with some powerful straight lefts, some hitting the target to telling effect. McNamara, as gamey as a cock pheasant, took the best on offer and returned them with interest. If the previous fight ended with the judges unable to split the fighters, I felt that this terrific battle was more a draw match.
In my book Mc Namara won the first round, and Roche won the second round with the third even enough. Credit to both who knew what they were doing, and knew what was needed. In the end though, the judges decision (like all hurling referees) was final, and the ‘Wrecking Ball’ got the unanimous not.
Ryan ‘Pocket Rocket’ McKenna (K) V Paul ‘Spud the Gun’ Rockett (S)
This was the fight of the night. There was history in this face-off between two of the most courageous fighters that got into the ring on Saturday. In the blue corner we had Paul Rockett, grandson of Kilkenny senior All-Ireland medal winners, Dick Rockett and Paul Fitzgerald. In the red corner stood as gutsy a practitioner in whatever sport you care to mention, Ryan McKenna, grandnephew of the iconic All-Ireland medal winner, the imperious Sean Clohassey.
In fact, all grand relatives would have played together at some stage in their hurling careers. Rockett had a slight edge in reach, and a slight pull in the weights. Over the three toughest rounds of the night, Rockett’s superior power proved decisive. He let off a few stiffeners into McKenna’s head, which did some damage, but it didn’t, for a second, prevent the courageous Kilmacow lad from coming forward.
In truth, it was difficult to separate them over the three rounds, but I would not disagree with the judges decision in finding Rockett the winner. I would certainly disagree with their decision to make it a unanimous decision. But I give the height of admiration and praise to both for a manly, hard, respectable and passionate display that had the crowd roaring for more.
Luke ‘Cool Hand’ Harney (K) v Darren French (S)
This was the most eagerly awaited bout of the evening. It didn’t disappoint, certainly if you were a Kilmacow supporter. The ‘imported’ French relly didn’t know what hit him. He was on the seat of his pants withing 30 seconds after a ferocious barrage of Harney attacks.
He was fired up, of that there can be no doubt. Even the referee was forced to call him to order on one occasion. After the early flurry, Harney stalked his opponent, with his south-paw style, his ripping left hooks, followed by multiples of straighr rights.
French tried as hard as he was allowed, but in ‘Cool Hand’ he bought a tartar that seemed to come out of hell looking for trouble. The crowd loved every second of the action, and as the bout neared a welcome conclusion - for French - the chants of the winner’s name was deafening.
Harney won? Of course! Once the bell went, there was never going to be any other outcome.
Shane ‘Larry the Lep’ Power (K) v Ross ‘Boss’ Kelly (S)
Luke Harney’s win had delivered the levelling point to the home side in the overall tournament. Ross Kelly faced Shane Power in the knowledge that a win was needed to afford Slieverue’s last fighter the chance of winning the tournament. This was another great contest in which both fighters gave their every ounce.
‘The Boss’ had the better of things in the first round, but Power came back strongly to level in the second. Both fighters went toe to toe in a frantic third round. Prejudices would have favoured both parties, but in the final analysis, the nod went to the Slieverue man on a split decision.
A case could be made for both fighters, but the judges, in their wisdom, shaded it in the Slieverue man’s direction.
Ian ‘The Butcher’ Aherne (K) v Gavin ‘Airmount Ali’ Quilty
This was a fight with all sorts of by-products. Could the younger Aherne square the series for his clubmen? Could the more mature hurling referee hold on to the advantage created by Ross Kelly. All would be revealed in quicker time than anticipated.
Aherne, in riled-up form went after the ‘Airmount Ali’ with a ferocity that was frightening. He unleashed a few graveyard swings, one of which caught the unfortunate Gavin on the temple. It was lights out from then until the referee called a halt after 57 seconds. The event ended all square, and young Aherne was King of Kilmacow for one night at least.
The entire event was hugely entertaining. One was taken with some of the comments abounding. One heard ‘Get the Priest’, while another that tickled ‘get the guards’ or ‘I wouldn’t fancy giving him mouth to mouth’.
The chairman of the Slieverue club was thrilled with the event, and was loud in his appreciation of all the people who bought tickets and especially the many sponsors who were generous to a fault.
“Without them, we would not be able to stage something like this,” he said. “The entire night was very professionally organised, and from the second I walked into this fantastic Community Centre I could feel the wow factor. The Raging Bull people (organisers) did a fantastic job, and I thank them. I am not forgetting all the effort made by the boxers from the club. They deserve our appreciation and thanks.”
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