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Interview with Gerry Balfe Smyth of Donore Boxing Club

(L-R Sean Roche Leinster Champion & Dublin League Champions Christopher McEvoy, Nicky Yo Yo Hatton & Mark McEvoy)

(L-R Sean Roche Leinster Champion & Dublin League Champions Christopher McEvoy, Nicky Yo Yo Hatton & Mark McEvoy)

Donore Boxing Club in Saint Teresa’s Gardens has been home to many talented fighters down the years, and the club needs to muster all that fighting spirit as they battle for inclusion in the ongoing regeneration of the area.

 

Big Joe Egan, who was a sparring partner of Mike Tyson’s for two years, is one of the club’s ex-heavyweight champions, and men like Noel Reid and Noel McEvoy became Irish junior champions while boxing at Donore. Head coach Gerry Balfe Smyth believes it is vital for the area they find a new home.

 

“They are regenerating the area, but as of yet, the sporting groups have not been allocated any new space,” said Gerry, adding that Donore are currently in negotiations with Dublin City Council as to how the club will be facilitated. He hopes that a resolution can be found soon, so “we can be in that area for the next 100 years looking after kids from The Liberties.”

 

The club has been in its current location, two council flats knocked together on Donore Avenue, since 1972. “At the moment, the facilities are so small that we can’t cope with the demand for boxing in the area,” said Gerry, adding that “people are turned away all the time because we don’t have room for them.”

 

Gerry would like to see a new facility built on the ‘Boys Brigade’ pitches which were at the back of Saint Teresa’s flats, land which was recently rezoned for social and recreational use. He hopes that “Dublin City Council will build a proper facility on that land. We have been helping the community and supporting the area for 45 years. Dublin City Council have been good to us, and we’re hoping they want to keep it going.”

 

Like the majority of local sport clubs across the country, Donore are in a constant battle to secure funding. This year the club is sponsored by Donore Credit Union. “It was great to get them involved,” said Gerry, “they have been absolutely fantastic. We got 15 or 20 new tracksuits so when we go to competitions or for a fight in the National Stadium, everyone looks the part.”

 

Looking the part can only come after learning the basics of boxing, and for many of the club’s 45 members that began as early as eight years of age. “For the eight-year old age group, it would be just learning the basic skills in boxing, how to throw a correct left jab, how to correctly throw a straight punch, repetitively getting them to do the same thing every night until they get those basics down because they are the most important parts of boxing,” explained Gerry.

 

As they get older the club members move on to learn more advanced skills, but the coaching staff at Donore are keen to ensure all the training is carried out in an enjoyable, jovial atmosphere, befitting of The Liberties. “There’s a really good community in Saint Theresa’s Gardens, there always has been, and we keep that going with the kids in the area by keeping the club open for them”, said Gerry, who knows how much of a positive influence boxing can have on children from disadvantaged areas.

 

“It teaches them discipline, they get involved with similar kids from similar backgrounds, and it gives them a sense of community as well,” he said, adding that “as well as discipline, it gives them the strength of character to make the correct decisions no matter how old they are, and know the difference between right or wrong. It builds young men and women to become respectful members of the community.”

 

With training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, along with visits to other clubs for sparring sessions on Thursdays and Sundays, it’s also a great way to keep the kids active and healthy, especially when they grow to really enjoy the training sessions.

 

Gerry explained how “they start getting into competitions and sparring, so they want to get better, they are competitive, they want to win their fights, and when they start tasting victory and how to win a fight they want more, so they train harder to get better.”  His advice to any young person looking to get involved in boxing is to “show up on time and listen to your coaches, but also to enjoy it, you have to have fun.”

 

The club is currently hard in training for the County Dublin Boxing Championships, which take place at the end of March. Six Donore boxers will compete at the championships. Gerry also noted that the club currently have two really bright prospects in girls boxing, Brooke Roche and Charlie McEvoy, coming through the system, alongside all the talent competing at events and in the gym.

 

Those participating will be hoping to win their fights in honour of the late club President, Robert McEvoy, who sadly passed away in January of this year. Gerry fondly recalled the “brilliant” Robert and just how much of an influence he had on not only the club, but also the community. “Robert was with the club since its inception in 1972 and was always there for the kids in the area,” he said. “He was a Liberties man, and always, no matter how tough times were back in the 80s and 90s, Robert would make sure the club was open for the kids, and that they had a positive outlook in the community.”

 

“He never took any of the kids for granted, he would always listen to them and make sure they were training properly and showing up for competitions,” said Gerry, adding that “Robert was an integral part of the club, and his influence lives on through the coaches here now.”

 

The coaches at Donore will be keen to ensure that the successful era enjoyed under Robert’s presidency will be continued into the future. And hopeful that new facilities can be obtained, to keep the production line of champion boxers from the Liberties rolling.

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