Holy trinity

Mickey Hawkins reflects on his coaching career, from founding the Holy Trinity club to leading the high performance team

EXPERIENCE is everything in boxing.

This is what Mickey Hawkins has learned over more than 50 years in the sport.

1

Mickey Hawkins spoke to the Irish Sun about his coaching career

He boxed alongside young Liam Neeson as a schoolboy, founded a club in Belfast during The Troubles, coached countless champions and led Ireland to two Olympics.

His experience in Seoul ’88 proves it.

There was still 15 years to go on a high performance program and Ireland returned from South Korea empty-handed.

Speaking to News Ireland’s boxing podcast The Rocky Road, Hawkins recalled, “I was in charge of the team. As far as putting the planning in place for ’88, it was like the dark ages.

“It was a good team, okay. But in preparation, we went to Kerry for six weeks.

“Where was the preparation, where was the sparring?” If you look back we were in a hotel, and in a small part of the hotel we got a call and we did.

PARIS OFFERS: FREE PARIS AND BEST NEW CUSTOMER OFFERS

“Myself, Nicholas Cruz and Albie Murphy were the coaches.

“High performance has always been the goal. A full-time trainer, full-time boxers have always been the goal.

“You had Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough and they started out as the first paid boxers (after 1992), but it was just small steps.

“The government didn’t have a high performance, but that was still the goal, and it was a gradual step forward to get it.

“We ended up having it, but it took a while. “

TEAM

McCullough and Carruth each won one in Seoul, as did Joe Lawlor, Paul Fitzgerald and Kieran Joyce. John Lowey has won twice but was eliminated in the last 16.

Walsh had stopped Korea’s Kyung-sup Song during the pre-Olympic tournament but was stopped in the rematch with one eye cut.

It was devastating for him, with the Wexford man later using his painful experience to inspire future generations when he led the high performance team at the Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Hawkins said: “They were a strong team, there was no doubt. We had great craic when we were there.

“We went out and the boys did their best and what do you say? They did their best.

“Some have been a bit lucky. Joyce went out 3-2 against the Finn and came very close, but damn it would break your heart not to get a medal there and make the breakthrough.

“It’s always a disappointment to leave without medals. But again, this is not an apology, but we are part time. Everyone was boxers were part time.

“OK, we did our best, they practiced as often as we could get them together, but it was amateur.

“Amateur was the right word. It was very difficult to get medals. Billy was a nutcase and we all expected him to do quite well. It was very disappointing.

Four years later, Carruth beat Walsh in a box-off to be part of the Barcelona squad – where he took the gold and McCullough the silver.

Both double Olympians, it was their time to shine.

Hawkins was not involved in the Games this time but had been present for qualifying.

QUALIFICATIONS

He recalled: “The Central Council makes a selection. It wasn’t like “You are the national coach” and that’s it, at every Games there was a selection process and that’s it.

“They wanted to bring Nicholas and there was certainly no one to complain about Austin Carruth, Michael’s father.

“As soon as I heard that Michael and Wayne were in the semi-finals, I was straight on the phone, ‘Get me a ticket over there.’ I was in Barcelona the next morning and it was great.

“It’s all a matter of experience. In 88 it was a very young team. You think of Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth, they were still very, very young in ’88 and they had just come into ’92 and they had a great year there.

“In 1996, I had Damaen Kelly and Brian Magee from the club among the four selected boxers.

“I remember the 1992 final well. Wayne was first and we thought he was going to win the gold, but unfortunately he lost to Joel Casamayor.

“And Michael was next with Hernandez. It was class, I’ll never forget it, watching the scores go up after each round.

“If you think, Michael Carruth in the qualifying part of these Games, when we were in Italy, he was absent. And then one of the boxers got injured or whatever and Michael got a reprieve and opposed a Frenchman.

“Michael was out of the Games, then we had this little reprieve and he qualified. It’s amazing to keep beating the Cuban in the final.

ATLANTA

In 1996 in Atlanta, Hawkins again led the team – Kelly and Magee, two boxers from Holy Trinity, in the team alongside Francie Barrett and Cathal O’Grady.

Once again all four were newbies and once again Ireland came home with nothing.

Kelly and Magee won two fights each, Barrett won his first match but lost his second outing, and O’Grady was knocked out in his first fight.

The Cubans, still flayed by Carruth’s victory over their man in 1992, did not allow Cruz to travel with Ireland.

Hawkins was deprived of more experience and recalled, “If you look today and see high performance, how it works and how many people are involved in each tournament that goes away. . . I was the doctor, I was the physiotherapist, I was the assistant – I had pretty much everything to do. No excuse anyway.

“You go out and you do the job and you do your best and that’s it.
“Francie obtained the best score at the Olympic Games on a computer (32-7). I never checked it out but I know it was the highest score – because Francie never let me forget it!

“I also had Gus Farrell there. Gus was from Galway and he was more than helpful – we had a great time there.

“Francie had a great run, then he ran into a very talented boxer in his second competition and got out.

“Cathal was unlucky. A punch can do some damage and there you go. He was doing great and the New Zealanders always come up with a big guy. He was cheating and Cathal just got caught.

“We had Brian and Damaen there – one club has two reps there in the Olympic team. It’s pretty high, we’re fine, we get two wins apiece and all you need was a tiny little one. little friction from the green.

“But they came out on very close decisions. I don’t think I resurfaced for two days. I don’t think I really got out of bed for two days after that. It’s so hard to take. But that’s the game.

SOUVENIRS

These Olympics may not have been remembered for the medals won, but Hawkins’ fighters have a record of wins in both tournaments – 12 wins and 11 losses.

They are also remembered for the Opening Ceremonies in 1988 and 1996, with teenagers McCullough and Barrett carrying Irish flags in the arena.
It’s a mark of how boxing can break down barriers, with McCullough hailing from the loyalist Shankill Road area and Barrett the first Irish traveler to represent the country at the Olympics.

HOLY TRINITY

Hawkins has always known that sport has the power to bring people together, having founded the Holy Trinity Club in Belfast in the early 1970s.

He had boxed for the Holy Family of Gerry Storey but started again after the family moved out.

He added, “I’ve probably had around 120 fights and when I look at some of the guys who beat me, some beat me three or four times. And Gerry Hannah once said, “If I beat you again, I’ll take you home and put you on top of the TV.”

“When I started, we lived on Shore Road, which is a pretty mixed neighborhood. We moved and then it was a bit difficult to go to the club. It was also difficult times at that time.

“It was in the late 60s before it got really out of hand. Getting through the 70s was really difficult. When we started our own club in 1971 it was a very difficult time in Belfast. The Troubles were on and things were very dangerous. It was difficult times. My mom always wanted me to get involved with the youth in our area at Turf Lodge.

“She was so over me that I had to come down and see this new club that they were trying to start at Turf Lodge so that was really it, she was the main one that pushed me to get involved in something other than just going to work, just to keep me well really.

“Unemployment was massive. It was just a bad time when we first started and we had some help from the elderly on the estate.

“I have to name a few names like Danny McDonnell, John Joe Brennan and Tommy McManus, great old people in the area, and they made a boxing ring and gave us a real helping hand. They were really helpful. We formed a great community project and everyone wanted to get involved. It is a popular sport. Every domain, every parish has a club.

“For example, where we come from at Turf Lodge, there are 18 boxing clubs within a 20 minute radius.

“Protestant and Catholic clubs have always worked together. They had to work together because there is no survival if they don’t.

“We always went to tournaments. And there were times during The Troubles where there were boxing shows in a Catholic area and then the same team would go to a Protestant area, so that was great.

“There’s always been that relationship we’ve had, and it really helped throughout The Troubles.

“People could still have their views and their own thoughts on one side and the other, but we could still work together.

“And you have to – we’ve always done that in boxing. It certainly helped the whole situation. We have had a community relationship with the Monkstown Boxing Club for the past 20 years, which is a very sincere effort that we are making. We work with all the clubs – we all work together. It’s just normal now.