THE cream of future Irish boxing Olympians could hail from Limerick as a new boxing academy was officially opened by Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar this Monday.
The Southside Boxing Academy, located in a 14,000 square foot corner of the former Fulflex building in Galvone Industrial Estate, already boasts close to 100 members on its books and hopes to become a high performance unit for boxing in Munster.
Opening the academy, Mr Varadkar said it was “a good symbol for the regeneration and rebirth that is going on in Limerick”.
“There was of course the Southill Boxing Club that was here before about nine years ago, and had to close down for various reasons, but what is opening today is bigger and better than what went before,” he said.
“I hope the facility is going to be a real success,” he added.
However, the Fine Gael TD admitted that there were no plans for “special funding” from Government for the academy, which has relied solely on the kindness of the building’s owner, an army of volunteers and a €10,000 grant from the Shane Geoghegan Trust to get off the ground.
A strong funding commitment from Limerick Regeneration remains in place, which former assistant director of that agency Kieran Ryan said he hoped would be honoured.
“Today was a crucial turning point for the academy,” he said. “It couldn’t have gone better. This is just phase one of a long-term plan to develop a high performance boxing unit for Munster,” said Mr Ryan, ex-Limerick Regeneration and now volunteer and committee member of the academy.
Olympic boxers John Joe Nevin and Darren O’Neill, plus popular local southpaw Willie Casey, were also on hand to open the facility along with Mayor of Limerick Cllr Gerry McLoughlin.
Irish boxing team caption Darren O’Neill said the Southside academy was “brilliant”.
“There is plenty of floor space, plenty of bags and good rings as well, so all the basics that you need are here,” said the Olympic boxer. “Space is a massive thing, even if you go to the National Centre in Dublin we don’t have the same space.
“Limerick has a strong boxing tradition with the likes of Willie Casey and Andy Lee and all those, so if they can emulate some of those here it will be great.”
Mayor McLoughlin paid tribute to the “fantastic work” being done in opening the unit, and said he looked “forward to seeing many international boxers coming out of this ring in years to come”.
The academy has been open for some four months and already boasts nearly 100 members of all ages, including nearly 10 girls, inspired by Katie Taylor, explained president Gerry Barry - former head of Southill Boxing Club.
“If you saw the state of this place when we came in first, it was just an unused factory,” he explained. “This was all done by volunteers - we got one grant from the Shane Geoghegan Trust, for the ring. Everything else was sponsored.
“We have a lot more work to do but work has stopped because we need money. But the amount of volunteers we are getting is unreal, amazing. It is a great community effort.”