Boxing

Phoenix from the flames: Lurgan boxing club bounces back with new club and first Irish title

Phoenix Boxing Club's previous home was detroyed by arsonists last year

FOURTEEN months ago only charred ring ropes, old posters curled at the edges and the unmistakeable odour of burnt leather occupied the place where Phoenix Boxing Club once stood.

The fire service were called shortly after 5.40am on Thursday, February 25 2016. Within the hour Maurice Haughian and Marty Toland, stalwarts of the Lurgan club, had made their way down to see what was left of the pre-fabricated building they called home.

It became clear early on that the blaze had been started intentionally, with CCTV footage providing confirmation, if not consolation.

Plans to enter several young boxers in championships around the country had to be put on hold temporarily, before the boxing community stepped forward to throw its arms around them.

After the initial shock had dissipated, the rebuilding process began. They would, as the name suggests, rise like a Phoenix from the flames, better than ever.

In Dublin last weekend, Diarmuid Toland became the first Irish champion since the club first opened its doors in 2000, landing the 46kg youth title.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

After over a year of travelling here, there and everywhere for training and spars, they are finally back to where they belong – at a brand new club on the grounds of St Peter’s GAA club in Lurgan.

The official reopening is set to take place next week, with new chapters of a back-from-the-brink story waiting to be written inside the four walls.

“It’s an exciting time for the club,” Marty Toland.

“This time last year we were all over the place really. Gary McConville, who owns Millennium Gym in Lurgan, was brilliant. He let us use it as our base, we trained there a couple of nights a week, but we had no boxing ring there.

“I have to say the whole boxing community was brilliant, they really were. We were just using various clubs in and around Belfast – every club was so good, there’s far too many to mention, but they were brilliant.

“They let us use their facilities, we came up for spars, every one of them was amazing. They all said ‘our doors are open to you, come up and train away’.

“Thankfully we got the funding for the rebuild but we still had no equipment, everything was destroyed in the fire. But again, with the help of other clubs, we got there.”

Toland was also keen to pay tribute to St Peter’s GAA club, adding: “Without them, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. They gave us somewhere to box out of when we had nothing five years ago.

“The committee there, and especially Jimmy Magee, have worked tirelessly to secure this new club and we will be forever grateful for that.”

It has been a particularly special couple of weeks for the Toland family after Marty watched son Diarmuid come up trumps at the National Stadium.

The 16-year-old orthodox has been knocking on the door of an Irish title in recent years, but finally made the breakthrough on April 8.

“Diarmuid’s had a very good record this year and I knew he wouldn’t be far off the mark when it came to the All-Irelands,” continued Toland.

“He’s been boxing since he was eight, and I’ve seen the work he’s put in. Training has never been a problem to him, and the sacrifices he makes are second to none.

“He just trains solidly and he’s got what he deserves out of it. He’s nearly crossed the line a few times but he fought well and it went his way.

“It’s a nice way for us to mark the opening of the new club. It’s been a long road but we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

LEFT HOOKS

The Ulster High Performance team gets ready to head to Germany for a week-long training camp

A six-man team from the Ulster High Performance unit are in Germany for a week-long training camp.

Edgar Vuskans (Glengormley), Zach Mallon (Old School), Anthony Johnston (Gleann), Paul McCullagh jnr (St John Bosco), Kane Tucker (Holy Trinity) and Dominic Bradley (Errigal) headed to Stuttgart on Sunday.

They are joined by coaches John Conlan, Damien Kennedy and Stephen Friel, as well as R&J Mark Owens.

The team returns this Sunday, and a series of test matches will take place towards the end of the week.

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THE city of Detroit is famed in boxing circles, having produced fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson and Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns, as well as legendary trainers Emmanuel Steward and Eddie Futch.

And, as part of a developing cross-community relationship between the two renowned fight cities, Belfast will welcome a team from ‘Motor City’ on May 23, with a big night of boxing taking place at the Devenish Complex on Saturday, May 27.

Team Detroit will also train at various gyms across Belfast during their star, and will have a private reception and tour of City Hall with the Lord Mayor.

Among those likely to be involved is former Irish Elite finalist Conor Wallace, from Newry.

In its inaugural year, an Irish team travelled to Detroit last April, taking in the sights and sounds of a city that has boxing at its very core, touring the gyms that bred so many champions.

The finale was a fight night at Bert’s Warehouse in the city’s Eastern Market area.

The Bridges Beyond Boxing mission statement reads: “We are committed to offering our youth a life-changing experience that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to have, all through their shared love of boxing.

“The mission of our initiative is to provide young athletes from both sides of the Atlantic an opportunity to not only participate in international competition, but also to take part in some of the cultural and social experiences with their peers from other parts of the world. For many young athletes from either country, amateur boxing offers far more than just an opportunity for sport and fitness.”

To support the venture, visit www.gofundme.com/team-detroit-to-belfast

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A STRONG County Antrim select are Paris-bound to take on some of the top talent in Europe at the prestigious Montana Belts multi-nation competition.

Antrim are sending a young but strong-looking team this year, with Clonard’s Conor Quinn at bantamweight, St George’s lightweight James McGivern, Gerard Matthews (St Paul’s) at 64kg, Holy Family’s 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games gold medallist Aidan Walsh at welter, heavy-hitting Holy Trinity middleweight Caoimhin Hynes and Damian Sullivan of Emerald at 91kg+.

Holy Trinity’s Mickey Hawkins will coach the team. The Montana Belts competition begins tomorrow and ends on Sunday.

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THE National Boy 1, 2 and 3 Championships begin at the National Stadium in Dublin this morning.

Des McAleavey and Owen Maughan get proceedings underway at 10am.

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