WHEN Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy officially opened St John Bosco last Thursday, it marked a bright new beginning for one of Belfast’s oldest clubs – and put an end to years of fighting for what they deserved.
The famous west Belfast club, which first affiliated with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association in 1941, had been waiting on a refurbishment to their Conway Mill home since 2012 when then-Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced a £3.2million funding package to improve local boxing facilities.
The Bosco was placed at the top of the list due to its outdated facilities, yet time passed and nothing happened, with boxers and coaches left to make the best of a bad lot.
However, at the tail end of 2021 work finally got under way, with the keys handed over to the club 11 months ago before the doors were open for business earlier this year once equipment – including rings and punchbags – had been sourced.
Last week’s official ribbon-cutting ceremony was a special moment for coach Gerard McCafferty, who has been at the coalface of the club’s drive for improved facilities across the last decade and more.
And he admitted there were times when he wondered if the day would ever arrive.
“I reckon I went to at least about 50 meetings in 10 years, between Sport NI, solicitors... it was just constant,” said McCafferty, whose father Sean represented Ireland at the 1964 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
“Then, when you thought you were getting it over the line, you found yourself back to square one. It was a nightmare, with a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. There was times I just felt like giving it up, the other coaches were in the same boat.
“You were coming down and it was freezing, no heat, water everywhere when the rain started coming through the roof, no toilets… it’s hard when you’re coming into that every night. It seemed to be that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
“In fairness, though, I have to give credit to the likes of the two councillors, Paul Maskey and Jim McVeigh, for pushing me and keeping me going, people who were in the club, even my own family, who told us not to give up, that we’d get there in the end.
“And finally we have.”
Indeed, in terms of numbers, the Bosco saw its ranks swell to previously unseen levels when the closure of the Gleann club led to Dee Walsh reuniting with his former coach.
McCafferty trained Walsh for the final six fights of his professional career and, while those first steps in coaching took him elsewhere, it is the Bosco who are now availing of his skills as they look to the future.
“I love Dee,” added McCafferty.
“After he rang me to see if there was any chance of taking the squad down, our numbers jumped from 20, 30 boxers to over 100 overnight, which presents its own difficulties obviously.
“Of the last eight weekends, probably six of them me and Dee have been down in Dublin Friday, Saturday and Sundays, then you have the Ulsters.
“We had a great Ulsters a few weeks ago when we entered six and had five golds, with one very narrowly beaten. The main thing I took from it was that a lot of our kids were against boxers who had beaten them previously, and they overturned that result, which shows they’re definitely improving.
“We’re blessed to have really good coaches across the board in Dee, Brian Holmes, Laura Clarke, Sean O’Dyer, Brian Maguire, Sean McCafferty, Kristina McCafferty, Barry McCafferty and PJ McCafferty – if anythijng we could maybe do with one or two more to give us a hand, just because of the sheer numbers we have now.
“But it’s a good problem to have, because there’s some serious talent coming through. After all these years, and some of the difficulties we’ve had to overcome in that time, this is where we always wanted to be.”
COMMONWEALTH FUTURE DOUBT FEAR FOR BOXERS
SOME of Ireland’s top boxers have learned tricks of the international trade at the Commonwealth Games through the decades, but its future now looks in grave danger after the Gold Coast withdrew its bid to host the next Games in 2026.
The likes of Barry McGuigan, Hugh Russell, Davy Larmour, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes have all brought home medals in the past, while the most recent Games in Birmingham saw Dylan Eagleson, Jude Gallagher, Aidan Walsh, Michaela Walsh and Amy Broadhurst all claim gold, alongside silver for Carly McNaul and bronze for Eireann Nugent – Team NI’s most successful boxing performance.
However, the Commonwealth Games Federation had struggled to find a host for the 2026 Games before Victoria volunteered. Then, a month after the state's withdrawal, the only contender for the 2030 Games - the Canadian province of Alberta - also dropped its hosting plans.
The Gold Coast had offered to step in following Victoria’s withdrawal, despite having hosted the 2018 Games, but has now ruled itself out of the running, ending any hope of the event taking place in Australia.
There are no other firm bids to host either the 2026 or 2030 Game, with governments claiming the cost of the event is skyrocketing.
Organisers had originally estimated the Victoria Games - hosted across cities including Geelong, Bendigo, and Ballarat - would cost $2.6bn Australian dollars, but the government said it had ballooned to more than $6bn.
As a result, organisers have said they may have to postpone or cancel the next instalment of the Commonwealths.