WORLD Champion boxer Bernard Dunne recorded another memorable victory yesterday during a visit to his former school when he secured a much-prized half day for its pupils.
More than 400 students from Collinstown Park Community College in Neilstown cheered on the super bantamweight champion as he fought successfully for an early start to the weekend.
“I reckon you should give them an auld half-day,” smiled Dunne at school principal, Brian Fleming, at the end of a memorable return to his alma mater.
Knowing when he was fighting a losing battle, the headmaster replied to tumultuous applause: “He’s a world champion. I’m not going to argue with that.”
Praising his former pupil, Mr Fleming said the boxing champion had always been a very determined student. “But more importantly he always treated people with respect,” said Mr Fleming.
The college’s sports hall had earlier erupted into deafening chants of “olé, olé” as Dunne entered the room where he once used to attend PE class.
The 29-year-old boxer was cheered loudly as he proudly displayed the WBA belt he won after beating Panama’s Ricardo Cordoba in a memorable title fight at the O2 in Dublin last month.
Introduced to the young audience as “a great ambassador for this area and the country”, Dunne said the warm greeting made him feel like he was back at the O2.
“I get invited to a lot of functions but of all places this is the one I take the most joy out of,” he beamed.
He said he was proud to be from the Neilstown area.
“It’s a fantastic neighbourhood full of great people,” said Dunne.
Teased about his (lack of) proficiency in the Irish language, the boxer explained that he was always late for Irish class because he had an early morning job while going to school.
Among the gifts presented by the school to its most famous past-pupil was a set of Irish-English dictionaries as well as a school tracksuit, a plant, a Liverpool jersey and a hamper of baby goods as he was accompanied by his two-year-old daughter, Caoimhe.
“It’s great to be back here to see so many friends and teachers,” said Dunne as he picked out his former woodwork teacher, Billy Forbes, in the crowd.
“School days are the best days of your life,” he told RTÉ broadcaster Jimmy Magee, who interviewed the boxer about his memories of the school and his recent fight.
The sports presenter encouraged the school’s students to be inspired by Dunne’s boyhood ambition of becoming a world boxing champion. “Have your dreams,” he said.
Dunne also faced questions from students who mischievously asked him had he ever been involved in a fight at school. “I never was,” he laughed.
Loud jeers greeted the question posed by one of the female teachers who wanted to know if he was ever going to put on some weight and “get some real muscles”.
Dunne raised his hands in mock defeat, adding “my real ambition is to put on weight and eat some fattening food”.
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