From brickwork to glovework for Irish hopeful Monaghan

All in all, it hasn’t been a bad weekend for boxing Stateside.

World title bouts returned to Brooklyn for the first time in 81 years on Saturday night and attracted more than 10,000 fight fans to the new home of the remodelled Nets basketball team.

The Nets will themselves bring back a major professional team sport to New York’s most populous borough for the first time in a half-century when the Knicks cross over the East River on November 1.

But before all that, there was the much-publicised showcase for whatever’s left of the Sweet Science and, this being boxing, the much-hyped main event on Saturday was fought against a troublesome backdrop with Mexico’s Erik Morales having failed a drug test on Thursday night. A technicality over the ‘B’ sample prevented a postponement.

Thankfully, his opponent Danny Garcia — who had to be convinced on Saturday morning to go ahead with the $1m fight — did us all a favour by knocking him out in the fourth round with the same left hook that sent Amir Khan sprawling in July. The most heartening story was that of Puerto Rican featherweight Orlando Cruz who fought on Friday in Orlando just a couple of weeks after coming out as gay, the first boxer ever to do so. Appropriately, he secured a unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos on an emotional evening.

“That was my moment, my opportunity, my event,” Cruz said afterwards. “I was very happy that (the fans) respect me. That’s what I want — them to see me as a boxer, as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word.”

Tonight in Manhattan, there will be another boxer attempting to forge his own identity, undefeated light-heavyweight Seanie Monaghan, the cult hero of the Irish-American population of Long Island.

Monaghan recently signed full-time with Lou DiBella and gave up his bricklaying job to pursue his professional dream.

The Roseland Ballroom will host the 15-0 boxer’s fight against Pittsburgh’s Rayco Saunders (22-17-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round clash as he looks to defend his WBC Continental Americas title.

It will be, he told Monday’s press conference, a chance to convince people once more that he has more going for him than purely being Irish.

“I worked very hard for this fight,” he said. “Whenever I step into the ring, I’m fighting my opponent but I’m also fighting stereotypes that I’m just a brawler. I can always pull out that card too, but I’m going to win this fight by boxing.”

“Seanie is a true professional,” said his charismatic trainer, Joe Higgins. “He never complains, he does everything we ask him to do. He’s not just the prototypical Irish brawler either. He’s boxing now and improving his skills.

“He’s put the bricklaying job on the side and is a full-time professional boxer now. He made the weight pretty easy this time. I think we’re going to have a stoppage, but we’re not going to rush it.

“I’m looking for Seanie to box his way to victory, and if the knockout comes, so be it. But I’m confident Seanie will end the matter inside the distance. I think we’re going to have a lot of Irish in the room.”

I can’t finish without getting even more parochial. My mother’s text arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday: “Blackrock won U21 county final, big crowd over in club... will Obama win?”

Congratulations to the players and all the Rockies who have developed the underage section into a real force, the minors and U16s also winning their county finals this year. Really incredible.

Which all leads on to the football side of the parish. St Michael’s have their Cork Premier Intermediate football championship final on Sunday, taking on St Vincent’s.

When I was growing up, there was a sort of Cold War between the Rockies and the Dazzlers. Then in 1998, the footballers (many of whom were hurlers too) made the breakthrough and joined the hurling team in the senior ranks. Their era at the top level of Cork club football didn’t last long enough but it did allow them to think big and long-term.

Now they have a chance to return, this time buoyed by a greater structure and even more support in the Blackrock area. A lovely old picture from the newspaper archives emerged on the club’s Twitter feed in the past week. I’m always prone to ascribing too much symbolism to one snapshot or memory. This one is in real danger of summing up the unique power of the GAA. In it, the 1998 captain and club stalwart Damien O’Callaghan has the cup in his left hand, smiling almost as widely as the young fella in front of him — none other than 12-year-old Richard Dineen, the man who will lead the Dazzlers out on Sunday.

* john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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