Pat Ryan thinking outside the box

The Bulgarian town of Samokov has been renowned for its iron-forging skills since the Middle Ages and when our elite boxers return from the European Elite Championships being held there this week the expectation is that they will do so having fashioned some precious metal of their own.

Pat Ryan thinking outside the box

It is what they do.

We have long become accustomed to their excellence, but the eye-catching nature of Irish boxing’s shop window has rarely been matched by the jumbled fare hidden further inside the store. For the general public walking by, of course, that has never been an issue.

For some inside the ropes, however, the time to sort out the shop floor is now.

“I think the appetite (for change) is there now more so than ever,” says Pat Ryan.

“People sometimes end up getting happy in their positions. You can sit back and look at the successes at World and European Championships and Olympic Games and think it is great.

“The High Performance takes care of international boxing. It was a fantastic development and has to be applauded… that said, there is too much talk about high performance. We should be looking at what is happening down in Laois, Kerry or Donegal.

“The road from Donegal to Dublin is three hours and you could be coming down with a boy of 12 to weigh in between 8-9am. He might not be boxing until 7pm. So there is a whole area there we have to look at. There is not enough being done for clubs.”

In October, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) will choose a new president and Ryan is one of three men — Connacht’s Joe Hennigan and former post holder Dominic O’Rourke are the other two — hoping to succeed Tommy Murphy at the apex of the pyramid.

Boxing has coursed through Ryan’s body like blood through his veins since he walked into the Portlaoise Boxing Club back in 1964 as a whipper-snapper and he has helped breath life back into his beloved sport in all manner of ways since.

He has held every role with his hometown club and was at the forefront in securing a new 4,000 sq ft state-of-the-art facility and Centre of Excellence in the Laois town in 2013. For decades, Portlaoise Boxing Club needed to be nomadic to survive. Those days are over.

Ryan’s own travels have been far and wide. A member of the IABA Boxing Council this last decade, he has designed national coaching courses and helped secure 104 national titles for his club. Michael O’Reilly, who won gold at the European Games in Baku, is among those to have emerged from under his wing.

He spent 13 years assisting the High Performance unit, nearly six years of them on the road with Katie and Pete Taylor, and all those memories have been afforded visual expression on the walls of the gym in Portlaoise which are festooned with hundreds of photographs of the great days of yore.

It is a collage that proves Ryan’s fondness for the past and for those who shaped the present, but his eyes are on the future for now and a manifesto he has circulated to the boxing community in the run-up to October’s vote speaks clearly for his insistence that change is needed.

Among the many issues he identifies in the IABA are a lack of leadership, an absence of transparency and poor governance and an overall governing structure that, in terms of its Central Council, is far too large and unwieldy to work at an optimum level for the sport.

New blood is needed, too, he insists.

“I do believe it needs a different structure and reorganisation. We don’t, and we haven’t to date, encouraged former boxers to come in and use their expertise. We need to give them the opportunity to coach coaches, to be referees and judges.”

The opportunities are there, he insists. With amateur boxing branching out to embrace the semi-pro WSB and professional APB brand, there has never been a greater need for a deeper and wider bank of expertise and that brings with it employment opportunities as well.

“That’s three strands that have to be developed further, meaning we need more coaches who have professional qualifications. The coaches are there, coaches who have helped win national and international titles, and they are crying out for assistance.

“Sometimes they are not in a position to take up further education, but we could provide the courses for these young men and women to come forward and equip them to deliver a better coaching service throughout Ireland.”

What is clear from talking to Ryan is his belief that our boxers have been better for the sport than the sport has been for its boxers, and he is adamant that the best way of changing that is through education and a formal link-up with third-level institutions.

“If our boxers are to represent us all over the world they should be more equipped, not just in the ring but as people. We need to embrace that more. There is only a gate that separates Griffith College and the National Stadium and we should be immersed in that college.”

You can tell this is more than lip service. For all his pride in the 104 national titles won during his time with Portlaoise, he speaks just as proudly of the fact that the club has spawned scientists, graphic designers, prison officers and members of An Garda Síochána.

Boys who he coached have become men and their children are now benefiting from his same tutelage. Some of those past pupils have migrated to neighbouring towns such as Mountrath, Portarlington and Mountmellick to help spread boxing’s gospel.

The vision now is for a boxing club in every village and small town, all of them feeding in to larger centres of excellence dotted liberally throughout the country. The mission is to make Ireland the number one boxing country in the world.

Inside and outside the ring.

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