LEESIDE boxing legend Michael Roche, an Olympian and five-time Irish senior champion, was honoured recently for his outstanding contribution to his chosen sport at a Cork Boxing Breakfast.
The attendance at Clancy’s Restaurant included his family, friends, former internationals, club colleagues and well-known members of the Cork boxing fraternity.
The President of the Cork County Boxing Board (CCBB), Michael O’Brien, chaired proceedings and welcomed all.
“Today the world of Cork boxing is paying tribute to a true champion, said O’Brien.
“Michael Roche has left Cork a magnificent legacy of achievement. He is a product of the famed Sunnyside club and we are privileged to have an opportunity today to reflect on his remarkable and illustrious career.”
Representing the City, Cllr. Mick Nugent, the deputy Lord Mayor , said: “I’m delighted to be associated with this special tribute to a fellow Northsider.
“Michael is a great ambassador for boxing and for sport. He was an international who had style and class and he’s a fantastic role model.”
Tim O’Sullivan, President of the Cork Ex Boxers Association (CEBA), said Roche was a stand out example to every young athlete on Leeside. “He was dedicated and committed. He set his targets and achieved his goals,” stressed the CCBB chief.
The great Gordon Joyce hailed the multiple Irish senior champion as a man inspired by tunnel vision, adding that he was a boxer who was always destined to go to the top.
World middleweight contender Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan revealed that Roche was one of his heroes who had always encouraged him to keep going.
Dan O’Connell, one of the great administrators of Irish boxing, said Roche’s success will always be reflected on with warmth and pride.
Prior to his participation at the Sydney Olympics, Roche was a seasoned international and had, as a light middleweight, won four Irish senior titles. He claimed his fifth and final senior belt a year after the Olympics.
The Sunnyside BC man won five in a row at 71kg in 1997/98/99/2000 and 2001. On the night he won his last belt, another Irish boxing legend, Ken Egan, claimed his first senior title at middleweight.
Roche qualified for Sydney through the Chemistry Cup in Germany and has the distinction of being the only Irish boxer at the 27th Olympiad.
He was the third boxer to represent the Sunnyside club at four separate Olympics. Kieran Joyce lined out at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, Paul Buttimer at Barcelona 1992 and Roche at the 2000 Games.
Roche was accompanied on his journey down under by Willie O’Leary and four members of CEBA at the turn of the century. This group subsequently became known as the “Sydney gang.”
Reflecting on his experience at the Olympics, which he described as unforgettable,Roche said he believes he probably wouldn’t have been in Sydney at all only for his employer Pfizer, who had no hesitation giving him the time off work he needed to pursue his Olympic dream.
Meanwhile, the President of the Loughmahon BC, Conal Thomas, who sponsored the recent Boxing Breakfast, made a presentation of a silver salver to the Sydney Olympian to mark his outstanding contribution.
Thomas said: “Michael Roche is a true legend of Leeside sport. He achieved much from a glittering career. He set standards and led by example and above all gave hope to every young Cork boxer for generations to come.”
Roche was visibly moved at the Boxing Breakfast and said he wished to thank his wife Lorraine who, he said, had made great sacrifices as he pursued his demanding career.
With his son Shane proudly smiling, Roche, in a moment of poignant reflection amid a standing ovation, said he was sure that the spirit of his late parents, who were in Sydney to support their son at the 2000 Olympics, was present on a day when Cork boxing rolled out the red caret for its modest hero.
Ireland’s only boxer at the 2000 Olympics also wished the 2016 squad the very best of luck in Rio.
“We have a strong squad. They are very experienced at winning medals at the top level and I would be confident that they will once again do the nation proud,” said the five-time Irish Elite champion.