Ex Irish Olympian and WBO World middleweight champion Andy Lee believes the St Francis boxing club will turn out more national and potentially even world champions following an investment by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government through Limerick City and County Council that will double the size of the club.
Lee was back at his former Alma Mater today to see the premises adjacent to the club that will facilitate its much needed expansion.
The property was purchased under the local authority’s ambitious Regeneration programme and, according to Lee, the investment will help put young people involved in sport on the right path.
“I know from personal experience and I see it all the time, whether it’s here in St. Francis, in Repton in the UK where I first stepped into a ring, in New York, where I’ve trained, or wherever – involvement in sport changes lives, puts people on a path in life. It teaches you discipline, respect and so much more, said Lee, Ireland’s only boxer at the 2004 Olympics and a European Elite bronze medallist.
“That’s why this investment here today is so important. You have to invest in young people, give them a purpose. You get a life-long return from it. The St. Francis Club has turned out and still is turning out national champions, added the Limerick southpaw, one of the first members of the internationally acclaimed IABA High Performance Units.
“That will only increase now with this expansion as double the numbers will be able to train here. Who knows, maybe we already have an up and coming world champion in our midst in the club and that’s something we all dream about.”
Today’s launch was attended by Pat Ryan, President of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), Anna Moore, Treasurer with the club, Marion Moore, club Secretary, and head coach Ken Moore, City and County Council officals, Cllr. Frank Daly, club members and national and local media.
Originally founded in Denmark Street in the Treaty City in 1928 before moving to its present location on Francis Street, the St Francis BC is Ireland’s longest running IABA affiliated club.
Lee won three Elite titles boxing out of the club and St Francis light-fly Jimmy Moore was the last Irishman to beat three-time Irish Olympian Paddy Barnes in the 2006 National Elite final at Dublin’s National Stadium.
Chief Seconds Ken Moore, hailing what he described as the enormous contribution of Cllr. Frank Daly, said: “We have the keys, We have the area. We have the unit. We’re only starting out and we look forward to seeing you all here in twelve months when the work is completed and we look forward to bringing national teams here to promote our sport.”
Speaking at the event, Limerick Regeneration Office Programme Manager Carmel Kirby said Lee’s presence at today’s launch and association with this club will be inspirational to so many young sportsmen. “Limerick has a fantastic sporting history and while we think of rugby, GAA and soccer mostly, Andy and, indeed, Willie Casey, have put boxing right up there with the other codes. He’s an inspirational figure to so many and it’s typical of him to agree to come here for this important day. He was and still is a great champion and one thing that never changes with him is his humility.”
Commentating on the investment, she added: “We are delighted to put this investment into St. Francis Boxing Club which helps us deliver our objectives under the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan. Not least because of Andy, the club is in the sporting folklore of Limerick and also nationally given that it’s the oldest IABA affiliated club in the country. This investment guarantees a bright future for it as well as for the young people attending the club and we are looking forward to watching these children grow and develop over the years.”
Pat Ryan commended the local authority and all involved in the club for their commitment.
The IABA President said: “This is a great day for St. Francis’ Club and all associated with it. There has been Trojan work done here over the years to keep boxing alive and, indeed, flourishing. It continues to turn out some of the country’s young boxers and will turn out even more now in the years ahead after this investment. Perhaps we have a young Andy Lee already stepping through the rings here today and this investment by Limerick City and County Council will go a long way to ensuring that.”
St Francis BC President Noel Griffin said: “Today is a dream day for us. We have been constrained in terms of capacity for so long that I expect we will have double the members in the club within weeks of the new extension opening.
“We are indebted to Limerick City and County Council, and all at the Regeneration Office, for this. It is a show of great commitment to sport and to giving young children the best possible start in their lives by making sure to notch sports facilities are available for them in the city.”
Anna Moore said: “This is a proud day for our club and we are very much looking forward to completing this project.”
The St Francis BC membership is capped at 40 members due to the size of the current premises but it is understood that membership could almost double within two weeks if the club were to be extended into the adjoining premises.
The club has a strong ethos of respect and 98% of school reports record a huge difference in the concentration levels and discipline of the club’s young members.