Durable warrior emerges gloriously from obscurity

To mark the Centenary of the GAA, the All Ireland hurling final was played in Thurles, where the entire story of the association began. Undoubtedly it was a fitting thing to do, but, even leaving the never ending Dublin-in-Croke Park debate to one side, such a scenario would surely be an impossibility nowadays.

On the other hand, there was something totally fitting about the fact that the All Blacks suffered their Irish defeat in Thomond Park. Rugby is beyond an obsession in Limerick, with what borders on religious-like fanaticism prevailing down Shannon-side.

In boxing, if you’re an Irish amateur, surely the National Stadium is where everything revolves around. As the first noteworthy step upon the journey to things like European and World Championships and the Olympic Games. For the pros, if you’ve made it to Madison Square Garden you’ve either achieved something major or are on the verge of so doing.

Andy Lee’s career to date includes three visits to the hailed American venue. Also on the journey’s map, however, are a pair of outings at the gym of the university in his home city of Limerick. That, and the fact that the pugilist was actually born in the London suburb of Bow are just a couple of the quirks in the tale of Ireland’s latest sporting hero.

The rangy southpaw was a highly successful amateur, claiming his first Irish Senior Championship at just 17. He also performed with distinction in both the European Amateur and EU Championships in 2004. It might seem curious to have two similar sounding competitions but that Lee was able to get among the medals on both occasions and against a fairly sound endorsement of his capabilities between the ropes.

Indeed, were it not for being outdone in a count back at the 2004 Olympics – a suspected case of the shady stuff that often infiltrates the sport and thus leaves at unpalatable to some – it seems certain that Lee would have completed the clean sweep, basically, of all there is to be won on the amateur side.

Examination of his statistics as a professional reveals that he has won 34 of his 36 bouts – with 23 of them coming by way of knockout. Now, those sort of numbers would be enough to justify many an entire career, yet the feeling is that much of what he has achieved to date has transpired beneath the radar of the public consciousness.

Labelling Lee a journeyman fighter would be an unjust disservice to someone who has achieved as much as him, but, it grates that a lot of it hasn’t received the coverage and/or acclaim it merited and deserved. For whatever reason, to this observer at least, he doesn’t appear to command the same profile as fellow pugilists such as Steve Collins or Bernard Dunne.

You suspect all that may be about to change though. In stopping the Russian  Matt Korobov and so becoming the first Irish fighter to win a World title in America since 1934, the durable warrior emerged gloriously from obscurity.

It is not over romancing the situation too much to feel that, yet again, sporting greatness has lifted the spirits of a downtrodden nation. Boxing is one of the few areas in which Ireland can justifiably claim legitimacy to compete on the world stage. As again evidenced by Katie Taylor recently triumphantly returning with another chapter in one of the best Irish sporting careers ever seen safely tucked away.

In Lee’s case, the inclination is that the best may in fact still be ahead of him. Moreover, his chosen trade is one of the few horizons in which the fact that he’s heading towards his senior years as regards competing may actually work in his favour. Surely, too, a title defence on home territory is the next logical step.

Whether such comes to pass or not essentially comes down to people in positions to make it happen having the will to do so. Initial thinking might be to stage such an occasion in somewhere like Thomond and while such reasoning might indeed be entirely merited, I believe there’s a chance to – rightly – make something even bigger out of Lee’s accomplishment.

Yes, you can guess what I’m thinking – Croker. There’d be less objections to that than Garth Brooks anyway! Talk of Conor McGregor taking centre stage at the country’s sporting venue has already reverberating for some time. Rightly so, with him apparently on the verge of greatness in his chosen field.

A highly unlikely pipe dream here, but, wouldn’t Lee and McGregor on the one billing be some attraction for the sports loving public? It’s something that should at least be explored.

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