A champ and community hero

WHEN was the last time a world boxing champion did your washing up?

This column spent yesterday
morning with Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, AFO world champ at light-middleweight, as he prepared for a bout tomorrow night in Cork against
former Polish middleweight champion Marcin Piatkowski.

O’Sullivan came to the attention of boxing cognoscenti when he was brought to the States to fatten Robert Harris’s record. After O’Sullivan had cracked a couple of Harris’s ribs to win in the first round, things changed.

He stayed on to train on the east coast, but not in just any old gym. The Corkman fetched up in Petronelli’s Gym in Brockton, Massachusetts. If you’re a fight fan of a certain vintage, you’ll associate Brockton and Petronelli’s with Marvin Hagler; it’s where he learned how to become Marvellous.

If you’re a fight fan of an even more certain vintage you’ll remember the Brockton Blockbuster himself, Rocco Marchegiano, or Rocky Marciano.

It was a dream come true for O’Sullivan to fight out of Brockton; his father Denis was a Marciano fan, and his mother Jacinta was a Hagler fan, but apart from the romance, there was reality. Petronelli’s is a finishing school for champions, and as O’Sullivan puts it, what he learned there he wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else.

When he came back to Leeside armed with his Brockton education, he was big box office, packing out Neptune Stadium with 2,500 supporters. When he fought in Boston he wasn’t short of support either, with plenty of Cork accents in the crowd. One of his pals lost his job when he told his boss he’d be heading to America to support Spike; when the pal returned and found another job, a similar dilemma arose for the next bout.

Another job lost. It’s all going O’Sullivan’s way: down the line he aims to go from light-middleweight to middleweight proper.

Tomorrow night’s bout is at a catch weight between light-middle and
middle, and good preparation for the step up.

The fight tomorrow night will also be broadcast live on the web by gofightlive.com, an internet company which has covered O’Sullivan’s previous fights. The medium-term plan is a world title shot; as a professional sportsman doing what he loves for a living, O’Sullivan puts his cards on the table: “I’m living the dream.”

THAT’S only half Spike’s story. He still lives in his home place, Mahon, a southside suburb of Cork that doesn’t always attract favourable media coverage, but he’s proud of where he comes from.

His sponsors — Conal’s Tree
Services and Wiser Bins — are local concerns, his two little girls Jacinta and Katie live there, as do his parents, and he’s been trying to give something back to the community.

He’s put a gymnasium together with his own hands, where he runs exercise classes for the locals, and the Lough Mahon Boxing Club, which has already sent out All-Ireland champions.

The likes of John and Peter Keane, James and John McDonagh and
Kathleen O’Reilly are the heroes of the future. More initiates in the
rigorous discipline of boxing. More potential role models.

O’Sullivan also gives something back by offering kids in the neighbourhood a good example, say community activists.

He’s a regular visitor to the Mahon Community Centre; when we walked in yesterday morning the
welcome from the ladies running the coffee shop was warm and genuine, and that’s where he did the washing up, rinsing out our cups.

“They’re unbelievable supporters,” says O’Sullivan. “When I fought in Dublin they booked out the whole Red Cow Hotel to follow me. They’re fantastic.”

O’Sullivan visited local schools
recently with his world championship belt and Denis Coffey, manager of the Mahon Community Centre, says the entire community got a boost.

“If I can show people what you can do with hard work and application, then great,” says the boxer.

There’s living the dream. And then there’s living the reality.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie