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Thursday 21 August 2014

Muhammad Ali is still 'The Greatest'

with Seamus O'Hanlon

Published 09/01/2013 | 10:11

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AMIDST the blur and haze of those days between Christmas and New Year I came across an extremely entertaining TV documentary remembering Muhammad Ali's fight in July 1972 with Al Blue Lewis at Croke Park.

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40 years ago Ali was plotting his return to the top with a world tour after his points defeat to Joe Frazier a year earlier. It was a non title bout and Ali's team were probably rewarding Lewis with a lucrative payday after many years sparring with the heavyweight great. The programme also chronicled the role of promoter, Kerryman Butty Sugrue, in bringing the fight to Dublin and the huge financial loss he suffered.

Ali and his entourage arrived in Ireland eights days before the bout for some light training and promotional work. Ticket sales were rumoured to be slow before the big man from Louisville Kentucky announced his great grandfather Abe Grady had emigrated from Ennis in Co Clare back in the 1860s.

Tickets sales soon picked up and a crowd of 25,000 were present to see Ali win an unimpressive 11th round stoppage. However, such was Irish tradition back then many of those in attendance did not pay for the privilege as they gained entry through unofficial turnstiles set up behind Hill 16.

Anyway the programme highlighted the popular appeal of the man simply referred to as 'The Greatest'. There was a famous encounter with Kilkenny's Eddie Keher in Ali's hotel car park where the hurling great attempted to teach him the finer skills of using the camán and a memorable interview with RTE's Cathal O'Shannon which was actually better than the more famous ones Ali did with the BBC's Michael Parkinson and Harry Carpenter.

The documentary reminded me of an old Gaelic annual we had from back then which detailed the visit and invited you to compare the size of your fist to that of the Heavyweight Champion. I recall being totally amazed at the sheer size of Ali's clenched fist which covered almost the entire page. One of my fondest childhood memories will always be of us being wakened in the early hours by my father to get up and watch Ali's fights - The Thriller in Manila; The Rumble in the Jungle.

I could never fully get to grips with how people referred to him as Muhammad Ali yet his name was Cassius Clay. I suppose it just added to the intrigue. I was at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in 2003 when he returned to Croke Park and I almost came within touching distance of him only to be waved away by security. Forty years on and he is still ' The Greatest'.

Winning note

Louth and Aidan O'Rourke started 2013 on a winning note with a confident O'Byrne Cup opening against the students of UCD. There will be much greater tests ahead in the coming weeks and months but the experimental side did what they needed to do against a college team that looked better on paper than on the field of play. I thought there would have been a bigger crowd in attendance in Drogheda, but greater numbers are more likely to be present on Wednesday night in Navan for another derby with our neighbours. More will be known after this and Sunday's clash with Longford.

I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the new Morgan's sponsored Louth jersey and that of Armagh's 2002 winning gansey. Slim fit, tight sleeves and no collar. A man would want to get in shape and adopt a few New Years resolutions before he'd be in any position to try it on. The old loose fitting AIBP version will have to suffice for now!

A good cause

Many thanks to Peter Kingston and Kingbet for their continued sponsorship of our weekly Sidelines Bet.

Thanks to the popular Drogheda Bookie and the occasional winner from myself we have €618 to donate to charity for the 2012 season.

The Oncology Unit in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital are the worthy recipients.

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