Boxer who showed little respect for the reputations of his illustrious opponents, writes Liam O Laoire
Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00
Mick Leahy graced the stadiums of the world with distinction -- armed with unlimited courage and a reservoir of energy. But on January 6 the sad news from Leamington arrived in Cork of the death the day before, at 74, after a long illness of Mick, one of Ireland's and Cork's sporting legends.
He was a former British Middleweight Champion and a European and World contender. Mick was always assured of a rousing reception on entering the ring, on over 70 occasions, as a professional boxer. His barnstorming style and tactics showed little respect for the reputations of his illustrious opponents -- Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Archer, Wally Barnes, Laslo Papp, Brian Curvis, Boswell St Louis -- just some of a long list of welter and middleweight greats he encountered.
Sports writers clamoured to cover his contests. One called his fights "The Mick Leahy Fireworks Displays". Steve Fagan of the Daily Sketch wrote: "Take em All on Does Leahy."
When in 1958 work wasn't forthcoming in Britain, he wandered down to Australia and knocked hell out of their hopeful welters. He fought 14 fights and claimed empire champion Wally Barnes as one of his 10 victims.
Then someone summoned Canada's tough man, Wilf Greaves, who had beaten Dick Tiger and tangled twice with Gene Fulmer.
The Canadian soon discovered what toughness was all about. After 12 gruelling rounds the fight was declared a draw, but Greaves declined a rematch.
May 1963 would become a special time in the annals of Cork sporting history.
Noel Cantwell would captain Manchester United at Wembley to lift the FA Cup and two weeks later, at Nottingham Ice Rink, Mick Leahy would reach the promised land and be the first and only Corkman to win that coveted prize, the Lonsdale Belt and the British title by knocking out George Aldridge in 1 minute 50 seconds.
In September the following year he challenged an ageing but still powerful Sugar Ray Robinson.
Robinson, regarded as one of the all-time greats, came out fast and strong but could not break down his obdurate opponent, who outpointed him after 10 rounds.
In recent times the Cork ex-Boxers Association asked the City Council to erect a plaque to Cork's boxing hero and it was eventually put up in Bishop Lucey Park. This read:
A Cork sporting icon world renowned and thousands did he thrill,
Was the battling flamed haired boxer Mick Leahy from Spangle Hill.
He fought the best from East to West,
But the British Title was his conquest,
That night in Nottingham 'twas the year of '63,
He blazed a trail of glory, became legendry,
That night in Nottingham he made history and fame,
When Spangle Hill's Mick Leahy British Middleweight Champion came.