One of the lesser known but thriving clubs in Charleville, the Wolfhound Muay Thai combat sport club, is based in the GAA Centre at Baker's Road, and it currently has twenty members, who train three nights per week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 6.30pm to 8pm.
Muay Thai is a stand-up combat sport and is the national sport of Thailand, stretching back to the 16th century, where punches, elbow strikes, kicks and knees are utilised by opponents. The history of the pastime goes back to an era when it is believed that soldiers were taught it as a method of fighting in unarmed combat.
It is known in Thailand, its country of origin, as the art of eight limbs, referring to the eight points of contact that are used to strike the opponent.
The sport uses the human body to mimic the weapons and combat of centuries gone by. The fist takes the place of the sword and daggers, and the elbow emulates the crushing mace. The feet and knees take the place of the axe and staff. The shins and forearms are specially trained and hardened to play the role of armor and shield and are used to block blows.
The Charleville club's head coach and chairman is Milford (Charleville) man, James Roche.
"I started training in martial arts at an early age, initially Taekwondo during my childhood in Milford," he said.
"In my late teens I started training with University of Limerick Kickboxing club, and competed in MMA and Kickboxing competitions.
"In 2007 I started training Muay Thai in Mallow under coach Eric O'Sullivan of Tiger King Muay Thai, and have also trained under multiple world champion Craig O'Flynn of Sitjaipetch Muay Thai. I fought at an amateur level in Muay Thai and retired from active competition in April, 2014," said James
The club has been operating in Charleville where it was founded in October 2012, and currently has over 20 active members.
The club was established in 2012 after a fundraising event that was organized by James along with members of a local family to raise funds for Our Ladies Children's Hospital, Crumlin. This event was held in the GAA clubhouse and was an amateur fight night.
The lead-up to the night involved training people with no fight experience for a couple of months and then matching them up in their first ever fight. This training took place in one of the squash courts in the GAA clubhouse.
This was something similar to white collar boxing events, only the event was held under Muay Thai rules.
The event was a huge success and raised a substantial amount for the hospital, and it led to the formation of the club when a number of people expressed interest in continuing training in Muay Thai, so a decision was made to start their own club.
Initially they were called North Cork Muay Thai, but changed to Wolfhound Muay Thai a couple of years ago.
"We're predominantly a Muay Thai club, but also train and compete in K1 and Kickboxing rule competitions," said James. "We train amateur and pro-rules fighters, as well as catering for people that just want to train for fitness and self-defense.
"Muay Thai is a perfect blend of cardio, strength, flexibility and endurance training, and the majority of people that come through our doors use it for weight loss or to improve their overall fitness levels."
The Charleville club is affiliated to the Irish Muay Thai Council and take part in competitions nationally and internationally.
James relates that the year 2019 was the club's busiest year to date with fighters participating in competitions all over the country, in Limerick and Cork cities, Mitchelstown, Dundalk and Dublin. They even held their own amateur event in December in Charleville, while two of the club's members in particular were extremely active, namely Ryan Simcox and Gearóid Biggane. They fought 14 times between them and only lost one decision.
"It was a huge boost for the club and for the two lads when they were selected to be part of the Irish Muay Thai team to travel to Lithuania in January of this year to take part in the Baltic Muay Thai Open Competition. The preparation for this event was grueling, and we trained through the Christmas holidays to ensure the lads were in peak fitness and fully prepared for the tough competition ahead.
"Unfortunately, a week before we were due to fly out to Vilnius Ryan ended up in hospital, and was ruled too unwell to compete in the open. This was a huge disappointment for everyone, especially Ryan, as he had trained so hard and sacrificed such a lot to get on the Irish team.
"Luckily, he was still able to travel and took up a role as assistant coach to help with Gearóid's fight preparation.
"Gearóid was drawn against an experienced local fighter named Paulius Leontjevas in the 75kg category. Gearóid fought very well, easily winning the first round by picking his shots and constantly hitting and moving. The second round was much closer, with Paulius starting to find his range a bit more.
"The third and final round was going well for Gearóid, and he was starting to steal the round when he got deducted a point for illegal use of the rope. This was a very harsh decision which ultimately cost Gearóid a place in the semi-finals," said James.
However, as disappointing as the Baltic Open was for both lads, they have been invited to remain on the Irish squad and to start preparing for more international competitions which were due to take place in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the current climate most of these events were cancelled, but they are still hopeful that an event that's due to take place in Antalya, Turkey at the end of this year will get the go-ahead.
As with other local clubs, finance is a major worry, and they depend on sponsorship and donations to help keep the club afloat, and in sending competitors to the Baltic Open. Local businesses have been very supportive, and were extremely generous with funding the costs in the lead up to the event.
"We would like to take this opportunity to thank the following local businesses for their generous donations - Limelight Media, Ovens, Cork, Bazzers Barbershop, Washington St, Cork, Diesenvale Engineering, Charleville, and their main sponsor, Geary's Bar, Charleville.
"We'd also like to give a huge thanks to everyone that made personal donations through our GoFundMe page. We are extremely grateful for this support," said James.
The club also has a number of members who started fighting at novice level last year and are now back training, albeit in the outdoors, in preparation for upcoming competition. This is a tough time for all sports clubs both nationally and globally, and members are hoping and praying things will get better.
In the meantime, Charleville's Wolfhound Muay Thai will do its best to maintain a positive outlook, as the pandemic continues. "During the peak of the crisis we utilized whatever was available to us to stay connected as a club. We were in constant contact with each other and used online video chat resources to do what we could in terms of fitness activities.
"Now that some of the restrictions have been lifted, we're in a position to train outdoors. It's great to be back doing what we love, and we're hopeful that the further easing of restrictions will allow us to get back to normal activities as soon it is safe to do so," concluded James Roche.