Sunday 17 November 2019

Ewan MacKenna: Irish boxing was once a cathedral but it has been reduced to rubble and literally corpses

Pete Taylor pictured in Bray Boxing club. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Pete Taylor pictured in Bray Boxing club. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

The photos on Bobby Messett's Instagram give a brief but telling peek into his life. Little trappings of small and normal elements that conversely and wondrously tend to bring out the most joy.

There are his three children and three granddaughters.

There is the snowman they built together back in the winter deep freeze.

There's his son playing Paralympic soccer for Ireland.

There are his fitness-freak efforts from the boxing ring to Bray Wheelers Cycling Club to adventure racing to Glencormac United.

There are the gloating holiday snaps and the prized ticket to Carl Frampton's bout with Nonito Donaire as recently as April.

A modern-day scrapbook of a time that ticked so many boxes. Busy and bustling, but then we guessed that much from the only detail that straight away came out about the 50-year-old. On Tuesday at 7am, he was up, about, and working out in the local gym before most started their day. Now he's dead for no other reason than he was trying to do everything healthy and right and from no other cause than the actions of others that brought danger and tragedy to a such a place.

Messett was the innocent victim and, while no consolation to those that knew him, the question will be the innocent victim in what? There's no good reason for anyone to carry a gun anywhere and to start shooting, but that's not to say there isn't a reason. In similar fashion to the slaughter of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick in 2008, this will have to draw serious scrutiny from authorities beyond even the normal level, and will have to present tell-tale answers.

Pete Taylor should have been one of the more intriguing stories in our boxing. Not at the level of achievement of Billy Walsh or Zaur Antia, and not as beloved as Nicolas Cruz before them. But think back briefly, as hard as it is to see anything beyond the black clouds of recent days.

Just six years ago, he was a hero. Down the road from the club, a field in Bray had become a party partly because of him, as hundreds gathered in the shadow of a big screen as Katie won her Olympic gold. It was a stunning journey from the time in 1997 he had planned to leave her off at the local athletics club, only for her training to be suddenly cancelled, so he had to bring her boxing with him and she liked what she saw. Thereafter he was omnipresent over her shoulder, glaring down opponents across the canvas, and journalists at every interview. Back at home he was even pulling their kitchen table off to the side so she could bob and weave and perfect her art. Then came 2016 and he wasn't in her corner in Rio de Janeiro. It was the aspect of her amateur demise, and perhaps his demise, that demanded most focus, but acquired the least, as she wept in defeat like a little girl.

Katie did release a statement on Thursday saying: “I have been appalled by the misuse of my name and image during the reporting of this incident in the media coverage, it has been reckless and irresponsible, and a deliberate attempt to inappropriately leverage my name to sell a story.” But while he's no longer part of his daughter's story, she will always be a part of his. You can choose your friends but you cannot choose your family, no matter how hard you try to shake and shed.

It's been their entry into the pro ranks though where the two have truly diverged. It's there she has shone, meanwhile last July he took on a coaching role with Seán Turner, Gary Cully and David Oliver Joyce. They belonged to the MTK stable, a management company built on the money and interest of Daniel Kinahan, as this column has previously highlighted. But when asked about his training of them in the Bray gym, he shut down any conversation.

"It's my club,” he retorted. “I own it. I can train who I want. It's all boxing.”

What Pete Taylor neglected to add during that interaction with reporters was that Bray District Municipal Council actually own the building that houses the club, paid for the refurbishment, that it is merely licensed to him, and he'd received €300,000 in public funding. Still, while the council said they'd look into the matter as a public premises shouldn't have been put to any private use, nothing more was forthcoming.

MTK for their part didn't even release a statement on this, burying their heads, and think for a moment about the mindset of a company who cannot offer a good word to someone who helped train their fighters and has been shot. Their Twitter feed instead boasted of a free Tyson Fury workout, ran a poll on the best heavyweight, talked of the hat-trick hunt of Sam Maxwell in terms of consecutive knockouts. Predictable doesn't equate to acceptable, and this from a group that before and after their change of ownership have tried to stop open dialogue, questions and queries by going the legal route and issuing solicitor's letters rather than give answers.

It's true that Gardaí have suggested this attack was linked to a more local feud on which we await more. But that many thought back on the growing list of shootings around MTK's past shows exactly where the reputation of Irish boxing now lies. Once a cathedral, it's been reduced to rubble and literally corpses.

Cast your mind back to the shooting of Jamie Moore in Marbella in 2014 by a Hutch gunman as part of their war due to the fighter's association with Kinahan, even though he was involved in no wrongdoing. To February 2016 during a weigh-in at the Regency Hotel for the European title bout when Hutch gunmen entered and killed an associate of Kinahan's. To this January as the same feud saw a innocent bystander hurt outside an underage amateur event at the National Stadium while another man who was targeted was shot in the foot.

So at what point do those with vested interests realise those same interests pale into insignificance beside such acts and such danger? That includes administrators, promoters, managers, trainers and fighters, all somehow tethered to this to varying degrees, and all so quiet. At what point do they take on some responsibility? It hasn't happened yet and it doesn't seem likely as repetition of such violence has merely resulted in solidifying of support for those that ought to bare some semblance of moral guilt and outrage.

As Irish boxing turned toxic, what has really changed? MTK came out and claimed the media were to blame for doing their jobs, stopped shows here, and had a whole host of Irish boxers engage in a social media campaign around their cheap and cheesy hashtag 'Fair News'. It was a prime example of a major player in our boxing culture trying to pass the buck and deflect, setting the tone and the mood regarding a lack of responsibility that was backed up on Wednesday by Art O'Brien, secretary of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. Popping up on the Six-One News, his message also involved attacking the media for highlighting the bad in his sport.

It reminded that boxing deserves better but it's those that have climbed its ladder that are doing least to change the culture. When a female reporter asked Carl Frampton about the Bray incident, Paddy Barnes would ask “Who's the tramp?” All the while, gang violence and shootings around it have been normalised by many associated with it, by ignoring it and by pretending it isn't there.

The cruel irony here is a sport that saves many now provides fear. Sure enough, the underworld was always there to the point the American sportswriter Jimmy Cannon, 60 years ago, described it as “the red light district of sports”. But that doesn't seem to do it justice in an Irish sense anymore.

One of the great pities is that all week so many boxing gyms still opened their doors as always and shuffled in kids from the neglected parts of our leave-them-behind society. There are 198 DEIS schools in Ireland and 195 of those have a boxing club within five kilometres. That's telling as no other sport has such an important societal impact as how many in those areas have anything else to do? But now, will parents want to bring them near places that are attracting such stories and such a reality?

Even knowing why Irish boxing ended up here, it still makes you wonder how.

Online Editors

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