THE country’s boxing fraternity weighed in with their support for Muhammad Ali during the former heavy-weight boxing champion’s visit to Ennis this week.
As well as local boxers, renowned Irish trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick was among those invited to attend the civic reception in which Muhammad Ali was honoured as the first Freeman of Ennis.
Paddy trained Ali’s daughter, Laila, and they struck up a strong friendship which is what led him to Ennis for the reception.
As well as attending himself, Paddy also brought along his young son to meet Ali as well as boxing student Calum Costelloe. Calum, who came all the way from England to the event, said, “It means the world for me to be here, Ali is a hero”.
Now based in England, Paddy trained Laila while living in Las Vegas and he met with The Greatest a number of times.
“Laila and me were close so we’d hang out. I remember the first time I met Ali, it was when he opened up Laila’s gym in Vegas. Later that day, I got a phonecall from Laila’s sister saying my dad wants to meet you at his hotel. I went up and walked in and we started chatting and then everybody left and there was just me and him there. We sat for two and a half hours and we talked about boxing, women and religion, in that order,” he laughed. “It was just really nice to see him as a real dude.”
Also attending were members of the Ennis Boxing Club, Colum Flynn, founding member and Ollie Markham, who has boxed at senior international level.
Speaking after the civic reception, Ollie said, “This is a great day for people from all over the world who have Clare blood in their veins, especially those who box in rings all over the world. Clare has been a great county for fighters over the years.”
He said that everybody involved in the club are big fans of Ali. “He is a great icon to people all over the world. To me, undoubtedly, he is the best boxer we have ever seen.” And he predicted that the visit of Ali to Ennis may see an increase in the numbers of youngsters taking up the sport.
“I would say we’ll get an upsurge. We used to have great boxers over the years and all the youth will be back into boxing again.”