“Some people get punched in the face once and won’t come back, some people just get a feel for it. It’s perfectly normal not to want to get punched in the face”
“He’s a southpaw and I hadn’t copped it,” he says as he pushes his chair back from the table, the better to demonstrate the finer points of boxing. Pierce Cleary exudes love for the sport. It’s evident to all as he explains how it’s often hard to think clearly in the ring. He extends his right fist forward over the table and throws a jab fading to one side as his hand moves.
It seems odd that Cleary didn’t start boxing until he was 17 such is his knowledge of the sport. Whether listening to him analysing Carl Frampton’s victory against Scott Quigg in February 2016 or explaining the virtues of Andy Lee, one can’t help but be interested in boxing too. “I couldn’t get a medical clearance until I was 17, I have a heart condition,” he explained. The maths student from Tipperary had only been boxing just over a year when he signed up to DU Boxing Club.
Cleary cuts a different figure to his co-captain, Aisling Anderson. After trying a number of sports during her undergraduate years, she found her way to the boxing gym. Now in her first year as a doctoral student, Aisling said she made the decision to join the boxing club out of curiosity, attracted by its popularity and as a way to keep fit. “I knew it was good for fitness. So I joined for fitness only but ended up in the ring.” While Cleary had always wanted to box, it was an interest that came to Anderson unexpectedly which, as they explain, represents the Club quite well.
“Don’t think everyone is looking at you as if you don’t know what you’re doing. No one knows what they’re doing when they start. We’ve all been there”
The club boasts a diverse demographic, from junior freshmen to lecturers and continually increasing number of women. Each have their own reasons for joining the club, whether always having wanted to fight, like Cleary, or just wishing to keep fit, like Anderson. The diversity within the club is explained by the perception that boxing is less “mainstream” than other sports. “The reasons people join are different. You’re going to have a huge mix of people,” says Anderson.
However once she had slipped between the ropes and into the ring, she found a space she very much enjoyed. “It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush. It’s kind of enjoyable getting all your frustration out on someone else. Some people get punched in the face once and won’t come back, some people just get a feel for it. It’s perfectly normal not to want to get punched in the face.”
“It’s a not a team sport; but we still have a team,” says Anderson. “There’s a strong sense of team atmosphere. It’s a very supportive club.” The ethos of the club is helping one another. Whether club mates are training or sparring they’re keen to bring each other along. This is something that sets the Boxing Club apart from other sports, according to Cleary. “The people you’re sparring with you get along with quite well. In team sports you might blame a lad for holding you back but when you’re in sparring with someone, the other people are always bringing you on.”
“Don’t get discouraged. Keep coming down. Make as many nights a week as you can”
Team integration and expansion has been accelerated by the club’s relocation last year. The demolition of Luce Hall meant that the Club would have to be housed elsewhere for their sparring sessions. They found their home in Trinity Technology and Enterprise Centre (TTEC) at Grand Canal Dock. “We used to have our fitness sessions for an hour in the Sports Centre and our sparring would be in a different gym. You’d automatically lose the majority of people because people who come down for fitness are not going to walk to another gym to do sparring unless they already decided they were doing it,” says Anderson.
Proximity to the ring means more people are willing to put on a pair of gloves and try their hand at sparring. The skills of the boxers have increased along with the new facilities and new equipment. Cleary points to this as a tie that binds the diverse club.“With the bags and mirrors you’d have beginners shadow boxing and hitting bags. Some of the more senior boxers can go and tell them little things to improve.”
“One coach is always reluctant to add in women’s points as it might mean their team would lose. We would have won varsities had they counted the girls points last year”
One thing both captains noted was that the increasing numbers of women wishing to get in the ring. “I think there’s more women getting in the ring because of people like Katie Taylor and Ronda Rousey, but I think the standard would be as good if we had those numbers,” says Anderson who named the Venus and Serena Williams as her sporting heroes. “What they’ve done for women’s sport is insane.” When asked what her legacy in the club would be, it was also surrounding the issues facing women in the sporting world. At present, points for women’s fights are not counted when determining the winner of the annual intervarsity tournament. “It’s effectively an issue between the coaches. It’s outside the students themselves. There’s no real reason for it. It’s coaches being set in their ways and not really feeling that there’s any need to do it. One coach is always reluctant to add in women’s points as it might mean their team would lose. We would have won varsities had they counted the girls points last year.”
Cleary, who is unequivocally in favour of Anderson’s campaign, voiced his support for equal treatment. “They’ll either have to count the points or have a separate varsities for women.” He believes the counting of women’s points would keep people in the ring.
Spurred by another well known Irish sportsman, the rise of those interested in mixed martial arts (MMA) has driven up numbers in the boxing gym. This phenomenon was something that surprise to Cleary, “At the club at home, nobody even mentions MMA but at Trinity a lot of lads are coming down asking for help with it.”
For those thinking of joining, the advice from Cleary is simple: “Don’t get discouraged. Keep coming down. Make as many nights a week as you can.” To prove his point he returned to his well of boxing knowledge. “One of the greatest ever was Roy Jones Jr. People used to say he was the most naturally talented boxer but he was running miles and sparring older guys with his hand tied behind his back. He said it was day in day out hard work.” The nature of university sports means that most members are not there for long. Anderson says that this means senior members are understanding; “Don’t think everyone is looking at you as if you don’t know what you’re doing. No one knows what they’re doing when they start. We’ve all been there.”