Tuesday night saw a fitting memorial take place for the late former DU Boxing Club captain, Gemma McGee in the form of a charity fight night. The Exam Hall threw out its traditional layout in favour of a boxing ring, blending the beauty of the room with the intensity of the sport and an evening of fighting and fundraising began
The first fist landed at 7:38pm on the dot. Boxer in blue Ellie O’Neil threw her punch before the red Aurora Poletti started to dance around and dodge the blows. Starting half an hour later than planned, the hall had been filled with chatting and a cordiality not usually associated with the sport. Nor was there the usual rivalry between University College Dublin and the Trinity clubs. Instead, there was an overarching sense of respect in the ornate venue.
Hosted in honour of McGee, the charity event was held to raise funds for the Meningitis Research Foundation. DU Boxing Club coach Dan Curran explained how they had set up the event last year after the Trinity alumnus passed away in August of 2018 from the disease. “They had no idea what it was and by the time they figured it out, it was too late. They vaccinate for it over there, but they don’t here. She was gone in a few days. It’s terrifying.”
“She was the last person you’d expect it to happen to. She was the hardy type, full of health. You know? She wasn’t frail, but that’s the thing, it can hit anyone.”
Asking Curran to describe McGee’s boxing, he commented: “She was bubbly, and kind and you wouldn’t think that she’d [the boxing] in her, but she did. She showed me. It’s just like with life, it’s often the person that you wouldn’t expect that from that really pulls it off.”
“She wasn’t aggressive in the ring, she was lovely. She’d be laughing in between sparring and she was just always on top form, no matter what kind of time she had been having during the week.”
This attitude embodied the fights of the evening. After dominating the early rounds, DU boxer Philip Pollock was stunned with a blow to the head. Recovering, he finished out the fight with a dramatic bruise to his left eye. Regardless, the two pugilists embraced at the rounds end, with judges’ decision of a draw met with rapturous applause in the pristine theatre.
Obtaining the venue didn’t come easily to the club. Men’s Boxing Captain Declan Garvey talked of the difficulties and time constraints the club had been put under in order to arrange the fight in time:
“We needed proof of insurance, credentials of all the paramedics, pictures of set-up…. They just handed us this list and told Liana to have it at the end of the week or it would be cancelled.” The room had special significance however, as the location of McGee’s first fight – suitably one also against UCD.
Despite the trials and tribulations, both captain and couch seemed determined to honour McGee in the place that solidified her passion for the sport – particularly thanking Ladies Captain Liana Parachaki for her persistence in ensuring their place in Front Square. “She had a hard time at the meeting. Everyone helped out though, so that was really nice.”
After bout after bout of boxing between all willing to spar (with many fights ending in laughter, an embrace and a draw), Captain Garvey took to the ring to the loudest applause of the evening. When the fan favourite took an unexpected jab in the third round, he was sent back against the rope. Without hesitation, Garvey rushed forward with an aggression that belied his slim frame, giving as good as he got.
Described by one onlooker as a “spectacular fight, with [Garvey] being either the best fighter there, or the most psychotic, because he had a smile on his face the entire time”, it was a high-energy end to a night aimed more at a reverence for life than a reminder of death. As the presenter brought the silver trophy into the ring, he boomed the club’s message for the evening – “We arrive here in friendship, and as long as everyone here is living and breathing, we will have the Gemma McGee trophy every single year.”
Asking parents John and Rosie McGee to present the trophy, the boxer’s mother thanked all involved, describing the night as “Absolutely brilliant. DU Boxing Club was everything to Gemma. She loved it here. She was alive – her spirit was alive here tonight, because she loved it here.” Tearing up, she continued: “The friends she made here, with all of you… She was a wonderful young woman who lost her life to meningitis at 24. We are so proud to be Gemma’s parents.”
Handing the Gemma McGee Cup to DU Boxing Ladies Captain Paraschaki, the grateful boxer held the trophy with a smile. Thanking everyone involved, she both solemnly acknowledged the award, while playfully maintaining the energy of the evening. Hand under chin, she said she was very pleased, before thanking everyone for attending the “It was so much fun to get into the ring for such a good cause.”
Heading to the Pav for their “body weight in Guinness”, the ethos of friendship transcending the ring had been carried out, as bruised and battered opponents packed in their gloves for a night of remembrance and celebration. Despite logistical difficulties, all involved were determined the boxers would be back next year, honouring the captain where she had laughed, joked and fought in equal measures.