Dowling on days of national dominance and great Euro and Olympic adventures

By Stephen Leonard

MICK DOWLING was an unquestionably dominant figure in Irish amateur boxing from the late 1960s right through to his retirement from the sport in 1975.

The winner of a record eight successive National Senior Bantamweight Championship titles, he also captured two European bronze medals and twice represented Ireland on the Olympic stage in Mexico '68 and Munich '72.

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Mick Dowling, one of the greats of Irish boxing, pictured outside his shop in Terenure, Mick Dowling Sportsworld

Given that this period of his life was spent competing under the banner of Arbour Hill, British Railway BC and finally Drimnagh Boxing Club, with whom he also coached for a number of years afterwards, it is very easy to forget that Dowling is, in fact, a Kilkenny man.

Hailing from Castlecomer, he made the move to Dublin as a 16-year-old and quickly established himself as a magnificent boxer in the capital.

Still schooling youngsters in the sport today as a coach with his own club, Mount Tallant in Terenure, Dowling has passed on no shortage of experience from his time in boxing and sport in general as a former coach in IT Tallaght and with local senior hurling teams in Faughs and Ballinteer St John's.

Indeed he was a proficient hurler and cross country athlete in his early days back in Castlecomer, but it was in boxing that he was to demonstrate an unrivalled mastery in Ireland for near to a decade.

“I know many people cast me as a Dub, I've been here so long, but you never forget your roots and mine happen to be in Kilkenny and hurling. My first love was hurling” Dowling told The Echo.

“I played with Castlecomer Hurling Club and my big claim to fame was that I won two county championship medals at Under 14.

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Mick Dowling serves up another knockout performance in his clash with Eric Gibbon on the Ireland v Scotland show in 1969

“But eventually I gave up hurling because I wasn't tough enough for it and I took up boxing instead. No I loved my hurling, but you needed a bit more size and power to be a top class hurler.

“I always had an interest in boxing. My older brother Joe, he used to do a bit of boxing.

“A boxing club started up in Castlecomer, in the local town hall, and I was only 10 or 11 and I joined that club.

“I needed a punch bag to hang up in the shed and so I went up the town and I called into the post office and I asked them would they have an auld post bag that they didn't want.

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Mick Dowling

“I got the post bag and I went down to the saw mill which was further out the road, another mile. I filled it up with saw dust and carted it on my little shoulders all the way back home which was at least a mile and a half.

“That was my first punch bag for quite a while, hanging up in our shed out the back and that bag had the crap bet out of it.

“My claim to fame in those early years was that, as a little four stoner, I won a Laois-Kilkenny title. I would have been 11 and that was a big thing to win for an 11-year-old. I was a big hero around the town of Castlecomer.

“I also got into athletics because my brother Paddy founded a club down there, Castlecomer Athletic Club.

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Mick Dowling up against John Finn in the 1969 National Senior Bantamweight Championship Final

“He was mad to keep me running and we had a good auld team and I had reasonable luck there as well because I won two county championship medals in cross country.

“I finished sixth in the Leinster Under 18 Championship and I was still young enough to enter them again the following year and I felt I should be able to win it then.

“But it didn't work out that way because, from being sixth that year I ended up about tenth the next year and I was so disappointed.

“My brother [Joe] said to me 'look if you start boxing, I guarantee you'll win an Irish title in two years and you'll get on the Irish team.' I thought he was mad to say that.

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Mick Dowling

“At that stage I had emigrated up here to the 'big smoke' from Kilkenny

“I had worked in the coal mine down in Castlecomer. 'Comer is a mining town. I worked on the surface in the coal mine. I wasn't down under because you weren't allowed to go down under until you were 16.

“But I applied for a job in the Gresham Hotel because my family said 'look there's no future for you here, working in a bloody coalmine.' So I applied to the Gresham Hotel in Dublin and got the job as an apprentice waiter.

“Working as a waiter in the Gresham, I thought 'maybe I should go back to boxing.'

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Mick Dowling

“So I went to the club Arbour Hill on the 10th of March 1965. I knocked on the door, a man named Jim Byrne opened it. I said 'I'm interested in joining your boxing club'. And he said 'That's fine, come in son.' And that was the start of my boxing career.

“About six months later I had my first contest and won it and I think by the end of 1967 I was National Junior champion.

“I was then soon Senior champion as well and was called up for the Irish team, so what my brother had said to me actually came true. Within the two years since I had entered Arbour Hill I was on the Irish team.

“1968 was a big year because it was Olympic year and I became National Senior champion.

“After that West Germany were coming here and they had on their team a guy called Horst Rascher and he was the European champion.

“He was obviously favourite to beat me, but I could book a place for the Mexico Olympic Games if I beat him. And in front of a packed house in the National Stadium I beat Rascher.

“The Irish team was picked for the Mexico Olympic Games and young Dowling was picked at bantamweight and my team mates Brendan McCarthy and Eddie Treacy were in there as well.

“1968 was like no other Olympics. It was magic. It was Mexico and it was brilliant to be heading there.

“I had a good few wins there before losing out on a split decision in the quarter finals.

“The story of my life is losing split decisions. Of 13 contests that I lost, 12 of them were on split decisions. I liken it to losing a penalty shootout.

“So I got to the quarter finals in Mexico and lost out to Eiji Morioka of Japan, lost on a split decision to him. If I'd won that I would have had a medal.

“The following year in 1969 I went on to the European Championships in Burcharest, Romania and I won a bronze medal there, losing out in the semi finals again on a split decision.

“One of the big wins I had there was when I stopped the Russian inside the distance in my first fight. In those days nobody beat Russians or stopped Russians for that matter so it was a savage win.

“I made my way to the semi finals where I lost on a split decision against Aldo Cosentino from France, a brilliant boxer, a really classy fighter who in time went on to be French National boxing coach.

“By late 1969/1970 I was dominating here in Ireland. I had been unbeaten here. Not only had I not been beaten by an Irish boxer, but I was never beaten by any visiting country either.

“So very few people witnessed Mick Dowling losing in Dublin, because I had won all of them big internationals against the likes of England, Cuba, Wales, France and Romania.

“Nobody has ever won eight consecutive Irish titles at the one weight division. There are one or two guys who have eight, but they're at different weights and one or two who might have missed out a year here or there.

“But I got them year after year after year. They must have got fed up looking at me.

“One of my big opponents during that time would have been John Finn from Waterford. I had great admiration for him because he never ducked me, he was always there, he was always ready to throw his hat in the ring and take a chance.

“And then there were a few hard guys from Belfast, namely Paddy McGuire, Terry Hanna and Mickey Tohill. Paddy was one of the toughest that I ever fought and he went on to win professional titles and British and Common-wealth titles as well.

They were great battles.

“We went to Madrid for the 1971 European Championships and I had been dominating not only in Ireland, but at international level against all the other countries.

But I lost out again in the semi final, again on a split decision and ended up with a bronze medal.

In '72 then, Munich was on the horizon. Could I make it to a second Olympic Games? I did.

“I had a good lead up to it with international matches. We would have toured America and when I was in the States I would have done well and won

“In Munich I lost out to the eventual champion Orlando Martínez of Cuba. That's when the Cubans burst on to the scene in 1972. They cleaned up, they won everything. They just dominated. So I lost out on another split decision to Martínez.

“I met him [Martínez] again about six years back- 40 years on from when we fought. I met him in downtown Havana. It was arranged that we would meet when I went over there on a trip.

“I didn't get to see his medal because it was in their big sports museum. But he brought me into his house and showed me around and we had tea. It was nice.

“1975 was my final national title to win.  It was not that I was old, I wasn't. I was 27 or something, but it was the miles that were on the clock.

“I'd just had enough. Everything I had done, I done it intensely. I trained so hard, I left no stone unturned. I never ever went into a contest unfit.

“Young lads who train with Mick Dowling today or if they have done in the past, would know that the standard of fitness I would be requiring is above and beyond what anyone else would.

“I retired in March 1975 when I won my eighth and final title. I walked around the ring that night more or less waving goodbye. I had tears in my eyes because I knew this was it. It was all over. I was finished.

“The next morning they had picked the Irish team to box against England and who was on the team? Me!

“They put me back on the team and I said 'hold on guys. Do you not remember I retired last night?' My mind was made up and that was it. I was gone, finished, retired.

“I did have offers to go professional from both the USA and England, but for me, home is where I wanted to be.

“It was nice to bow out at the top, unbeaten. Nobody in this country could really remember me losing.

“I got out in the whole of my health. We had a good business up and running at the time with the shop and, as well as that, I was working as a sales rep for a company.

“So I had a developing business and a big family. I had met Emily and we got married in 1973.

“After I retired in 1975 I started coaching in Drimnagh Boxing Club. After Arbour Hill I boxed for a little while with British Rail Boxing Club and then I boxed a few for Drimnagh.

“I was a good few years coaching in Drimnagh. I put an awful lot of time into the likes of Philip Sutcliffe and coached him to two European bronze medals also. He was the kind of fighter who would do everything I asked of him. He was a great trainer.

“There were other lads who I coached there who were quite good. Peter Murphy was one, Harry Gough was another. Christy, George and Paddy Ruth. They were good fighters.

“I founded Mount Tallant Boxing Club in 1981 along with a colleague of mine, Mick Kavanagh. Mick was a great boxing man.

“I did coach for a while Paul Griffin, a senior champion who also won at European level. He was one of the best fighters that I ever coached.

“Brian Geraghty and David Kavanagh also came to me as well. So those three boys, I coached them to Irish titles.

“Another good fighter who I coached was Tommy Ennis. Tommy won a National Intermediate title and he's gone on to be a very successful business man.

“I coached in IT Tallaght for a number of years and I had the good fortune to train two hurling teams too.

“One was Faughs Hurling Club. I coached the senior squad there for two years and then I did another two years with Ballinteer St John's senior hurling team. I absolutely loved that.

“I was a member of the National Coaching Committee for quite a number of years and I like to feel that I gave something back to the sport that gave me so much. I never turned my back on it and walked away from it. I gave back and I'm still giving back, I'm still coaching.

For me it was a great experience. I travelled and boxed all over the world, all over Europe, in Russia, America, Mexico not to mention in the National Stadium.

Those were the days and nights that I absolutely loved, whether it was National Senior Final night or Ireland v England at the Stadium. They were brilliant nights. So what I'm left with now are just great memories of it all.

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