With his retirement nearing, UCD’s legendary boxing coach Tommy Butler met with Gordon O’Callaghan to discuss his storied career at ringside
In 1963, the UCD Boxing Club was located in a damp and dilapidated old church in the inner city. However, despite these difficult conditions, UCD was still able to produce some of the finest amateur boxing talent in the country. Under Tommy Butler’s guidance and leadership, they collected numerous Harry Preston Trophies throughout the 1960s and 70s.
After an incredible career that has spanned over five decades, Butler has decided to throw in the towel on his career. As one would imagine, the veteran has more than a few tales to tell.
When asked who stood out during his early career, he remembers the likes of Kevin Noone, who won numerous titles in the 1960s, as well as Cillian Smith, who won five British and Irish titles during the 1970s.
Both UCD and the sport of boxing have changed immensely in recent years. The major development of the sport, as Butler sees it, has been the rapid increase of interest in the sport by women.
Butler does not shy away from his admiration of female boxers either and the great pride that Butler has for the incredibly successful Katie Taylor and her achievements is obvious from the manner in which he speaks of her: “A lot of people don’t know this, but Katie Taylor was a student at UCD and used to come down and train with us, and she was a bit too good for some of the lads.”
The increased involvement of women in the sport has not been the only major change within boxing that the experienced coach has seen. When asked about the physicality of the game, he agrees that it has undoubtedly increased, but stresses the safety standards have also progressed, stating: “Bigger and heavier men wear big gloves.”
Aware of the recent controversies surrounding the dangers of the modern fight, Butler says: “I can’t talk for professional boxing, as I am not involved, but amateur boxing is relatively safe.” The old-school coach adds that he once attended a lecture on injuries in sport at the Dublin Institute of Technology where it was claimed that amateur boxers suffered fewer injuries than any other sport.
“Boxing taught us discipline, discipline, discipline and self respect,” he exclaims. “Most boxers generally don’t get into trouble.” Butler, being an inner city native himself, is also very aware of the benefits that the sport could bring to children and young adults in underprivileged areas, where the focus has shifted away from sports like boxing and into less productive pastimes.
Boxing clubs were very popular in Dublin during Butler’s childhood and it was there that he was able to develop some of the qualities that stood to him during his career in the Irish army. During his time in the service Butler won ‘Boxer of the Year’, before later attaining the accolade with the Department of Agriculture and eventually in UCD too.
When asked of the poor performances that UCD have unfortunately suffered in recent competitions, Butler demonstrates his knowledge and passion for the sport of boxing, qualities which have not abandoned the veteran after 50 years in the sport.
“I have been asking myself that question for a long time. We have enough boxers to compete. We are a good team, a full team. But for some reason, when it comes to the championships, they tell us that they have a match with either the rugby club or soccer club and that takes from us.”
Competition with the bigger sports in UCD is a challenge with which the Boxing Club is struggling to compete. It is further hampered by the fact that they have to share their facilities with the rowing club. Furthermore, the club is in dire need of new equipment. Above all else, a full-time and fully-equipped ring is needed if they are to return to their glory days of the past.
Butler’s outlook on the future is dishearteningly grim, commenting: “I don’t know what is going to happen.”
When Butler finally decides to call it a day, he will only have wonderful memories of UCD and the people. Pressed on some of his more memorable moments in and out of the ring, the long-serving coach smiles and says: “Every year you have someone special, in terms of quality and personality.”
Butler is not only a treasure to the boxing club, but his commitment, loyalty and passion encapsulate what this college is all about. He has been a wonderful example of sporting passion in UCD, the likes of which we may not see again for some time to come.
The Junior Intervarsity Boxing Competition will be held in Astra Hall between 19th and 21st September.