Years of dedication to the art of boxing paid off recently for Raphoe ABC’s Tommy Stewart, when the Strabane man was awarded with Honorary Life Membership of the Ulster Boxing Council of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.
Having started off as a boxer with the Billy Kelly Club in Derry in 1958, Stewart went on to have a successful amateur career in the ring before turning his hand to coaching where he enjoyed untold success.
He boxed with St Eugene’s in Derry where he won Northern Irish and Irish titles and enjoyed a successful spell in London before returning to establish the Ventures II Boxing Club in Strabane.
However over the past thirty years Stewart has been an integral part of Raphoe ABC having helped establish the club in the town in 1988.
“Peter O’Donnell and the late Brendan Ryan came to ask my help in setting up the club and I came out to Raphoe and have been here since.
It started off with very little, but when we had success in the ring, we got more and more boxers through the doors.”
The early years saw boxers like Danny Ryan, Columba McBrearty, Gerard McGranaghan and Gary McCullagh all secure major titles and with hard working men like Peter O’Donnell and Brendan Ryan driving the club on, Raphoe ABC went from strength to strength.
As a coach, Tommy hails Danny Ryan’s Irish senior middleweight title as the highlight over the years, but he adds, there have been so many successes, so many highlights it’s difficult to choose.
Away from the ring he served as President of the Donegal Board and finished his studies with the University of Limerick to become a qualified sports tutor and his renowned reputation within the sport saw him at the helm of several Irish international teams.
The Raphoe club has gone from strength to strength since its humble beginnings in the 1980s and for Tommy it’s a real source of pleasure to see that some of the boys he had coached as young lads are still there at the club coaching.
“When you talk about success you have to say that is one of the biggest. To see the likes of Gary McCullagh here as head coach, to see lads like John Sweeney, Paul O’Donnell and Gerard Keaveney who all boxed here, giving their time back into the sport.”
Tommy insists that Brendan Ryan’s presence is sorely missed every day, but he’s delighted that Peter O’Donnell has over all the years, retained an amazing sense of energy and enthusiasm for the sport.
“Peter does so much for the club and with his help Raphoe ABC has grown and grown to become a thriving part of the community. Even though I’m not from here, everybody in the town knows me now through my association with the club because it is such an integral part of the town.”
While Tommy is lo longer able to coach, he still loves to be involved and he’s a constant presence in the Raphoe gym.
“I never thought I’d see the day that girls would be boxing, but Katie Taylor’s success brought more and more girls here and I think it’s great. There have been lots of changes over the years, especially in facilities and opportunities for young boxers and I just love being part of it.
It kills me sometimes standing watching the training, I’d love to be in there, but we have great young lads coaching here and I can leave it to them and if they ever need to ask me for anything I’m always here to help.
Even after 60 years I still love it, and I’ll keep at it for as long as I have something to offer.”
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