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Irish mix it up with Southie

Shamrock Cup pits boxers from County Galway against Hub fighters

For Southie, it'll be Andrew McIneaney -- hailing from County Monaghan, Ireland -- among his chums in the ring.

For Connemara, Cian Thornton -- Irish national champion -- will head a team.

Any one of them who gets hit with a good punch Friday night at the IBEW Freeport Hall in Dorchester may be seeing green instead of the usual red. That's when the first Shamrock Cup international amateur boxing matches will take place, pitting 16 of the best from the Connemara Boxing Club of Ireland, based in County Galway, against the finest from the South Boston Boxing Club and a few adjoining communities.

The Connemara team includes acclaimed fighters Michael Paul Kelly and Tommy Lee, who boasts a 79-10 record. Among those representing South Boston are McIneaney, an electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103; regional Golden Gloves champion and national semi finalist Ryan Kielzswecki; and Ryan Long, who recently returned from the Junior Olympics National Tournament in Brownsville, Texas. Organizers hope to have as many as 20 three-round exhibition bouts.

The South Boston Boxing Club has a long and proud history, but the club had been dormant for several years before space was found for the program at the Curley Community Center. It reopened in 2003 and was rededicated in 2004 under the leadership of Tom Lee, a Boston firefighter and no relation to the Irish fighter.

"We have a solid crew of between 50 and 70 kids regularly participating in the program," says Lee, who estimated that more than 150 young people have passed through the club's doors since it reopened.

Club members compete in amateur competitions such as the Silver Mittens and Golden Gloves, the Silver Gloves, and the Junior Olympics. Then there are those who just want to work out and learn a few things. Lee says there is plenty of room for both.

"We have a beginner's class every Saturday morning for young kids," he says.

For the Shamrock Cup, Lee also recruited fighters from other local gyms; USA Boxing, the governing body for amateur boxing, has strict rules when it comes to matching fighters according to experience, and many of the Irish fighters are more experienced than their American counterparts.

The head coach of the South Boston team is Dan Long of South Boston, who had 39 professional fights as a middleweight and is a youth services officer in District 7 for the Boston Police Department. In his day job, he has seen what can happen when young people drift along without something to anchor them.

"It absolutely makes a difference when you're involved in something like this," says Long, the father of four children. "Parents whose kids get into trouble come to me and they're frustrated. They don't know what to do. I ask them if their child is involved in sports or extracurricular activities. Usually, the answer is no."

Long and the other organizers have been setting up activities for the Irish boxers while they're here. South Boston boxers are expected to make a visit to Ireland in the future.

Lee said South Boston has been plagued in recent years by drug overdoses and suicides among young people, one of the reasons the decision was made to re establish the club and make it year-round.

A large number of Irish émigrés are expected to attend the event, which organizers hope will be a cultural as well as an athletic exchange.

"There's a large crew of us from Connemara planning to attend, and it will be great to see some of the young lads," says Padraig Mannion, food manager of Bad Abbot's Irish Pub in Quincy. Mannion is a native of the Connemara village of Rosmuc and the nephew of famed Irish junior middleweight contender Sean Mannion, who fought some of the world's toughest fighters when he was locally based.

Sean Mannion is currently running a boxing program back in Rosmuc and building a gym there.

"This boxing program, which we hope becomes an annual event, is positive news, even beyond the athletic and cultural benefits," says Michael P. Quinlin, president of the Boston Irish Tourism Association. "It gives us a platform to showcase the hospitality and visitor amenities of Massachusetts to the team and its followers, including the Irish media."

State representatives Brian Wallace of South Boston and Martin Walsh of Dorchester are supporting the match. "We're delighted to welcome these promising athletes from Connemara to our community," Wallace says. "Their visit strengthens the longstanding relationship between Connemara and South Boston, which goes back to the 19th century."

Another sponsor is the Boston Police Athletic League, which is providing the uniforms and other support.

William Stoddard, director of the athletic league, said: "We are proud of our partnership with Officer Long, Fred Ahearn at the Curley Center, and Tom Lee for their outstanding efforts in providing athletic opportunities for our children."

The Shamrock Cup boxing matches are to begin at 7 Friday night, with doors opening at 6 at the IBEW Hall at 256 Freeport St. in Dorchester. Admission is $20. For more information, call 617-635-1416.