Tipperary hurling stars Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly were at the Trinity Gym just off Wall Street in lower Manhattan last Wednesday as part of middleweight contender Matthew Macklin’s open media workout ahead of his March 17 fight against Sergio Martinez at Madison Square Garden.
Though the boxing media was there to see how Macklin’s preparations were going, Kelly and Corbett also garnered some attention, particularly the latter, who decided to retire from the Tipperary senior hurling team four weeks ago due to work commitments. That shock decision has reverberated with hurling fans not only in Ireland, but all over the world.
Even Macklin, who hurled for Tipperary at underage when he came over to Ireland from Birmingham for summers during his youth, tweeted jokingly that that he would “try n (sic) coax Lar out of retirement,” when he arrived.
While everyone in the Premier County hopes that Macklin can win that fight too, Corbett seemed at ease with his decision as he watched the boxer prepare to work out with trainer Buddy McGirt.
“We all have to make our own decisions in life, and at the minute I made a decision. It would have been very difficult to give 100 percent, but we are out here to support Matthew and do everything we can to give him an extra lift,” Corbett told the Irish Voice.
The Tipperary County Board released a statement after Corbett's announcement saying that the door would always be open if he changed his mind.
While Macklin was keeping his chin tucked close to his chest as he shadow boxed during training, Corbett was keeping his cards close to his when it came to talking about his future.
“At the minute I have made my decision and that is just the way it is. There is no door closing and I have a good relationship with (officials) Declan (Ryan) and Tommy ( Dunne) and Mikey (Gleason).”
Corbett, who has “also taken a step back” from club play with Thurles Sarsfields, went on to say that he was delighted with his career and the people he met during it.
Kelly, who came on as a second half substitute in Tipperary’s recent league defeat to Kilkenny, described what it felt like for the team to face their archrival without Corbett.
“We, to be honest, have moved on, and we were just disappointed with our performance,” said Kelly.
“Lads can’t commit to it at the minute,” he added. “The training has stepped up for inter-county GAA players. A couple of players are going to suffer for that because they cannot commit to it because of other things going on in their lives, and Lar is one of those at the moment. The door is wide open and that is the one happy thing to come out of it.”
Macklin dropped a controversial split decision loss to WBA champion Felix Sturm last June, and though there is no sanctioned belt on the line against Martinez on St. Patrick’s night, if “Mack the Knife” can beat the Argentinean, who is recognized as the best fighter in the division, he will be the man to beat at 160 pounds.
“I think this is an important three week run-in for him (Macklin),” said Kelly. “Mentally, he has to be focused on his game plan with regards to his opponent. It’s all about belief, and I think he has a strong belief that he is going to win.”
Corbett also spoke of the importance of being positive ahead of the fight.
“Matthew is passionate about Tipperary hurling,” he said. “We wanted to come out here and let him know it goes both ways. Boxing can be a very lonely sport, and we wanted to let him know that there is huge support back home in Tipperary, and back home in Ireland, gathering for him.”
While both hurlers were in town, the Irish Voice took the opportunity to ask them about the huge toll that emigration has taken on the GAA in Ireland.
Stories of rural teams being decimated by young men having to leave their hometowns and villages to find work abroad are common fare as a result of the Irish economic downturn.
From Corbett’s experience, young GAA members seem to have one preferred destination.
“At the minute, everyone seems to be going to Australia. They seem to have work organized before they go, or when they get out there they are getting work,” he said.
“At home, it is very frustrating that people my age and younger are unemployed, and it is hard to know the best way to go about it. But it’s great for people to go to Australia, see how other people live and see what else is out there in the world. It broadens your mind and gives you experience.”
Kelly’s club, Mullinahone, has been hit hard by players leaving Ireland for better opportunities abroad.
“There are five or six guys on our senior team at home that are either in London or Australia. It affects the team, but it also affects the community. They would be in the local pub when you would go down there at the weekend, but there is no work for them at home and that is why they are gone,” he said.
“It dampens the spirit. Some teams are struggling. All the work they put in to get this far, and now they are losing all their players to emigration. It is sad and I think it will probably get worse over the next 12 months.”