TIMES WERE much different in 1956 when Pa Sharkey represented Ireland at the Olympic Games in Melbourne.
The Rosses man, who was based in Australia then, lost to Swedish boxer Thorner Ashman in his opening bout in the heavyweight division.
Picture caption: Pa Sharkey, courtesy of Grace Sharkey.
Melbourne will go down his history as the Games at which Ireland won its first gold medal.
Ronnie Delaney took gold in a thrilling 1,500m, beating German Klaus Richtzenhain and Australian John Landy in a sprint finish.
The day will forever be etched in Irish Olympics folklore, but the story of the Irish at the ’56 Games was not all about glory.
Take Sharkey, for instance, who had to leave the Irish camp following his loss to Ashman as the federation could not afford to pay the cost of keeping the Donegalman at their base.
Sharkey was based in Sydney at the time and met up with the Irish team in Australia. Delaney joined up with them in America.
The team – who had to each raise £200 before they’d be able to go – travelled by boat from San Francisco and disaster struck when the Irish chef de mission, Christy Murphy, took ill and was hospitalised on arrival in Australia.
It fell upon the two Irish journalists who travelled to the Games, Arthur McWeeney and Joe Walsh, to take the baton. The team had no manager, but soon they appointed John Mulrooney, an Australian who had served previously as Secretary of the Australian High Commissioner’s office in Dublin.[adrotate group=”38″]
Sharkey was on the radar of Irish chiefs long before Melbourne came into view.
In June 1956, the Irish Independent highlighted the possibility of Sharkey taking to the canvas later that year – the Olympics were held in November and December.
“In December 1951, the Dublin boxing public had their first look at a raw, red-headed young from Rosses, Donegal, who came to town and walked away with the Irish Junior heavyweight title at the Stadium,” the Independent reported.
“His name was Patrick Sharkey, but the small group who accompanied him on his title-winning mission referred to him only as ‘Pa’.[adrotate group=”37″]
“In bringing the title to the north-most point of the Republic, Pa accounted for no less able rivals than Tom Bruce and Jim Robinson, both of whom have since boxed for Ireland. Robinson, the senior champion for the past two years, quite regularly.
“After his junior triumph, it was hoped that the Irish public would see a lot more of the growing lad from Donegal, but he, like many another, was forced to emigrate and his first stop was Scotland, where he stayed long enough to win the heavyweight championship.
“Traveling somewhat further afield, Pa is now in Australia, where a series of spectacular wins since joining the Sydney Sports Club six months ago – he has had seven fights and won all of them, four inside the distance – has prompted the boxing writer of the Sydney Herald to suggest that he be nominated to represent Australia in the Olympic Games in Melbourne.[adrotate group=”46″]
“Box in the Olympics he may, but if so it will be for Ireland, as Sharkey has retained his Irish citizenship. “
In the run-up to the Games, in a bid to leave himself in the best possible condition for Melbourne, Sharkey left a lucrative job at the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme and went to Sydney to work at the building trade for one-third of his previous wage.
Sharkey was beaten by Ashman in the third round of the contest.
Sensing that he was behind on points, Sharkey went for broke, leaving himself opened and Ashman landed the killer blow, ending Sharkey’s Olympics.
Sharkey still resides in his native Mullaghduff.[adrotate group=”70″] Tags: