Former Irish Senior Middleweight Champion & International Boxer

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   Unique Distinction for Ollie Markham 

By Colm Flynn 

My first encounter with Ollie was in the County Boxing Championships of 1966, when he boxed in the colours of Kilmurry McMahon against one of my boxers. He had just started boxing under Bill Ford, and although finishing second on that night, I remember being impressed by the pure natural strength and courage of the youngster. A little curly haired terrier called Martin Keogh was also in the ring wrecking havoc on that night; and I mentioned to Bill after the tournament that one day one of the boys would win an Irish title.

Martin, was of course to go on to greater things, and fame on the football field; and I was delighted to welcome Ollie to Ennis Club the following September. Ollie made remarkable progress through the late sixties, annexing two Munster titles, and representing his province successfully in inter-provincial matches, against Leinster and Connaught.

Defeat was not part of the Markham vocabulary, and while Ollie’s appetite for training coupled with the immense potential, the prospects seemed boundless. There was a conflict of interests, however; for while boxing has assumed and consumed him, Ollie still played football diligently. I remember his lapsing in to the throes of depression, over having to forego a county championship final with Coolmeen, because he was due to box his first international on the following week. He became a celebrity in Dublin in that his first international, hammering a teak-tough Italian called Blondini into submission.

One of Ollie’s greatest attributes was his aspiration to superb fitness. I loved to work in the gym with him, and while I worked on his technique and strategy he had ensured that his body would not betray him; slogging out miles on the hills around Ennis in the early hours of the morning, and pumping his body to adapt to the fantastic rigours and demands of the toughest of sports. In his halcyon days, Ollie was undoubtedly the most superb athlete I have ever handled.

Meanwhile, Ollie was having the inevitable problems with his weight, and in 1971 and 1972, was dogged with injuries. He had excellent sparring partners in Tom O’Rourke, Seamus Hughes and Joe Whelan, but it was not until he moved up a weight to middleweight in 1973 that he was to manifest himself in true fashion on the national scene. In March of that year, he knocked out two Irish champions within a week. Irish junior champion, Eddie McDonnell lasted a round in Limerick, having had the temerity to test Ollie’s chin earlier on in that round; he found himself flat on his back from a perfectly timed left hook to the jaw which Markham fired all the way from his toes.

Senior champion, Terry Riordan from the famed British Railways club felt the wrath of Markham’s power in Galway a week later, and succumbed in the third round, after taking one of the heaviest poundings he had ever been subjected to. Both Terry and Ollie were to become inseparable friends, epitomizing the old boxing adage, that a punch on the nose can be as friendly as a handshake.

1974 and 1975 were good years for the Ennis club, and Ollie was to play a big part in the success, with good wins in representative matches in Coventry and Birmingham, and a prestigious victory in the TV series ‘Ringside’. 1976 was without doubt Markham’s golden year, and a most memorable one for all of us connected with Ennis club. He got his second ‘call-up’ for the Irish team against Wales on the 20th of February, and won convincingly against the rugged Wes Allen, who shortly afterwards turned professional. In March he was drafted onto the Olympic panel for Montreal, and went into specialized training with the squad. On May 1st Ollie made history, battling his way to the Irish Senior Middle-weight title, and winning for himself a legion of fans in Dublin and indeed throughout Ireland. There was celebrations in Ennis, Limerick and Dublin; but the most memorable was a dinner given in his honour in Galway, by our friend Chick Gillen. The banquet was hosted by the Mayor of Galway, and there were over two hundred people in attendance, including the then aspiring Sean Mannion, who was a great fan of Ollie’s.

There’s an old saying in Irish goes ‘Ni bhionn in aon rud ach seal’; and this must have been especially true of Ollie’s ‘Moment of Glory’ for while the celebrations lingered, Ollie was back in the gym preparing for his battle with the ‘auld enemy’ He was an automatic choice on the Irish team for the match against England on May 14th and scarcely anticipated that this one would be the last battle in an illustrious career, spanning almost ten years. Ollie went into the international against the experienced Liverpudlian, Peter Lynch, exuding fitness and confidence, and was the star of the show on the night in which Ireland suffered a crushing 7-4 defeat against the English. The famed British commentator and journalist Reg Gutteridge was to write later “Markham stole the show last night, and he won the hearts of thousands of Irishmen, with as fine display of aggressive non-stop action as one could wish to see. When his hand was raised in victory, the mighty stadium erupted as Englishman and Irishman, applauded his undoubtedly courage; that’s every man’s envy”.

There was a dramatic twist of irony in that famous victory, however, for while press and public enthused over his display, Ollie collapsed at the ringside just as I slipped on his gown. He had dislocated the sixth cervical vertebra, during the fight, and was to spend a fortnight in hospital with his career abruptly terminated by a freak and unfortunate accident.

There were the memories though; retrospective reflections of brilliant victories, and heart-breaking defeats; of the long and lonely miles on the roads and grueling nights in the gym. The agony and the ecstacy all in one; he had come to know how to bear exertion and pain with unflinching courage and endurance like no other athlete I’ve known..