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Blarney Stone

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Harry Perry: From Harold’s Cross to Blackrock via Melbourne and Rome

[extracts from the Appletree Press title Legends of Irish Boxing published by Appletree Press]

Between 1952 and 1962, Harry Perry went to the European Championships in both Lucerne and Berlin, and to two Olympic Games in Melbourne and Rome. He was an Irish senior champion nine times at various weights in every year during this period except in 1957, when he lost to his great rival Fred Tiedt, and 1959 when he was nursing a damaged hand. He was asked to turn professional in the Gresham Hotel in 1955, only to tell promoter Jack Solomons to “wait and see”. He fought in Chicago for Europe against the American Golden Gloves champions. In 2007, Perry was inducted into the Irish Boxing Hall of Fame; a worthy honour on a great career. No wonder.

“I thought I was going to be picked for Helsinki [1952 Olympics], but before they announced the team an American team came to fight Ireland and the officials said that all the Irish champions would be picked to box that night. Well, they announced the team for the American match and the boxer who I’d beaten in the Irish final, Tommy Reddy, was picked over me. I was taken aside and told that the officials were concerned that I would get hurt in the Olympics as I was so young, and basically I was out of the reckoning. My view has always been that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and it was a big setback, but it was a case of aiming now to make sure I made it to Melbourne in 1956.”

The Olympic Games in 1956 were held late that year in Melbourne. A chance to exorcise the ghost of Helsinki presented itself as Perry won the 1956 Irish title at welterweight. However, his position on the Irish team was in doubt and, as he explained, the welterweight place had already been allocated. “It was like four years previous as the officials called me in and said that they were taking Fred Tiedt to the Games as the welterweight. They explained that he was taller and they thought that he would be better suited at the weight. I was not happy and they then offered me a compromise by saying that if I could get down to light welterweight, then I could go. My club requested a trial fight with Fred and it was agreed to, but he beat me fair and square at the Stadium. Eventually, I went as the light welterweight but it was hard to drop down weight and, more importantly, to then keep inside it.”

For Harry Perry it was not to be. He was afforded a bye in the opening round of the light-welterweight division and in his first bout lost on points to the French representative, Claude Saluden. That early exit gave Perry time to take in the rest of the Games and his highlight was cheering to the Heavens as Ronnie Delaney stormed through to claim gold in the 1500 metres.

In 1959, [Perry] attended his third major games, the European Boxing Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland and won a bronze medal. That year Perry had not fought for the Irish title due to damage he had received to a knuckle in his right hand. By the time the team was selected, he had recovered sufficiently to secure the welterweight nomination. Perry was fancied to go far in the Championship due to his wealth of experience. However, once again, Lady Luck was to desert him. In his first bout, the Dubliner was lucky to record a victory over the Bulgarian, Schischman Mizew. That fight was too close to call but may have swung Perry’s way due to a warning Mizew received in the first round for hitting after being told to break. Three right hooks to Perry’s jaw in the last round left the decision too tight to call. Harry was considered fortunate to win. His next contest was to see him an easy winner over the Dane, Benn Neilsen but during the last round a ligament snapped in his lower leg. The last minute was fought out in agony by Perry. He won convincingly to assure himself at least a bronze medal, but the prospect of a semi-final outing was doubtful.

“I was the type of boxer that was always bouncing away on the tips of my toes,” he recalled. “The injury was serious as I would be hindered badly, however it turned out. They tried everything, strapped it up and put ice on it, but the tournament doctors took one look at it and said that I would be unable to fight in the semi-final.” Harry Perry, along with Adam McClean and Colm McCoy, claimed bronze medals for Ireland at the Lucerne championships. As Perry was eliminated through injury it was a case of what could have been.

“It was sad for me as I didn’t get the chance to realise my full potential in those championships. It’s hard being on a podium and seeing the other boxers and regretting that you didn’t get a chance to box against them. I suppose that’s all part of life and I soon got over it.”

Extracted from the Appletree Press title: Legends of Irish Boxing by Barry Flynn.

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On his highlights, he remains sure that representing Ireland all over the world was top of the list. Whilst being part of a team in boxing is important, Perry feels that the individualism of the sport cannot be underestimated. “Boxing is one of the sports where it’s all down to how the individual performs. You are on your own in a ring and it takes skill, belief and determination to survive. Some of the greatest pleasures I have had in my career were when I read about myself in a paper if I had done well in a fight. It’s nice to read things as all the work and dedication you put in is recognised. However, the opposite goes for you if you lose, but that is part of the sport.”