As boxing correspondent for the Evening Herald, Thomas Myler had a ringside seat for the visit of boxing legend Muhammad Ali to Dublin in 1972. Here he recalls the excitement of the ten magical days when ‘The Greatest’ graced our shores.
It was a Tuesday unlike any other Tuesday. Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion of the world and the most charismatic boxer on the planet, had arrived at Dublin Airport on July 11th 1972 for a much-publicised scheduled 12-rounder a week later with the rated contender, America’s Al ‘Blue’ Lewis at Croke Park.
From the moment he touched down at Dublin Airport and hosted a packed press conference in the visitors’ lounge, the man previously known as Cassius Clay was mobbed wherever he went. For ten magical days in that hot summer of 50 years ago, his name was on everybody’s lips.
He met the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and fellow politicians, movie people, sporting personalities, business leaders and celebrities from all walks of life. In the grounds of the luxurious Opperman’s Hotel and Country Club on the gentle slopes of the Dublin mountains where he stayed, he met legendary Kilkenny hurler Eddie Keher who explained the rudiments of the fastest game in the world and had him wield a camán for a photo opportunity.
People would remember Ali joining in the craic at local bars, and a road sweeper recalled a lengthy chat he had with him outside Croke Park after a training session. He took up the invitation from an elderly lady who invited him into her house for a cup of tea.
He was interviewed in the press and on radio and television, including a landmark encounter on TV with Cathal O’Shannon. It seemed everybody wanted to meet the man who still called himself ‘The Greatest,’ even though he had been beaten by Joe Frazier in a world title fight a year earlier.
Then again, wasn’t Ali a distant Irishman after all? Didn’t his maternal great-grandfather Abe Grady emigrate from the Turnpike area of Ennis, Co Clare in the 1860s, make his way on a cargo ship to the port of New Orleans, work his way up the Mississippi river and finally settle down in Louisville, Kentucky, where Ali would be born almost a century later?
The fight had all the makings of a tough one for Ali, although he was an overwhelming favourite to emerge victorious. Lewis, a hulk of a man out of Detroit, had the reputation of being a heavy hitter with a record of 26 wins and four losses.