In the early forties, one of the greatest flyweight boxers to emerge on the Irish Amateur boxing scene, was the very talented “Joe Boy Collins”. During his boxing career, Joe Boy was known as the “Golden Boy of the Liberties”, an area in Dublin famous for producing top class boxers. Many boxing observers felt that Collins joined the professional ranks too quickly after winning the National Senior Flyweight title in 1943. However, at that time, WWII was ongoing and unemployment was rampant and professional boxing was seen as a way to bring some money into the Collins household.
The following entitled “Pride of Engine Alley” is taken from an old Dublin newspaper article which Joe’s nephew Joe Hogan had since he was a young boy. It describes the boxing history of his uncle “Joe Boy Collins”, although the source of the story and exact newspaper it originated from is unclear.
The Golden Boy of The Liberties
“Now and again there appears in sport an exponent with such natural talent and ability, that the winning of titles and championships appears to be an easy matter. Such a man was Joe Collins, today a conscientious worker in a Dublin brewery, but still the cheerful, likeable character thousands cheered when he was swapping punches in the squared circle. Almost half a century has passed since a crowd of youngsters from Engine Alley (Meath Street) Dublin, swarmed around Ned Lawlor in the gym of the Avona Amateur Boxing Club, and clamoured to be taught the essentials of boxing.
In the forefront was Joe Collins, then a diminutive youngster of only four stones bodyweight, whose enthusiasm for the fight game overshadowed all other interests. Collins anxiety to learn to use his fists at such a tender age was not because he had aspirations to become the local bully in the district in which he then lived; it was a good policy to be able to defend oneself as marauding bands of youngsters on the prowl for trouble were very common.
Everybody smiled when the tiny Collins trotted off with the other lads to become a boxer, but in the years that were to follow, wee “Joe Boy” was to surprise them more than once. At first the Avona Boxing Club trainer was dubious as to whether young Collins was big enough to begin boxing, but when a couple of weeks later, he watched the lad from Engine Alley actually sparring with a fully trained club member. Ned Lawlor was astounded. After he had seen him in action for a few minutes, the veteran trainer knew that in Collins he had a definite “find”. Lawlor began to take a special interest in Collins, teaching him all the tricks of ring craft he himself had amassed over the years, and which had gone into the making of many a champion.
His protégé was quick to pick up all the tips and put them into practice. After a month or so, there wasn’t a youngster of his weight in the Avona club who could touch him for speed and boxing finesse. Fully convinced that his pupil was ready for outside competition, Lawler entered Collins for the 1937 County Dublin Championships. There were some very good title aspirants from other clubs anxious to come out on top, but they didn’t worry Joe Collins. In real workmanlike fashion, he disposed of his opponents in the preliminary contests and punched his way in the finals, taking the 4st 7lb championship – and his first trophy.
That week he was something of a hero in his neighborhood, but it was only the beginning. During that same year, his flashing fists and able feet helped him to victory in the North League finals, and in impressive fashion he blasted his way to an Irish title at the same weight. His former schoolboy enemies were now his greatest admirers. In 1938 Joes rapid punching and superb stamina made him North League and County Dublin 5 stone champion, and caused sports writers to refer to him as the “Pride of Engine Alley” – a title all followers of Irish Amateur Boxing cottoned on to. The “Pride” was now one of the biggest attractions on amateur boxing programmes in Ireland.
Space for trophies on the family sideboard had already dwindled considerably. Throughout 1939 and 1940 Collins continued to make the boxing headlines, only this time in a heavier weight division. In thrilling contests he won the County Dublin and County Dublin League 5st 7lb championships. Towards the close of the same season, he surprised the critics by taking the County Dublin and All-Ireland 6st titles. Twelve months later, at bodyweights of 6st 7lb and 7st, Joe added the County Dublin League and Irish Championships to his list. So many successes so quickly had never been heard of. He disposed of such sterling ring men as P Walsh (St Andrews), B O’Neill (Phoenix), D O’Mahoney (Catholic Boy Scouts), E Byrne (Corinthians) and P Keane (Kerry). The last named was a real rugged fighter and many thought he would have risen to great heights. When he met Collins however, he suffered such a reverse that from that stage onward seemed to fade out of the picture.
In Senior Ranks
During 1942, Collins continued to grow in stature and bodyweight. After much persuasion and several tempting offers, the “Pride of Engine Alley” turned professional in 1943. The prudence of this move was doubted by the critics, but Collins got off to a good start by defeating the veteran Dublin fighter “Chick” Foley. Paddy Alford (a former Irish flyweight titleholder) was next beaten, and when Joe travelled to Belfast where he conquered Ike Wier and the redoubtable Jimmy Warnock.
On return to Dublin, he won the Irish professional flyweight title, and afterwards disposed of several outstanding fighters including the well-known Tommy Medine of Belfast and Con Caffrey (Dublin) – who was at the time a leading contender for the featherweight championship.
Today Joe Collins is a much bigger and heavier man than when he was boxing, and still delights in talking about fights and fighters he knew.”
A big thank you to Joe Hogan for sending on the story and his kind permission to publish. If you would like to read more about Joe Boy’s exploits and fighting record follow this link.