By: Zach Brendza | Features Editor
With March 17 comes many things: liberal use of the color green, a well-populated parade and heightened drinking, which can lead to the occasional drunken brawl.
But this St. Patrick’s Day, there will be a brawl much more appealing than a bar fight.
In 11 separate fights, amateur boxers from the Pittsburgh area will take on Irish boxers from the Drimnagh Boxing Club, a neighborhood outside Dublin. The two teams, dubbed Team Pittsburgh and Team Ireland, will compete for the Ambassador’s Cup in the first ever Pittsburgh Donnybrook at The Grand Hall at The Priory in the North Side.
According to Jim Lamb, president of the Irish Institute of Pittsburgh and one of the event’s organizer, the Irish term “donnybrook,” which means a big fight or brawl, originated from a town in Ireland near Dublin. The Donnybrook Fair was held in the town from the 1300’s to the 1800’s and was a “very elite fair,” but over time evolved into something like a carnival. One year, a riot broke out and the fair and town became associated with a fight, Lamb said.
With this history, the Pittsburgh Donnybrook has been given its name, Lamb said, as Irish fighters are pitted against boxers from the Burgh, where seven of eight Pittsburgh boxing gyms are represented.
Team Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike McSorely picked his team based on the fighters from Team Ireland, which is coached by Michael Carruth, the 1992 boxing gold medalist and Ireland’s only Olympic champion boxer.
“He and I have worked pretty closely to match these fighters,” McSorely said.
If Team Ireland had a fighter that was 15 with a 4-2 record, Team Pittsburgh tried to match them with a fighter of similar age and record, McSorely said.
Executive director for the Pittsburgh Donnybrook and president of the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic Association Jimmy Cvetic worked with McSorely on selecting boxers for Team Pittsburgh. Cvetic, a legendary Pittsburgh boxing coach, wanted a team that would not only compete with the Irish, but would represent Pittsburgh well.
“We wanted a good solid team but a team with integrity. They’re going to represent our city, our country,” Cvetic said. “We wanted to do something that was magnificent with the shamrock and the grains.”
The Donnybrook will benefit the Irish Institute of Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic Club and the Hibernian Celtic Athletic Fund, according to Lamb. Merchandise and tickets purchased to the sold out fight also help defray the cost of bringing over the 16-man Team Ireland.
“This was just a great opportunity for the three organizations to do something together and raise money,” Lamb said.
Each bout will be three rounds, according to Lamb, and will range in time based on the fighter’s age and skill, one fight will have 1 1/2 minute rounds, five fights will have two minute rounds and five fights will have three minute rounds.
McSorely, who also heads the Conn-Grebb Boxing Club in North Oakland, believes this March 17 will bring a “great night of fights” with the Ireland team being “very tough city kids from Dublin.”
“A lot of the time they say styles make fights and I think we have different and unique styles on both teams that will make for interesting matchups,” McSorely said.
If the ‘Burgh-based team wins the fight, the Ambassador’s Cup that was made in Pittsburgh will stay at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. If the Drimnagh team wins, they will take it back to Dublin.
“But we’re not planning on it leaving the Steel City,” McSorely said.
Although the 700 capacity Grand Hall at The Priory is sold out, the fight will be shown on Pittsburgh channel PCNC. With the interest in the fight, Lamb hopes to make the Donnybrook an annual occurrence on St. Patrick’s Day.
“If the response is anything like it was this year, it will be easy to replicate,” Lamb said. “As long as the Irish and Pittsburgh teams are here to fight, we will be here to produce it.”
With Cvetic’s 40 years as a boxing coach, he sees what this night of fights means to the boxers involved.
“We’ve always dreamt of this. You can never take that away from them [the fighters]. They’re going to have the lights, they’re going to have the city. They’re going to have that night,” Cvetic said. “How big is that? It’s pretty big.”