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Liam keeps Star at the heart of the New Lodge

Liam Corr (Star ABC) Star Neighbourhood Centre Liam Corr (Star ABC) Star Neighbourhood Centre
By Michael Jackson

FOUNDED in 1937, the Star Amateur Boxing Club has been an integral part of the New Lodge community for 82 years. The club has been housed in numerous venues throughout the district, a journey that began in the garden of founder Alan ‘Akkie’ Kelly’s back garden and has brought them today to the Star Neighbourhood Centre. But throughout the club’s nomadic existence, its roots remained deep and firm. Its impact on the local community is almost unparalleled and for one its current coaches, Liam Corr, the club is a passion.

Liam has been around the Star since he was just three years old. His father had boxed for the Star in his younger days before moving into coaching at the club – a path that Liam would go on to follow.

Liam stepped out of the ring at the tender age of 21 to concentrate on his love of coaching – he had obtained the relevant badge fully two years earlier. The life lessons he learned locally as a boy and young man have stood him in good stead as he mentors the young talent of the historic district.
“Growing up in the New Lodge there wasn’t much to do,” he said.

“Around the time we got this building the back streets were just getting redeveloped, so there wasn’t much in the area. It was something to take you off the streets, keep you fit, in good health, including mental health, it also kept you away from riots and things that other kids my age would have been getting up to. It has been a good advocate to me for being something that teaches you dedication.”

He continued: “I never got up to a really high level in the ring. I never got up to the level of some of the kids we have in here now.

“I would have won a few competitions and got to a novice Irish final, but nothing to speak about compared to some of the kids we’ve got now.

“Some of our kids have great potential. We just had J.P. Hale win the Ulster Elites in the Ulster Hall last week. We also have Lee McKee. The two of them have been all over the world in the last few years with Antrim, Ulster and Ireland. I was never graced with that ability but hopefully what I lacked in ability I can make up for through coaching.”

When it comes to working with kids, Liam cut his teeth while working at the Artillery Youth Centre, which he saw as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the area’s young people. Anyone who hears Liam speak about his work is bound to be inspired, and whether in sport or youth work, many of his aims remain the same.

“I thought could help kids with their issues, whether it’s family issues, anger issues, or antisocial behaviour,” he explained.

“That’s how it started off, but then I got the bite for the competition too and some of the kids are very, very good, so we’ve had some competition success in the last number of years.”

He continued: “Working in the youth club and the Star has taught me that every kid deserves a chance no matter what. If we turned away every kid that had problems or a bad background then we wouldn’t have anyone. All kids have their problems coming from a socially deprived area.

“The Star gave me a chance and I wasn’t the most upmarket kid either. Artillery and the Star helped me see that kids need something else rather than just running the streets.”

For boxing coaches, their time is rarely their own and they are all similarly marked by their commitment which, quite frankly, is beyond the understanding of most casual fans of the fistic art. Around competition times, for instance, Liam and the other coaches at the Star can find themselves out of the house five or six nights a week. But for Liam, seeing the kids develop “makes all the hours worthwhile”.
Competition wins aside, the number of young members just turning up at the Star is a massive success story in its own right. With over 60 members, the club is full to capacity, which delights Liam, but at the same time presents real challenges.

“The last couple of years we’ve had the very welcome problem of having to break our sessions into two groups because we have so many members,” he said.

“At present we’re at capacity. We physically can’t take any more members. The space that we have at the minute just isn’t fit for purpose.

“We’re working with our local MLA, Nichola Mallon, at the minute to try to source funding for a premises or space for the club to expand. This is the club’s 82nd year and it has never stopped. I think it’s only right for me to do a wee bit more to try and get somewhere for us.

“The worst thing we could do is turn away some kid who has walked through the door with their parent because we have no space. We want to be able to take in as many as we can – because who knows who you could be turning away? You could be turning he next Carl Frampton, Ryan Burnett, Michael Conlan or Paddy Barnes away from the door.

“If you come down here tonight the place will be rammed – it’s unbelievable. I don’t know whether it will be in the next two, five or 10 years, but I would like us to move out of here into something bigger.

“Sometimes I would be in here from five o’clock and you’re not getting home to nine because you’re trying to give everyone an equal go on the bags or pads, or give them enough attention, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for Ireland or not fighting at all, you have give them that same time. make a massive difference.”

Outside of the Star he is a development officer with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association and is tasked with promoting the sport through Belfast City Council’s boxing strategy. That strategy involves outreach work with local schools and promoting competitions to get more people involved in the sport. The positive impact of Liam’s work is undeniable – and loving what he does adds so much value to his work.
“Promoting the sport is massively important,” he enthused.

“It’s the hardest sport in the world – obviously I’m going to say that because I’m involved – but the dedication, determination and self-discipline that it gives kids is unbelievable.

“We’re now seeing more kids now coming in with learning difficulties too and boxing clubs can’t turn those kids away, so it’s important that the right structures are in place for those kids to get some sort of sporting release.

“We also live in society with XBoxes and PlayStations where kids are sitting about in the house getting no physical activity, so it’s massively important.

“With boxing being so high-profile it has its own onus to keep kids active and off the streets, whether they become competitive boxers or if it’s just for recreation.”

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